Apple FBI Standoff Stretches Into Week Two

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Apple on Monday called for the creation of a government panel to help resolve a standoff between the company and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the issue of national security vs. data privacy.

The proposal for a commission followed FBI Director James Comey’s Sunday post on Lawfare — an apparent effort to quell the controversy. Comey emphasized that the bureau was not seeking a master key that would allow it to snoop into American citizens’ devices at will.

The American public expects the bureau to do its utmost to investigate the killings carried out in last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, and that includes examining the data contained in a locked iPhone 5c used by shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, he argued.

The FBI’s goal is to obtain any information that will aid its investigation within the limits of the law, and it would seek search warrants when appropriate, Comey reaffirmed.

The bureau wants Apple to disable some of the passcode protections on Farook’s iPhone, Comey said. Officials are concerned that any efforts to gain access to the device without Apple’s assistance could result in the handset self-destructing, or in the data becoming corrupted.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California last week ordered Apple to provide assistance to the FBI by creating software that could allow authorities to access data on Farook’s handset. However, Apple has objected on the grounds that such a move would result in a general loss of user privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook shone a spotlight on the company’s dispute with FBI with the publication of an open letter defending Apple’s resistance to the federal magistrate’s order.

Master Key

The dispute appears to be one in which existing laws have not kept pace with technological advances, and both sides are making their cases on the issue.

“The FBI insists that it’s not making a blanket request covering all iPhones, but simply [seeking] Apple’s assistance unlocking one device,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Since that would require Apple to break what it says is an unbreakable security technology, doing so would resonate across the company’s business,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The public in the past has supported government agencies’ investigation efforts, and given that 14 people were killed in the San Bernardino terrorist shooting, opinion could swing to the FBI’s side.

“Given the heinous acts related to this phone, I expect most people — were they asked directly — would side with the FBI,” said King.

Locked Horns

Judging from the tenor of their arguments, it doesn’t appear that the FBI and Apple have found any common ground.

Although a judge already has ruled in favor of the FBI, “this is going to be decided in the court of public opinion, and it will play out based on who makes the best argument to support their case,” opined Scott Steinberg, founder and principal analyst at TechSavvy Global.

“The FBI is not trying anything nefarious here. They have a concrete argument that they are trying to look for evidence that can shed some light on the shooting,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Comey’s statement is clearly meant to counter support Apple has received from other IT vendors, but in a way that’s turned this thing into a battle of PR agencies,” observed Pund-IT’s King.

Privacy Issues

Apple could sway public opinion its way through its dire warnings of how its compliance with the order could result in a loss of privacy by all handset users.

“There is the danger of creating a skeleton key that could find its way to unwanted hands and which could be abused,” Steinberg pointed out.

“The FBI claims this is a one-time use case, but who is to say that this couldn’t open Pandora’s Box, which couldn’t be closed again?” he asked.

Given that other governmental organizations — notably the National Security Agency — have been called out for surveillance programs that in some cases were conducted with the support of tech firms, it isn’t hard to see why Apple would take a hard line approach this time around.

“Absolutely, it is a concern in the age of big data, where so much information is out there, and there is this increasingly sense of paranoia — some of it rightly so — that anything you put out there could be susceptible to prying eyes,” said TechSavvy’s Steinberg.

Technological tools “can be used for good or bad by those who choose to use them,” he added.

The more powerful encryption is, and the more difficult it is to break, the more useful it can be for carrying out clandestine operations and for other disreputable purposes,” Steinberg noted.

Orchestrated Moves

Apple has demonstrated that it’s one of the least spontaneous vendors in the marketplace when it comes to reacting to issues such as this one, noted Pund-IT’s King.

“Virtually everything the company does is orchestrated, and it would be silly to think that any statement Apple or its executives make hasn’t been vetted by PR and legal teams,” he pointed out.

“The company’s request for a ‘commission’ to study the FBI request seems like little more than a delaying tactic, but that’s not surprising given the size of the stakes,” said King. “If Apple obeys the court order, it seems likely that the company’s business will be injured — particularly in overseas markets, including China, that it hopes will drive next-generation growth.”

Samsung Raises Curtain on Galaxy S7 Models

Samsung on Sunday introduced two new models of its flagship Galaxy smartphone line at the annual gala for the mobile world, the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Both phones have similar features, but one, the Galaxy S7 Edge, has a 5.5-inch display, the same size as the iPhone 6s Plus.

The units have curved screens that support quad HD resolution, as well as a slight curve on the back, making them easier to hold.

To soothe complaints about the battery life of the previous Galaxy generation, the units have received power boosts. The S7 Edge has a 3,600-mAh battery, a jump from the S6 Edge’s 2,600, and the S7 has a 3,000-mAh power supply, while the S6’s battery was only 2,550.

In addition, the units are water and dust resistant, support microSD storage, and run on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Fewer Megapixels

Samsung also has made some changes in the Galaxy’s camera. It has reduced the number of megapixels on the shooter’s sensor to 12 from 16, but increased the size of the pixels, which should improve the camera’s performance in low light conditions.

The pixels in the new Galaxy models are 30 percent larger than those in the iPhone 6s Plus, 1.4 micron compared to 1.22 micron for Apple.

Both Apple and Google have gone the fewer-but-bigger-pixel route with some success, so Samsung’s rivals already have done some of the consumer education about the move.

“It will work as long as they frame it in terms of bigger pixels get more light,” said Daniel Matte, an analyst with Canalys.

Larger pixels also make it easier to incorporate into each pixel autofocusing technology, which allows the camera to take sharper pictures faster.

“Autofocus is really fast now — nearly instantaneous anywhere across the image,” Matte told TechNewsWorld.

“That’s been in DSLRs and quality cameras for a while, and now it’s migrated to the smartphone market,” he added. “That’s a big improvement.”

Mixed Reviews

“They’re a nice improvement over previous versions, but they’re not groundbreaking,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research.

“There isn’t any one feature that’s a killer and will massively move the needle in the market,” Matte said.

“The best addition they made was adding Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820, which in certain use cases doubles the performance,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told TechNewsWorld.

Virtual Reality

For consumers who preorder either of the new phone models up to March 18, Samsung is offering a sweet deal: a free Gear VR headset.

Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus

In addition, Oculus is offering those who preorder the phones six Gear VR games for free.

Will the lure of a free VR headset help boost initial sales?

“There’s not that much content out there for VR, so it’s more of a gimmick at this point,” Technalysis’ O’Donnell told TechNewsWorld.

“They’re going to incent people to try VR,” said Gartner Research Director Brian Blau.

“It’s a nice incentive if you’re interested in doing VR with a Samsung phone,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Beyond that, it’s not going to change the picture for overall smartphone sales.”

Cooling Market

Samsung, as well other smartphone makers, would very much like to change the current picture for smartphone sales.

“We’re seeing a lengthening of upgrade cycles for smartphones and growth is slowing. It’s going to be hard for anyone to do well in the smartphone market in the next few years in terms of growth,” Canalys’ Matte said.

“As phones mature,” he continued, “they become good enough for most people, so it’s more difficult to sell them.”

In the United States, another factor contributing to longer upgrade cycles is the phasing out of phone subsidies.

“Now that people are paying full price for their phones, they want them to last longer,” O’Donnell said.

“Lifetimes are extending beyond two years, so just as we saw lifetimes extend for PCs, we’re going to see them extended for phones,” he added.

Nevertheless, Canalys is predicting another double-digit growth year for smartphones this year. Globally, it predicts smartphone shipments will crack 1.5 billion in 2016.

“Despite turbulence for certain vendors and countries,” it noted in a report released Monday, “the industry will still grow by over 10 percent this year thanks to new opportunities.”

Gadget Ogling: Gaming Revivals, Clever Cameras, and Smartphones for All

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Hello, friends, and welcome to another edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, your guide through the mists of the gadget announcement universe to the clearing where the best stand out a little more clearly.

On the other side of the haze this week are a handheld retro gaming system, a home monitoring camera with style, a 3D printer for action figures, and what may be the least expensive smartphone yet.

As ever, these are not reviews — they’re first-look observations about each item. The ratings denote only how much I’d like to test each with my own two hands.

Across the Spectrum

Sir Clive Sinclair helped popularize video games as a viable home entertainment option with the ZX Spectrum. After reviving the brand a little over a year ago with the introduction of the Vega microcontroller, which plugs into televisions, Sinclair and Retro Computers now have launched a handheld version, the Vega+.

The Vega+ design is aligned with other current handheld consoles, with a directional pad on the left and a quartet of action buttons on the right. Three secondary action buttons are positioned below them. It’s not quite the same as using a keyboard to play, but seven action buttons might make up a touch for the lack of full QWERTY flexibility.

I’ve been playing games as long as I can remember. The Spectrum was a little before my time — I was aligned more with the Commodore 64 and the Super Nintendo. So, having the opportunity to play hundreds of games I missed out on without having to resort to downloading pirated versions absolutely interests me.

It can connect to a TV for big-screen gaming, and it has 1,000 licensed games preloaded, with an SD card slot for gamers to add their own favorites.

That it’s a handheld system is even better. What better to do on the beach this summer than play 30-year-old games?

Home Senses

Sense is a home-monitoring camera that can take complete charge of the connected devices in your home. It can recognize multiple faces and carry out custom actions for each person, and it can alert you when it thinks a stranger is in your home.

It’s not as noticeable as most other home cameras, meaning intruders will have no idea you’re watching them. It even has night vision so you can see what’s happening in the dark.

Sense looks elegant, and it’s intelligent about how it controls your devices. It not only will adjust the lighting, thermostat, television and music playing, but also detect when you’ve dropped something, and send out your robot vacuum cleaner to take care of the mess.

It includes voice recognition, so you might ask it to change the current playlist. Sense also has an open source platform, so you might like to create an app that carries out completely custom actions, such as switching on the lights, television, and radiators when it recognizes you within a certain time frame — e.g., when you’re returning home. You may not wish for all that when you’ve just awakened.

We’re getting closer to finding a way of unifying all the disparate operating systems and protocols of connected devices in the home. Sense looks like a strong option for controlling our products with a single device that offers both simplicity and power.

Figure It Out

A 3D printer is taking the idea of Mattel’s ThingMaker — which lets children make their own rubbery toys in an oven — to a new level. Also called “ThingMaker,” this printer lets kids young and old create their very own action figures and other toys.

Would-be designers can use an app to create the figures of their dreams, with a ball-and-socket system making it easy to swap components in and out. Colors are customizable as well, and Mattel plans to make available components related to its major brands such as Barbie and Hot Wheels.

Mattel ThingMaker 3D Printer and ThingMaker Design App Eco-System

The ThingMaker’s door stays locked while it’s printing, and the print head retracts when it’s finished, so as to avoid burns.

I’m excited for this, and not only because I’ve always wanted to make my own action figures. It should help the adults of the future gain a stronger understanding of design and technology, opening their minds to creative career paths they might not have considered otherwise.

ThingMaker looks like it has a shot at finally catapulting 3D printing into the mainstream. A lot of people need a better entry point to the world of making, and ThingMaker’s strong interface, ease of use, and clear purpose could give it a fighting chance at achieving success beyond toy making.

Cheap Connections

With a similar design to the iPhone 4, there’s nothing terribly innovative about the Android-powered Freedom 251. The clue’s in the name, though, as the device costs 251 rupees. That’s around US$3.70.

With 8 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, a quad-core processor, 3G connectivity, a 4-inch screen, and front and back cameras, the specifications are hardly terrible.

I wonder exactly how its maker is able to meet that price point, if at all.

Still, the possibility that it could deliver smartphones rather than feature phones into the hands of a larger number of extremely low-income people is a welcome prospect.

I’d like to try one to see if functions decently. If so, it might prove a useful, very low-cost backup device.

The FBI’s iPhone Problem: Tactical vs. Strategic Thinking

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I’m an ex-sheriff, and I’ve been in and out of security jobs for much of my life, so I’ve got some familiarity with the issues underlying the drama between the FBI and Apple. FBI officials — and likely those in every other three-letter agency and their counterparts all over the world — would like an easier way to do their jobs. Wouldn’t we all?

If they could put cameras in every home and business on the planet, they’d find a way to do it. That would solve a lot of the tactical challenges of being able to catch people who commit crimes. What gets missed is that strategically, it also would open the door to far more crimes.

Since law enforcement is understaffed already, the net end result would be a combination of a lot more people hurt and fewer people caught. Personally, I think more focus should be placed on prevention.

Would you agree to a process that would make it easier to catch a criminal if that same process made it far more likely you’d be a victim of a crime? What if I added the fact that the smart criminals likely would figure out how to game the new process, and the dumb criminals likely would get caught anyway (because they are dumb).

I’ll focus on that this week and close with my product of the week, which once again is the BlackBerry Priv, because it may show Apple a path out of this madness.

The Master Key/Backdoor Problem

There was a time when a lot of locks came with master keys. In fact, hotels still use them to access rooms for cleaning and maintenance. In the past, though, even some lines of home locks had master keys. The problem was that any criminal who got hold of one had access to all of the locks. Now, you can find lock sets that use the same key for different locks in your home, but most of those that use a master key have been purged out of the market, because they represent too high a risk.

The comparable concept in technology is a “backdoor,” or master password. They have been known to exist in the past, but they generally existed despite security protocols, not because of them.

Some programmer would slip a backdoor into a product either to make it easier to do something to the product, or to play a prank, or for a more nefarious reason. Backdoors typically were discovered as a result of the programmer telling someone about it, as a result of some kind of code review or audit, or as a result of an effort to correct a problem or update the product.

Like a master key, a backdoor is really hard to keep secret indefinitely; it can be passed down version to version until it’s eventually discovered. The only reason a backdoor stays secret for a short time is that at the start, it’s typically only the person who put the backdoor in who knows about it.

However, for something that is to be used legitimately, a lot of folks have to know about it — which effectively bypasses whatever security is in the product. In a world where a foreign government could resource either buying or backward-engineering a secret backdoor, creating one would be brain-dead stupid, and Tim Cook apparently isn’t.

The value of information on a backdoor into all iPhones — essentially a master key — could be worth millions of dollars, making it nearly impossible to protect.

Tactical vs. Strategic

This is an ongoing problem — not only with law enforcement, but with management in general. There is a tendency to create a strategic problem by thinking tactically. In this case, FBI officials need to get into one phone. It is very important to them. However, creating a backdoor would compromise some — or possibly all iPhone users.

The investigators can’t protect the iPhone users who then would be open to attack, but they don’t see that as a problem, because they would not be held accountable for it, and they are missioned to gain access to one particular phone.

If we went down a list of the folks who were most likely to be compromised, it would include the First Family, many in Congress, and likely not an insignificant number of FBI families. Yet this path still appears reasonable to the FBI, because the folks who would benefit would not be held accountable for the resulting problems.

Apple is on the other side. It won’t sell more phones if that one iPhone is compromised, but if all iPhones are made insecure as a result, its sales will crater. Even if Apple destroyed the backdoor after it was used and updated the phones so a similar process couldn’t work, it would have demonstrated it could do it, and that would open it to similar requests from agencies all over the world.

That could cost the company millions in additional overhead. Further, implementing a patching process just for law enforcement likely would not only make the iPhone less reliable, but also pull critical resources from competitive activities. Apple already is struggling to maintain revenue and profit, and this controversty has the potential to make that struggle impossible.

From the micro point of view, this makes sense to the FBI. However, from the macro point of view, there is nothing potentially valuable enough in that phone to justify putting so many families — and Apple itself — at risk. Just like what happened after 9/11, the FBI’s investigation could end up doing more damage to the foundation of the U.S. than the terrorists could hope to have done through their attack.

In effect, the U.S. law enforcement effort has become a force multiplier for the terrorists, due to a persistent failure to think strategically. Investigators don’t balance the cost of the collateral damage they could cause with the value of the information they are likely to get.

Wrapping Up

I mentioned 9/11 above. One of the most painful things to watch was the response to 9/11. The reports indicated that three things needed to be done. The policy of turning airplanes over to hijackers needed to be rescinded (and was). Cockpit doors needed to be hardened (and they were). Agencies that weren’t communicating needed to communicate (that has not been completed).

We so overreacted that we nearly put the airlines out of business. We put in place X-ray machines, increasing cancer risk globally, and we made air travel substantially more painful and costly. The cost of the fix exceeded by a significant magnitude the exposure we were trying to correct. In effect, the vast majority of the damage from 9/11 was done by us to us because we couldn’t balance cost and benefits.

That is also what is happening with Apple and the FBI. When law enforcement starts to become the problem to be fixed, then another path needs to be found. I should add that in this specific case, given most think their business phones are monitored and the personal phones of the terrorists were destroyed by them, there is a better than .8 probability that there is nothing of value in the San Bernardino terrorists’ iPhone anyway.

So, we are putting the most valuable company in the world at risk for what likely would produce no benefit. Only a politician could work out a rationale for doing that.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I know I already made the BlackBerry Priv my product of the week last fall(and I also made it my product of the year). However, I still carry it as my primary phone, and with all this talk of backdoors in phones made in the U.S., I’m thinking a phone that leads with security from Canada makes a ton more sense.

This phone has continued to impress me, and it has become better with age. I’m becoming more proficient at using the keyboard again, and it is still rare enough that when I drop the keyboard, folks take notice.

Priv Secure Smartphone

Priv Secure Smartphone

So, with the Priv, I get a combination of Android compatibility, BlackBerry security, and a vendor that can tell the insane U.S. enforcement types to pound sand. It’s also surprisingly attractive and distinctive.

However, the main reason I’m making the Priv my product of the week again is to suggest that Apple might want to consider moving its headquarters to Canada. It is a pretty decent country, and while it too may have crazy politicians, they don’t seem to be so crazy as to compromise their own security to access a phone that likely has nothing of value on it.

So the BlackBerry Priv, once again, is my product of the week. Go Canada!

Google Gives iOS Devs Open Source EarlGrey Testing Tool

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Google last week introduced EarlGrey, a functional user interface testing framework for Apple iOS apps.

YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Photos, Google Translate and Google Play Music have successfully adopted the framework, the company said.

EarlGrey has been open sourced under the Apache license, according to Google’s Siddartha Janga. The company has provided app developers with a start guide and the ability to add EarlGrey to their projects using CocoaPods or to add it manually to Xcode project files.

Releasing EarlGrey as open source is a positive move that follows considerable efforts by Google in various open source communities, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“It simplifies iOS development tasks. Overall, it should be a welcome addition to iOS developers’ toolboxes,” he told LinuxInsider.

What It Does

One of the main advantages to EarlGrey is its synchronization ability, noted Google’s Janga. The tests automatically wait for animations, network requests and other events before interacting with the UI. That makes it easier for app developers to write tests without sleep or wait states and to maintain a procedural description of test steps.

Two other factors — visibility checking and design flexibility — enhance the testing process on the iOS platform.

Visibility checking during tests takes into account the user experience with an app. It ensures, for example, that attempting to tap a button hidden behind an image will flag an immediate failure, Janga said.

Design components involving element selection, interaction, assertion and synchronization take future growth into consideration.

“Apple is not known for its development tools, so this should make it easier for them to develop iOS apps,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“However, over time, they will be more and more dependent on Alphabet, and Android has not proven as lucrative as iOS has, so strategically, flipping to Alphabet’s tools could be ill advised,” he told LinuxInsider.

Strategic Move

Open sourcing any technology tends to accelerate product improvements and find potential problems, noted King. Doing so with EarlGrey will allow Google developers to focus on other critical tasks.

“It also somewhat enhances Google’s position in open source by showing that the company can and does play nice with Apple-related technologies,” he said.

Google’s move is a throwback to how Microsoft got a grip on software developers early in its growth, according to Enderle. It’s “a very Microsoft-like play” and the kind of thing it did in the 1980s and early 1990s in going after developers.

“If you can own them, you can take control of the platform,” he said. “Google gets broader adoption and begins to erode Apple’s control over iOS. Both are strategic initiatives for Google.”

Neverware Brings Windows Into Its Anti-Aging Fold

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Neverware on Thursday announced the addition of dual-boot support, allowing its CloudReady operating system and Microsoft Windows to run on the same computer.

The dual-boot feature preserves existing data on computers. Adding it to CloudReady — which lets PCs and Apple computers function like Google Chromebooks — will let users keep their existing computer configuration or boot into Neverware’s cloud-based OS to access Google’s Web app environment.

The company has gained traction in the last 18 months among schools and some larger organizations strapped with aging computers and lagging budgets. In some school and business settings, Chromebook adoption has stalled because of reliance on legacy Windows applications, Neverware said.

It hopes the dual-boot feature will ease the transition to Google’s ecosystem.

CloudReady began as a product specifically for schools already adopting Google Apps and Chromebooks. Some of those customers wanted to convert their legacy hardware to speed up Google adoption faster and for less total cost, said Forrest Smith, director of product and customer experience at Neverware.

“Dual boot primarily opens the door for a market we think of as Chrome-curious. These are folks who are interested in Google Apps and Chromebooks but hesitant to invest heavily in new hardware or to take a major risk on adopting a new ecosystem,” he told LinuxInsider.

Other products, both commercial and open source, allow users to run Chromium-based browser OSes on existing computers.

Neverware’s dual-booting feature is available on most computers without purchasing special products or licenses.

Dual Marketing Advantage

Schools that adopt Neverware’s system pay a license fee to use the CloudReady OS. Students and staff can download the software for free.

The big advantage is not losing access to the existing OS and data while gaining the ability to boot into either OS without having to buy additional hardware, Neverware said.

The dual-boot feature allows CloudReady’s users to try the Google ecosystem without getting approval to buy new hardware or risking frustration from their users, Smith said.

In addition, Neverware’s existing markets can expand their deployments of CloudReady to cover labs where there are still legacy Windows apps, such as Photoshop, that are necessary but used only occasionally, he noted.

“We think school districts are already seeing the benefits. For more broadly focused EDU centers, this OS can make managing devices simpler — even on aging hardware — to let their limited resources stay focused on teaching instead of tech maintenance,” Smith said.

“As a USB-bootable OS, it can also provide a simple, unified environment on BYOD devices for things like testing and tech education,” he added.

No Linux Impact

Neverware’s product will allow users looking for a pure Chrome experience to achieve that without investing in Chromebook hardware, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“If a school district or individual institution had numerous legacy Windows desktops and laptops, it could use the Neverware solution to transform that hardware into Chromebooks, saving thousands of dollars in upgrade costs. It could also accomplish that goal while continuing to support broadly used Windows legacy applications,” he told LinuxInsider.

Neverware will feed interest in the Chromebook environment rather than the broader Linux desktop. Core Linux desktop markets prefer traditional OS-driven functionalities and user experience rather than the browser/cloud-based model Chrome offers, King said.

“However, the continuing success of Chromebooks in education and other budget-constrained use cases could undermine the progress of Linux in those instances,” he added.

How It Works

The heart of the CloudReady OS is the Chromium OS, Google’s open source version of the Chrome OS.

CloudReady makes the Web-based OS easy to install, Neverware said. Installation takes less than 20 minutes per computer.

The company has detailed installation instructions on its website. It provides a tool to guide users through the process of setting up dual-booting. Users need only an existing computer, an 8-GB flash drive and the Chrome Web Store to install the Chromebook Recovery Utility.

Neverware customers get CloudReady licenses via an online download. The cost is US$59 per device for a perpetual license.

CloudReady is certified to run on 200 of the most common PC and Mac hardware models.

To run in dual-boot mode with CloudReady, a computer must be able to use Unified Extensible Firmware Interface boot mode. It also needs a pre-existing UEFI-mode installation of Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or 10 and at least 32 GB of available free space in the main Windows partition.

If the computer is running Microsoft Windows in legacy mode but supports UEFI, users must reinstall Windows in UEFI mode in order to dual-boot with CloudReady. Users also can install CloudReady in standalone rather than dual-boot mode. However, that erases the internal storage, including all other operating systems, user files and software.

Market Share Growth

Neverware hopes the added functionality will help its user base grow. The company is expanding to work with a variety of nonprofits and corporations to run pilots and see how CloudReady meets their needs, said Smith.

“Over time, users who try dual boot will gravitate toward the CloudReady side and ultimately appreciate browser-centric computing the same way Chromebook users typically do,” he said.

That scenario is possible but still a long shot, cautioned Pund-IT’s King, adding that he has doubts about how large the potential market is.

“Past dual-booting solutions have had limited success, and this new offering will mainly be of interest to businesses that want to leverage Chrome and some Google apps while continuing to use legacy Windows applications. That seems like a fairly specialized market to me,” he said.

Selling Proposition

Neverware’s marketing strategy is a “best-of-both-worlds-style solution,” noted King. “It should mostly deliver the kinds of benefits that the company envisions.”

On the downside, he sees Neverware’s dual-booting CloudReady solution as a software fix for the inherent problems of aging hardware. Running aging computers may require considerable repair and attention to run effectively.

“Since PC and Chromebook hardware is getting cheaper and better by the year,” King concluded, “customers would be wise to shop carefully to understand the differences between the benefits of Neverware’s solutions and a traditional hardware upgrade.”

Leap Motion Unleashes Orion

leap-motion-orion

Leap Motion on Tuesday introduced Orion — a faster, more precise, more capable and more reliable hand tracking system than its predecessor. Orion is purpose built for virtual reality, and it represents a stark shift in how Leap Motion tech tracks hands and fingers, according to the company.

“Orion starts tracking faster and with lower latency,” the company said in a statement provided to spokes person Eva Babiak. “The software will track hands when fully extended at arm’s length. And Orion maintains reliable hand tracking even when the sensor can’t fully see your fingers or if you’re in a cluttered background environment.”

Leap Motion’s solution is unique in that it doesn’t require users to manipulate physical game pads and other controllers. The platform lets consumers use their hands in virtual worlds in the same way they use them in the real world.

“Imagine playing a game in virtual reality where you could stack bricks to build a shelter, throw a punch, disassemble a bomb, etc., using your actual hands,” said Leap Motion. “Orion helps to enable that sense of presence and immersion in VR.”

Leap Motion has made a beta version of Orion available to developers who’d like to get their hands on the touchless technology as soon as possible.

The Orion software is compatible with the first generation of Leap Motion hardware. However, the improvements won’t be quite as pronounced as they will be when Orion is paired with the upcoming hardware, the company said.

Leap Motion hardware currently lives in a table-top box, but the company has been working with several developers of VR and augmented reality headsets to integrate Orion into their head-mounted displays.

On the Right Track

Leap Motion’s progress in making VR hands free is a laudable effort, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“Not only has the company made the leap — pun intended — from PC-tethered devices to mobile VR, but it has also significantly upgraded overall performance and user experience,” he told TechNewsWorld. “These advances should all help the company establish or extend its market traction.”

While hands-free hand tracking isn’t necessary for passive VR entertainment, it is critical to more interactive experiences, King said. Though the major movers in the VR market have been developing their own tracking technologies, Leap Motion should see multiple business opportunities among smaller original equipment manufacturers.

“That’s particularly true in business-focused VR solutions, many of which are sadly overshadowed by entertainment-centric platforms,” he said. “Plus, if Leap can establish itself as a leading player in the VR market, partnerships with larger companies will likely be in the company’s future.”

Rail Junction

As promising as Orion is, it depends on headset platforms that are still a long way from the consumer market, noted Mike Jude, program manager,Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Still, hands-free tracking is poised to evolve into a critical component of all active VR experiences. If it does, it could change the way people learn.

“People tend to learn better when they’re interacting with their environment than if they’re in a static situation and are being told what the environment is like,” Jude told TechNewsWorld.

Frost & Sullivan listed VR Education as a Service as one of the most intriguing convergences of technology likely to emerge in the near term.

The development of Orion and other hands-free technologies could make VR more accessible to people outside the ranks of hard-core gaming, starting with those inside the classroom.

Given the enthusiasm VR already has among educators, big leaps forward with the tech should be well received, and this year should be filled with such advances, according to Jude.

“I think we’re going to see a quantum shift in the space this year,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of devices out there and a lot of enthusiasm. And all it takes is one [independent software vendor] writing one application that gains a lot of traction, and then everyone else will jump into it.”

Gadget Ogling: Tweeted Cocktails, Dimensional Doodles, and Crazy Cubes

data-cocktail-tweet-drinks

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the first-look gadget column that indulges in a long, hard gaze at the latest-announced gizmos before deciding to hold them up for all to gape in wonderment or to cast them aside into the wasteland.

Our finds on Mount Gadget this week include a machine that mixes drinks based on your tweets, a 3D-drawing pen for kids, and a smart cube.

These are not reviews, friends, as some of the items are mere prototypes, and I have not laid hands on them. The ratings are a guide only to how much I’d like to try each, and they are not in any way an indicator of the products’ quality.

Tweet Your Aperitif

Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a delectable tweet: a melange of words, pictures, videos or GIFs that looks good enough to eat. But is it good enough to drink?

Data Cocktail is a system that hunts for the latest five tweets that include keywords related to available ingredients, and then will mix a drink based on them.

The machine will print the “recipe” for the crowdsourced drink, just in case it happens to be absurdly delicious, while sending a thank you note to those Twitter users who contributed to the concoction without meaning to.

It’s a prototype, but the creators suggest they could put Data Machine to use at events with custom ingredients and keywords tailored to specific needs or preferences.

This is essentially a compelling data experiment — a way to visualize what the world is talking about in a microcosm. It’s a neat project, which, funnily enough is exactly how I like my drinks: neat. No ice, please, Data Cocktail, and I hope this works: #bourbon #bourbon #bourbon.

3D Drawing

Whenever there’s a child-friendly technology product that is inexpensive and encourages creativity, I think parents should try to embrace it as much as possible. Adults for a few years have enjoyed the 3Doodler, a 3D-printing pen. Now there’s a version for youngsters.

Users load a plastic strand and the pen melts it, giving the doodler a way to create physical, free-form objects by drawing in the air.

What makes this version more viable for families is that there’s only one temperature option, and it’s unlikely to cause any burns to skin or anything else. That’s thanks to a new type of biodegradable plastic that melts at lower temperatures.

The 3Doodler Start is US$50, half the price of the most recent 3Doodler. There’s a trade-off here, in that there’s only one speed at which the plastic is extruded, but that just means kids will need to be extra cautious when creating their masterpieces.

Certainly, this is one for older children, or at least those who are very carefully supervised, lest you walk into a room to find a kid’s name scrawled in plastic on your expensive couch. It seems a fine way to tease out some of the wackier ideas young ‘uns have while affording them a way to stretch their creativity.

I want one so I can try creating a completely custom, elaborate Rube Goldberg device.

Boxed Designs

At this point, we’re more than used to smart bulbs that let us use a smartphone application to adjust their color, switch-on and -off times, and much more. What happens when we take that idea to a new dimension? We get something like the Tittle.

This is a smart cube that has 512 LED lamps with which you can do almost anything you like, apparently. You can, of course, alter the patterns and colors, but there’s a little more to this. It can sync to the beat of the music you’re playing, while you can send emoji to friends, which will appear on their own Tittle in 3D, and create your own animations.

With an 8 x 8 x 8 grid of lights, you won’t be able to play out your own, high-definition 3D animated movie here, but it could afford you the chance to create some neat effects. I’d like to see an open platform (a software development kit is listed as a stretch goal in the crowdfunding campaign) that perhaps could let us visualize data in a rudimentary way — similar to Data Cocktail — or that could sychronize distinctive ways to light up when we receive notifications from various services.

As it stands, it’s a cute toy that has the potential to do something more interesting. I’m hoping for an additional stretch goal that will force the creators to change that abysmal name.

Dell’s Embedded PCs Take the IoT to the Mainstream

dell-embedded-box-pc

Dell on Tuesday announced the release of its first purpose-built industrial PC products for the mainstream market: the Embedded Box PC 3000 Series and 5000 Series.

The products are a response to the growing embedded computing market and the lack of reliable devices, Dell said.

The embedded systems market was valued at more than US$11 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $23.1 billion in 2019, growing at a compound annual rate of almost 15 percent, according to a Technavio study that Dell cited.

Falling component costs, improved power efficiencies, increasing return-on-investment needs, and demand from the Internet of Things are fueling that growth.

Known Quantity

“Customers have consistently told us that current embedded solutions do not meet the level of cost-effective sophistication, scale and support they need for these to be a critical, reliable component of their operations,” said Andy Rhodes, Dell’s executive director of commercial IoT solutions.

Dell provides global scale and an end-to-end IT and operations technology security portfolio, he said.

The products’ rugged design can withstand extreme temperatures while using a fanless cooling system, which is beneficial in several applications, according to Dell spokesperson Sarah Luden.

“These were made to be used in a wide range of industries, from digital signage to factory automation and transportation and construction. Within factory automation, the fan is the first thing to go down,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s also much quieter, so in a hospital setting, think of MRI machines, where patient care and comfort is important,” Luden added.

The IoT is a new arena for many business owners, and investing in costly computers and programmers can be a scary proposition, she noted. “For some people, the Internet of Things is new, so they want to go with a brand they know.”

Why This Box Is Different

What makes the Dell PC appealing is its out-of-the-box capabilities, said Christian Juarez, an instructor at TechShop.

Dell Embedded Box PC

Dell Embedded Box PC

The IoT is helping industries streamline their processes to make work more efficient. “The whole point of IoT is bringing everything to the cloud and then connecting to the Internet and then having a control center for it,” Juarez told TechNewsWorld.

“What happens a lot of times is that you have to set up the control center yourself. If you’re setting it up yourself, as opposed to what Dell’s offering, you have to decide on your distro, have all kinds of software running to get everything working together, you have to code things yourself, things of that nature,” he said.

“With Dell, they have software built in for you, so you don’t have to do that much. Software can be a huge issue, so with something like an out-of-the-box embedded machine you’re going to appeal to a lot more people,” Juarez added.

Microcomputers like Raspberry Pi are used for control centers, he noted, but that kind of device requires expert-level programming skills that a Dell doesn’t necessarily need, which may help companies save money in the long run.

The Embedded Box PCs will be available this summer. Pricing starts at $1,099 for the 3000 series and $1,699 for the 5000 series.

Greenwave Brings Unity to IoT Networks

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Greenwave Systems on Monday announced the expansion of its AXON Platform to unite mobile machine-to-machine and residential IoT networks into one fully manageable network service.

Mobile carriers, telecommunications operators and service providers can use AXON for Mobile IoT to integrate a variety of communications protocols into the same standard IP-based language.

The unified service allows telecom operators to handle billions of devices via Greenwave’s implementation of Docker, the company said. They can create new revenue streams by introducing services on a managed network.

“Historically, an M2M service would run on two separate platforms — the mobile platform taking care of the data subscription, and an application platform running the specific applications, such as tracking, surveillance or residential home automation. With AXON for Mobile IoT, these platforms are now combined into an all-in-one solution,” said Martin Manniche, CEO of Greenwave Systems.

“The AXON Platform abstracts the complexity and confusion of competing IoT standards away from service and application developers, which allows rapid innovation and development cycles,”.

Eliminates Legacy Upgrade

AXON for Mobile IoT integrates into a telecom operator’s existing system, letting them offer mobile IoT services without any further development on their legacy platforms, Greenwave said.

The platform is built to work with major IoT standards and enables new services to run on both the mobile network and a residential network. The advantage is the ability to quickly switch services between the two to suit the specific needs of subscribers, the company said.

The AXON Platform has been used to monitor home networks, IoT devices and the media activities of end users. New capabilities include location GPS, extended battery life, device tracking and telemetry.

Additional features will include tracking and other sensor data for people, animals and cars; surveillance for security and monitoring; healthcare data monitoring; and smart cities applications for pollution control, parking and traffic monitoring.

Pushes Mobile Boundaries

The platform expansion is an example of how critical mobile is to communications, for people and devices. Mobile is no longer an add-on or a separate platform. Rather, it’s the core platform on which to build communications solutions and apps, noted Doug Brackbill, CEO of Line2.

“Platforms offering this level of integrated mobile-first provisioning, services and apps are now the proper building blocks. They accelerate the development and availability of magical experiences that truly delight end users,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The AXON Platform, along with AXON for Mobile IoT, gives mobile carriers and telecommunication operators the ability to offer a broad range of IoT services, both residential and industrial, Greenwave’s Hounshell said.

Other solutions in the market address subsets of IoT, he added, “but with the addition of AXON for Mobile IoT, Greenwave’s AXON Platform is unique in its ability to address the IoT superset, which includes industrial IoT, consumer IoT and machine-to-machine IoT across local, broadband and mobile networks in one platform.”