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News Roundup: Stalling smartwatches, hacking and servers in space

A roundup of the week’s tech news including modular phones, Linux AI and connected car profits.

Apple Watch tanking

Has the Apple Watch hit a wall? Seems so. New data from Slice Intelligence and Market Watch suggests that sales of the Cupertino company’s smartwatch may have dropped as much as 90% since its launch. Where Apple was selling some 200,000 watches a day during launch week in the US, that figure is now thought to be less than 20,000, with most being the cheaper sport version. Oddly, estimates suggest that only a couple of thousand versions of the $10,000+ “Gold” Watch have been sold. Seems the smartwatch revolution, which was waiting for Apple to really get the party started, is grinding to a halt. Maybe Will.i.Am – who doesn’t believe in sayings about glass houses – can save it instead.

Mobile news

BlackBerry look to be finally giving in and embracing Android. A leaked image of BlackBerry’s Venice phone from Mashable’s Evan Blass shows an [admittedly nice] BB phone with an Android home screen.

It seems Jolla’s SailFish is starting to take off. As well as getting backing from the Russian Government, the Finnish startup has announced a partnership with Yotaphone. The Russian e-ink smartphone maker is reportedly ditching Android and will be adopting Sailfish OS for future devices.

The modular phone industry is still in its early days, but it’s already suffered a casualty. Vsenn, a Finnish startup founded by former Nokia/Android alumni, announced that it was folding via a series of Tweets. “Vsenn is licensing its technology to another brand. We tried everything to remain independent but we couldn’t fight the financial pressure,” the company said. “We didn’t want other company to use our name when we know that our values aren’t shared. This means that Vsenn is no longer a brand, but a movement for modularity and low environmental impact electronics.” The company hadn’t officially released anything concrete, so it’s hard to say if their technology will ever come to light.

Meanwhile Sony, despite its recent financial troubles, will remain in the mobile business. “Smartphones are completely connected to other devices, also connected to people’s lives — deeply. And the opportunity for diversification is huge,” Hiroki Totoki, CEO of Sony Mobile, told ArabianBusiness.com “We’re heading to the IoT (Internet of Things) era and have to produce a number of new categories of products in this world, otherwise we could lose out on a very important business domain. In that sense we will never ever sell or exit from the current mobile business.”

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines.

-          The NSA has been spying on most of Brazil’s leading officials, and most of Germany’s too

-          You can download some NSA code off of Github if you trust it

-          The US may strike a deal with Ed Snowden

-          Experts don’t think David Cameron’s efforts to remove encryption are unworkable

-          The proposed UK Snooper’s Charter could cost around £10 billion to bring into force 

This week saw Hacking Team, a vendor of surveillance and intrusion software for governments, get hacked. The Italian company –labelled “an enemy of the internet” by Reporters Without Borders – saw some 400Gb of data put online, revealing that they have been breaching international rules and selling its software to repressive governments. The company itself is denying many of the claims and saying the hack puts their software in the hands of terrorists and extremists.

M&A

Is Microsoft in talks to buy chip manufacturer AMD? Seems a big ask; Satya Nadella’s company has just admitted defeat on one major acquisition, and would be unlikely to risk another, especially one not in great financial shape

Meanwhile Cisco has bought analytics and automation firm MaintanceNet, NTT Com now owns German data company e-Shelter, Splunk has purchased security firm Caspida, and IFS has acquired VisionWaves

EMC has declared it is offloading its file-sharing business Syncplicity to private investment firm Skyview Capital, Symantec is said to be selling Veritas to another private equity group, while eBay’s enterprise unit is rumoured to be sold to yet another private equity group by “people familiar with the matter.” Bids for Nokia’s HERE maps business are currently at a standstill.

Databarracks, in Spaaaace

You’ve probably heard that support for Windows Server 2003 is coming to an end. So what should you do about it? Panic? Migrate? Bury your head in the sand? Naaa. Do what DataBarracks did, and fire a Win2k3 disk into space. For some odd reason, the company attached the disk to a balloon and sent it up to an altitude of 100,000 feet. Not quite as odd as the Ed Miliband stone, but still a bit strange way to prove a point.

$400 connected cars

You’ve probably heard about connected cars. You might know the likes of Apple, Google and even BlackBerry are competing with traditional auto-makers to control that little screen on the dashboard.  And new data explains why there’s so much fuss; companies could make as much as $400 a car from all the data that these computers on wheels will be generating. Considering there were some 78 million new cars sold last year, that’s a lot of wonga.

In other transportation news, the drones are spreading. The Swiss Postal Service has begun testing its UAV delivery service, while Nokia Networks is now using drones to test its network infrastructure. The Verge has compiled a list of the 500 companies granted special exemptions by the FAA to fly drones within the US: they’re mostly agriculture, photography/film or manufacturing companies, with a few real estate/infrastructure firms.

Here’s a HoloLens and $100,000 - do something cool

Microsoft’s Windows phone is known to be short on apps compared to its major rivals. To avoid this same issue happening with its coveted HoloLens headgear, the Redmond Company is offering $500,000 to academic institutions willing to help create apps and new use cases. Intended to be used for “seed-funding larger initiatives, proofs of concept, or demonstrations of feasibility,” Microsoft will offer five institutions $100,000 and two HoloLens development kits to create new solutions around data visualizations, communication/collaboration, experimental media and anything else cool and out there.

If all else fails, there’s at least one company who will be making HoloLens apps. Object Theory, a new startup founded by ex-Microsoft HoloLens Studio member Michael Hoffman, claims to be the first HoloLens company and aims to help business create, develop and launch “mixed reality” applications

Linux loves AI

There’s been no shortage of people saying we should embrace the fear of AI and that we’re all doomed in a Terminator sort of way. But Linux founder Linus Torvalds thinks otherwise. “I just don't see the situation where you suddenly have some existential crisis because your dishwasher is starting to discuss Sartre with you,” he said during a Q&A sessions with Slashdot. “The whole ‘Singularity’ kind of event? Yeah, it’s science fiction, and not very good Sci-Fi at that, in my opinion. Unending exponential growth? What drugs are those people on? I mean, really.”

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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