Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Just six months after Samsung Electronics released its first smartwatch, the company will start selling three more.

Following up on the Android-based Galaxy Gear that came out in September, Samsung unveiled a trio of new watches this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The South Korean electronics giant seems to be flooding the zone in the hopes of running out the clock on Apple before it can release the much-anticipatediWatch.

Samsung’s Gear 2, which has a built-in camera, and Gear 2 Neo, which doesn’t, can wirelessly connect with smartphones and run apps designed for a relatively new operating system championed by Samsung called Tizen A third watch, the Gear Fit, has a curved screen, runs basic software and is positioned more as a health device to rival the Fitbit — though it does tell the time.

The smartwatch wave isn’t isolated to Samsung. Motorola Mobility, which Google is selling to China’s Lenovo Group, said in Barcelona that it plans to release a smartwatch this year, and CNETreports that LG Electronics is working on one, too.

Seriously, they might as well call it Mobile Watch Congress. HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone company that’s currently in the red, is expected to be demonstrating the first of three wearable devices behind closed doors in Barcelona, my colleague Tim Culpan reported. On the show floor, Sony is showing the SmartBand, and Huawei Technologies has the TalkBand.

“We think that wearables in the future can be a large market,” Colin Giles, an executive vice president at Shenzhen, China-based Huawei, told Bloomberg News in an interview this week at Mobile World Congress.

Not everyone is convinced. Despite a marketing blitz, Samsung’s original Galaxy Gear was met with a lukewarm reception. Research firm IHS estimates the market for wearable devices, which includes smartwatches, to be worth less than $20 billion a year until at least 2015. Apple alone sold more than that in iPhones last quarter.

Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes wrote in a note last week that a smartwatch isn’t going to move the needle for Apple’s business. A spokeswoman for Apple declined to comment.

Timing is everything. Apple isn’t always the first, but it’s shown a knack for putting together the right list of features in a well-designed package along with marketing that shows people why they need to have one. There were plenty of music players on the market before the iPod.

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty estimates that an Apple watch could generate as much as $17.5 billion in its first year on the market. That would be just under what the iPad did in its first full year available.

Of course, the tech industry is very different from the days of the iPod. For one, Samsung is relentless. First impressions of the Gear Fit coming from Barcelona have been glowing. If Samsung keeps releasing a handful of new watches every six months, it might just find a winner.

toshiba-encore-tab8-big.jpgToshiba has unveiled a new 8-inch tablet running Windows 8.1. Called the Encore, the tablet is one of the first devices to run the latest version of Windows, which won’t be released until midOctober. The tablet is sleeker than those in Toshiba’s Excite range, but still sports a fairly thick bezel and rounded corners. The version I saw had a silver plastic rear casing, but I’m told the final product will feature a dimpled texture. On the back of the tablet is an 8-megapixel camera and it is joined by a 2-megapixel camera on the front. At the top of the Encore are two microphones with beamforming technology that drowns out background noise, making it ideal for video calling. As the Encore runs full-fat Windows 8, it comes with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 pre-installed, making it ideal for those looking for a tablet they can also do serious work on. Toshiba thinks people will primarily want to use the tablet in portrait mode, and while this is usually the case with 8-inch tablets, Microsoft Office programs — one of the biggest draws of the tablet — tend to be easier to use on a landscape screen. Xbox SmartGlass can also be found on the tablet, allowing gamers to use the tablet as a second screen to adjust settings and the like during gameplay. The Encore costs £249 and comes with six months free access to Xbox Music and a month of free international Skype calls thrown in. Toshiba also showed off a 13-inch tablet-laptop hybrid called the Satellite W30t (know as the Click in the US). In the detachable tablet is a 5-hour battery and in the keyboard dock is another 5-hour battery, giving the laptop a total of 10 hours of battery life, according to Toshiba. A full range of ports and slots are available in the base, with Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI and microSD slots also included within the tablet. It starts at £599 for the AMD and £699 for the Intel version, both with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The other new device from Toshiba is the NB10, a Windows 8 notebook with an 11.5-inch touchenabled screen. It’s a sturdy-looking, smart little laptop costing only £329, making it ideal for hose wanting the full Windows 8 touch experience on a budget.

First Apple built maps, and now Facebook wants its own mapping service. In the tech industry, maps have become essential, primarily because of the explosion of mobile devices, on which maps are a critical application. Maps are also seen as the gateway to commerce, both online and in the real world. 

Yet even as maps have become a must-have service, Google, the leader in online mapping so far, is showing that experience pays dividends. 

Google unveiled a new Google Maps, by far the biggest redesign since it introduced Maps eight years ago. Google announced the maps at its annual I/O developers conference, where it also showed off new tools for search, photo editing and to-do lists, along with a music service and features for Android and Chrome apps. Many of the announcements had an undercurrent – one-upping Apple. From its new music and photo services to maps to voice commands that rival Siri on the iPhone, Google seemed to be offering alternatives to Apple products. 

But the new maps service was the biggest announcement. 

“The future of search starts with maps. That’s where all the commerce is going to be done, and that’s what everyone’s fighting out,” said John Malloy, a partner at BlueRun Ventures, which invested in Waze, a crowdsourced mapping service that Facebook has shown interest in acquiring. “To monetize mobile traffic, maps are a critical ingredient.” 

Google’s revision of its map service comes less than a year after Apple removed Google Maps from the iPhone and replaced it with its own version, which has had problems with accuracy. Facebook and Microsoft also think maps are so important that they need their own services. 

When users who are logged into Google visit Maps, they will see the places they frequently visit highlighted, like restaurants, museums and their home. Google learns the places they go by drawing information from all of Google’s services – including search and Maps history, Google Plus posts and information in users’ Gmail inboxes. 

Like many of Google’s new announcements, the service hovers over the line between useful and creepy. Google revised its privacy policy to allow it to pull users’ information from across products. It says that makes them more useful, but it also means that Google knows increasingly more about individuals. 

When users visit a new city, Google will recommend places to go based on their preferences and those of people with similar tastes. The maps change in real time, so if you click on a museum, other museums in the city pop up and the small roads and landmarks needed to navigate to that museum appear. 

“We can build a unique map for every place and every click,” said Bernhard Seefeld, the product management director for Google Maps. 

The new service is available only to people who sign up for it to start. It will come to mobile devices later. 

Local search on maps is now easier to use, for advertisers as well as for consumers. Search results, which are labeled ads or offers, can be sponsored listings or coupons from nearby businesses. 

Google Earth, which shows 3-dimensional satellite imagery, is now incorporated into the online version of Google Maps, instead of being accessible only as an app to download 

Google can do this because of a new technology that renders graphics inside a browser, instead of downloading images from a server. 

Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, said the new maps, which have a cleaner and more intuitive layout, fit into one of the company’s major themes. 

“It’s getting technology out of the way,” said Page, standing in front of a giant, real-time black and gold view of the Earth from Google Earth. “All the context that’s in your life, all these different sensors are going to pick that up and make your life better.” 

Google also emphasized that specific devices would not matter as much as the ability to do the same things across devices. 

“It’s a multiscreen world,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Google Apps, talking about not just laptops and phones but Internet-connected watches, thermostats, cars and Google Glass, too. “These are all displays with a lot of computing power and sensors, and that’s why we view this as one of the most important moments in computing.” 

Google took the opportunity to jab at Apple’s recent problems with inaccurate maps. 

Referring to Google’s new iPhone maps app, Daniel Graf, Google’s director of maps, said, “People called it sleek, simple, beautiful, and let’s not forget, accurate.” 

Google took on iPhoto by increasing the free photo storage on Google Plus and trying to use algorithms to edit photos as a human would. When users upload a batch of photos, Google’s algorithms will sort through them and try to choose the best. 

And a new feature Google calls “auto awesome” stitches together a series of snapshots into a GIF, or merges multiple shots into a single image, so everyone in a group is smiling, for instance. 

Google also introduced a streaming music feature, with the unwieldy name of Google Play Music All Access. Like Spotify or Rhapsody, it lets users listen to millions of songs online, instead of downloading them, for $9.99 a month. It also has a Pandora-like Internet radio feature. 

With All Access, Google appeared to beat Apple to the streaming market. Apple is said to be developing an Internet radio feature for its mobile devices, although its progress has reportedly been slowed by negotiations with music companies over licensing rates. 

An update to Google Now, a competitor to Apple’s Siri, lets people ask their phones to remind them to pick up milk the next time they are in a grocery store, and an alert will automatically pop up when they step into a Safeway. Ask, “How far from here to Santa Cruz?” and Google will use location information to know where “here” is. 

Despite the flashy announcements, one type of news was noticeably absent from the event – major hardware or Android announcements, which are usually made here. 

“We felt this time that I/O would be incomplete without the full Google story, and now the Google story is far more focused and sharper than it has been in the last few years,” said Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of search. 

The conference had uniquely Google additions, including 1,800 pounds of snacks and sensors placed throughout the building to capture data like motion, noise, temperature and pressure. During the event, Google visualized all this data in real time on an indoor map. 

Six thousand software developers, a fair number of them wearing Google Glass, cheered loudly as Google made each announcement, including arcane technical ones about Android and Chrome apps. Perhaps they were fueled by all the free food.