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News Roundup: Facebook VR, startup isles, and watching people code

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Pi sales, Jeb Bush and Apple rumours

Apple cars, watches and cardboard

Lots of Apple rumours swamping the news lately. Those photos of an Apple-based smart car gained extra weight after publications including Reuters and the WSJ reported that sources within Apple were working on a smart automobile. Codenamed “Project Titan,” the Cupertino company apparently has hundreds of people working on the idea, is aggressively hiring staff from the likes of Tesla and, if it sees the light of day, will be in production by 2020.

Apple Watch [so cool it’s on the cover of fashion magazines now] isn’t as good as the company wanted it to be. Tim Cook & Co. reportedly was forced to axe a number of health tracking features late in the device’s development. Blood pressure and blood oxygen monitoring were removed because of inaccuracies and the potential requirement of getting FDA approval were dropped, according the WSJ. Cook can probably console himself with the news that the super expensive gold-version of the Apple watch could make the company as much as $5 billion per quarter.

Finally, Apple is jumping on the AR/VR bandwagon. According to Patently Apple, the iPhone-maker has been granted a patent for a headset that allows an iPhone to slide into the viewer. Of course it’s possible that this will never be released, but it’s still pretty cool.

No Tech Isle

Tim Draper wanted to make Silicon Valley its separate state. Peter Theil wants his own tech island. And now the Scouts have stopped Denmark getting its own tech island. Middelgrundsfortet, one of the world’s largest artificial islands and located off the coast of Copenhagen, was built in 1890 under the orders of Christian IX. The island was up for sale, and one of the proposed plans to turn it into a “Startup Isle.” Unfortunately a rival bid from the Danish Scout Association won, and the isle will be turned into “an original activity-laboratory, created by and for children and young people.”

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines…

The Kasperky lab has revealed that the NSA has been planting spyware on hard drives for years. The “Equation Group” were reportedly able to access the firmware of almost any hard drive they like, and have been doing it for a decade or more. Western Digital, one of the companies affected by the news, says it had “no knowledge of the described cyber-espionage program.”

-          The NSA & GCHQ hacked into the internal network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world and stole encryption keys.

-          Someone from the FBI openly talked about its Stingray project for the first time.

-          NSA Director Michael Rogers is sure North Korea hacked Sony.

-          You can sign a petition to see if GCHQ has been spying on you.

-          Lenovo has been caught shipping laptops with pre-installed adware that kills HTTPS. The company has since sort of apologised and is telling people how to remove this software.

-          Google is against any attempts to expand data collection efforts by government agencies.

-          Potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush is pro-NSA, says he basically doesn’t understand why there’s any debate at all.

M&A

Fairly quiet on the M&A front compared to recent weeks. Samsung is looking to compete with Apple Pay after acquiring LoopPay, Infosys is buying Panaya, and Hitachi now owns Oxya.

Verbatim – digital vellum

The world need a “digital vellum” to preserve information in the digital age, or risk being forgotten in the future. That’s according to Google’s Vint Cerf. “If we want people in the future to be able to recreate what we are doing now, we are going to have to build the concept of preservation into the internet,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and repeated his previous calls for a digitized vellum [a type of resilient parchment] to prevent old hard and software becoming unrecoverable by future generations. “If we don't do something about preserving the meaning of the ‘bits’, we may become something of a dark century.”

As we gradually get closer to the US elections, attempts to woo the moneyed tech types of Silicon Valley will undoubtedly increase. “I love tech,” proclaimed Republican Ted Cruz this week. Will the Valley vote/donate to the right though? History suggests otherwise

Meanwhile President Obama talked tech with Re/Code’s Kara Swisher this week. He talked about cyber-security [which is apparently just like basketball], why learning to code is necessary for everyone, Ed Snowden and even wearable tech.

Apple’s Jony Ive sat down with the New Yorker this week for a long chat. Ive reveals how he helped design the lightsaber in the new Star Wars trailer, had ideas for an iPhone 4 Plus, doesn’t dig Google Glass or giving users too much choice over designs, and discusses the design of the new watch.

Pis, Neptunes, Facebook VR etc.

The smartphone revolution has stalled somewhat in the Land Of The Rising Sun. According to Reuters, shipments of traditional flip-phones rose in 2014 while smartphone shipments actually fell.

Congrats to The Raspberry Pi Foundation, who this week announced they had sold 5 million Raspberry Pis. Aside from the fact that means they’ve sold some 500,000 units of its Pi 2 in the last few weeks, it also makes them one of, if not the, biggest UK computer manufacturers ever.

Also revealed this week was Neptune, another competitor in the wearable tech parade. The swish looking wearable comes with a phone-like device for when wrist-work doesn’t work – the screen comes with a bigger camera and can charge your wrist device.

Google’s Project Ara has its first camera module. Toshiba this week showed off its camera module at the Project Ara Developer Conference late last month. The company is planning a 2 megapixel front camera as well as 5 and 13 megapixel rear cameras.

Facebook is doing something with Oculus Rift, finally. “I mean, virtual reality is pretty cool. We’re working on apps for VR,” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox told Re/Code. When you’re in Facebook, you’re just sending around these bits of experience — a photo, a video, a thought,” he continued, but with VR, you could be “sending a fuller picture.”

The latest Linux survey is out. Independent developers accounted for just 16%of contributions to the kernel – the rest came from companies such as Intel and Red Hat.

Watching People Code

Apparently watching people code is a thing. People are live-streaming their coding endeavours on sites such as Twitch, and thousands of people are tuning in. Check out Vice’s article about people watching a guy code a new search engine. 

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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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