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News Roundup: 2G Tuesdays, ChromeDroid, and Apple flops

A roundup of the week’s tech news including robobikes, $15 smartphones and MegaNet.

2G Tuesdays

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took part in another Townhall Q&A session this week, this time at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi. Questions around AI and Candy Crush were answered, but unsurprisingly, he had to defend Internet.org – which now has 15 million users - and its take on Net Neutrality. “There are a billion people in India who do not have access to the internet yet, and if we care about connecting everyone in the world, you can’t do that if there are so many people who don’t have access to basic connectivity.” He also added, “If there’s a fisherman in the village who now has access to the internet to sell some of his fish and provide for his family, no one gets hurt by that. That’s good.”

While Facebook might be taking its emerging market push seriously, most people in Silicon Valley probably don’t know what it’s like to access the social network from a cheap phone in a remote rural area of India or Africa. To remedy this, the company is introducing a new voluntary scheme dubbed ‘2G Tuesdays’; where internet speeds at its HQ slow down to a snail’s pace so they know what it’s like. Chief Product Officer Chris Cox is also requiring employees within his team switch to Android phones so they know how the majority of the world sees their product.

Facebook’s internet-providing drones may soon be filling the skies, but for now, Facebook has taken to installing Wi-Fi hotspots on the ground in India. Part of the Internet.org initiative and called Express Wi-Fi, these base stations aim to improve basic Wi-Fi connections in rural India.

$15 smartphones

In other India-related news, a new smartphone will soon be available on the sub-continent for just $15. Canadian firm DataWind – previously known for releasing the world’s cheapest tablet – will release the Linux-based phone in December. For your $15, you’ll get a 2G-enabled, single-core processor and standard definition display. Nothing too impressive, but the phone will also come with 12-months' worth of free mobile internet access.

Internet in Spaaace

Is SpaceX giving up on its plan to fire thousands of internet-providing micro-satellites into the sky? “I would say that this is actually very speculative at this point,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell this week. “We don’t have a lot of effort going into that right now.”

As one project gets grounded, however, another takes off. GoogleX’s balloon-based Project Loon has partnered with three mobile network operators (Indosat, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata) in Indonesia and will start beaming internet down to more than 100 million Indonesians starting next year.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA & privacy-related headlines

-          The EU Parliament has voted that ”human rights defender“ Ed Snowden should have all criminal charges against him dropped and be granted asylum within the EU. Snowden himself seemed quite pleased with the news

-          A startup founded by former NSA chief Keith Alexander has raised $32.5 million in a funding round

-          A startup in Utah has developed NSA-proof wallpaper

Now we live in an age of “cyberwarfare”, what happens when you mix technology with some good old fashioned industrial sabotage? According to the New York Times, the US government is worried that Russian submarines have been “aggressively operating” near US undersea internet cables, raising fears that they “might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.”

“I’m worried every day about what the Russians may be doing,” said Rear Adm. Frederick J. Roegge, commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Pacific.

According to Vice – who asked an expert – people shouldn’t be too worried since undersea cables are broken all the time by natural events, boats and wildlife.

Verbatim – Apple/Microsoft, Oracle, Kim Dotcom, FWD.us, McAfee

Back in 1997, Microsoft invested $150 million in rival computer maker Apple. At the time Microsoft was the dominant tech giant and Apple was floundering. Today things are a bit different. ”If you go back to 1997, when Steve came back, when they were almost bankrupt, we made an investment in Apple as part of settling a lawsuit. We, Microsoft made an investment,” Steve Ballmer told Bloomberg this week. ”In a way, you could say it might have been the craziest thing we ever did. But, you know, they’ve taken the foundation of great innovation, some cash, and they’ve turned it into the most valuable company in the world.” And now that Microsoft is all about software, Apple devices are probably a decent little earner for them, no?

Oracle OpenWorld took place in San Francisco this week. Co-CEO Mark Hurd promised big things from the future and predicted that by 2025 just two companies will own 80% of the SaaS market, and Oracle would be one of them. Meanwhile founder and CTO Larry Ellison admitted it had been a mistake to allow customers to turn off security within Oracle products. “People buy Oracle security features and don’t turn them on,” he said. “There should be no off and on button on security. It should be always on. Everything should always be encrypted.”

Also announced at the conference were new plans to open a Public High School on Oracle’s Redwood Shores Campus. “Seventeen years ago, Larry Ellison told me that he’d love to have a school where students learn to think,” said co-CEO Safra Catz. “Our support of d.tech reflects Larry’s vision for a unique high school founded on principles we believe in: innovation, creativity, problem-solving and design-thinking. We couldn’t be more excited to build this school on our campus and to see the positive impact it will undoubtedly have on the students, teachers, Oracle employees and the Bay Area community.”

Despite fighting an extradition order, MegaUpload founder Kim Dotcom took some time out to explain how his new MegaNet internet would work. Speaking via Skype at SydStart, he said MegaNet would do away with IP addresses and instead be based on Bitcoin’s decentralised Blockchain technology. “If you install the Meganet app on your smartphone in the future, what you allow Meganet to do is to use your smartphone when it is idle, to use the processing power of your smartphone”, he said.

 “Now if you have a hundred million smartphones that have the Meganet app installed we will have more online storage capacity, bandwidth and calculating power than the top 10 largest websites in the world combined, and that is the power of Meganet. Over the years with these new devices and capacity especially mobile bandwidth capacity, there will be no limitations.”

Certain members of the Republican Party have questionable views of immigration policy that include building a wall across Texas to keep Mexicans out. Mark Zuckerberg’s lobbying group FWD.us isn’t a fan of those ideas. “It is astounding that some in a party that espouses smaller government wants one big enough to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and millions of their U.S. citizen family members,” FWD.us President, Todd Schulte, said in a statement. “Mass deportation is absurd on its face and these policies are indefensible on human, economic, and political grounds…we utterly reject mass deportation and will continue to show this horrible, absurd “plan’s” astronomical costs.”

Presidential candidate McAfee’s reasons to vote for him this week include: he cares about your privacy and will get government agencies to do the same, and he understands cyberwarfare better than most.

M&A

IBM has acquired The Weather Company, Intel has bought cognitive computing startup Saffron, Cisco has bought video platform 1 Mainstream and IoT analytics startup ParStream, Sony has snaffled Toshiba’s sensor business, AsiaInfo has taken over Trend Micro’s Chinese subsidiary, and AR startup Blippar now owns AR startup Binocular.

Elsewhere, Securitas has secured security firm Diebold, Microsemi and Skyworks have both made a bid for PMC-Sierra Inc, mobile development startup Xamarin has snapped up mobile development startup RoboVM, and InteliSecure has splashed out for DLP specialist Pentura.

Walmart’s drones

Walmart’s embrace of modern technology continues this week after news broke that the retail giant has begun testing drones for parcel delivery. Not only is Walmart following in the footsteps of Amazon, Google, and numerous postal service around the world, but it’s also getting a say in future regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration has tasked the three previously-mentioned companies, along with 23 others such as PrecisionHawk and DJI, with formulating recommendations on how to implement and regulate its drone registration and identification system.

In related news, a drone this week crashed into some power lines in LA, cutting power to some 700 buildings.

Pi on tap

Hardware startups will now be able to order customised versions of the Raspberry Pi mini PC board in bulk. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has partnered with Element 14 to allow customers to customise the board’s layout, shape, connectors or input/output options, in orders of 3,000 or 5,000. ”This agreement opens up the potential for the Raspberry Pi to be customised for applications across a wide range of industries, from customers in IoT technology to energy management, right through to industrial automation,” said Richard Curtin of Premier Farnell [Element 14’s owners].

ChromeDroid

Is Alphabet (née Google) planning to retire its Chrome Operating System? According the WSJ, the company plans to fold ChromeOS into the Android mobile Operating System and reveal a new single version in 2017. Sounds like Alphabet has taken note of Microsoft’s Continuum feature on Windows 10 and wants to replicate it.

Hiroshi Lockheimer, head of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast at Google has tweeted that “There’s a ton of momentum for Chromebooks and we are very committed to Chrome OS. I just bought two for my kids for schoolwork.” I wouldn’t exactly call that an outright denial, however.

Robobikes

Self-driving cars might not be on the streets en masse yet, but the concept is one we’re getting used to. Can the same be said about AI motorbikes? As part of the Tokyo motorshow, Yamaha has shown off a new humanoid motorbike-riding robot. MOTOBOT has been designed to try and beat Valentino Rossi’s lap times around a racetrack. 

 

There were a few autonomous cars at this year’s motor show; Nissan and Mercedes-Benz both showed off some nice concept models. But Honda’s autonomous car expert Yoichi Sugimoto warned that we shouldn’t expect too much too soon. ”Today we cannot say the actual timeline for fully automated driving,” he said. ”Personally I think it's not before 2030.” Reasons behind this timeline include technical issues, regulation issues, public acceptance, even things like animals and weather.

In the US, the Library of Congress has ruled that car owners and security researchers can legally hack into car software with breaking copyright laws.

Apple finally flops

The results are in, and Steve Jobs has failed miserably. We’re not talking about Apple’s financials, we’re talking about the new Steve Jobs film. Despite starring Michael Fassbender and not being too terrible, Steve Jobs only managed to rake in $7.3 million on its opening weekend, putting it 7th on box office top ten. So far the film has made some $11 million, not good for a picture with an estimated budget of $30 million (plus marketing etc.), but making a loss in the tech industry isn’t something anyone seems too worried about. On the plus side, it made more than the Ashton Kutcher-fronted Jobs did on its opening, and will probably make more overall. 

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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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