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News Roundup: CES, No Basics and alien phones

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Amazon microchips, Swiss non-smartwatches, and billions of Ubuntu users.

CES

It’s that magical time of year again. People go to CES hoping to see the best of what technology will offer in the near future, and are instead greeted with laptops and phones with slightly better specs and some weird stuff that never makes it to market.

2016’s event saw plenty of smarthome stuff (smart fridges, washing machines, and remotes), new phones from Lenovo (though no longer sporting the Motorola branding) and Polaroid, some fun PCs and laptops from Lenovo and Tobii Tech, and of course lots of wearable tech. Fitbit and Casio both announced their first fully digital smartwatches, while Garmin, Intel, Mirama, ODG and Carl Zeiss are all bringing more technology to your face.

LG’s foldable colour screen caused a stir, and of course there were a few unexpected and weird ideas on show: French drone-maker Parrot makes smart plant pots, Chinese drone maker Ehang has created a giant autonomous drone designed to taxi people, and someone made a Bluetooth-enabled pregnancy test for some reason.

Outside of gizmos and gadgets, there were plenty of new announcements. Renault-Nissan and Kia both announced they had plans for self-driving cars, Intel promised that all of its products will sport conflict-free labels from Q2 this year, Blackberry will only release Android phones in 2016, and one search engine thinks it can beat Google.

No Basics

While the main Facebook headlines this week might be about Messenger’s 800 million users or Mark Zuckerberg’s dream to have a house like Iron Man, his Internet.org project looks to be becoming unsteady. Just a week after it was banned in India in the face of Net Neutrality fears, the “Free Basics” service has ceased operations in Egypt.

Water and wine

You might have read that the Oculus Rift is finally available for pre-order, for a mighty $599. Although that is apparently a cost price in an effort to get Virtual Reality to as many people as possible, it’s still not cheap. When asked is the Rift could compete with Google’s ultra-cheap and low-requirement Cardboard, Oculus founder Lucky Palmer Tweeted: “Yes, because the Rift is actually good. Kind of like how fancy wine competes with muddy water.” Burn.

How many people use Ubuntu? According to Phoronix’s Michael Larabel, the Linux distro has failed in its quest to have 200 million users by now. In response, Canonical’s Dustin Kirkland has come out and claimed the opposite. “I bet there are over a billion people today, using Ubuntu - both directly and indirectly. Without a doubt, there are over a billion people on the planet benefiting from the services, security, and availability of Ubuntu today.” Head to his blog to have a gander at his maths and see if you agree.

M&A

Apple has acquired AI startup Emotient, Intel has bought drone manufacturer Ascending Technologies, the original founders of Salary.com have bought it back from IBM, Accenture has snapped up CRMWaypoint and Formicary, Oracle has snaffled AddThis, Cloudability has splashed out for Datahero, and Luma has got its hand on smarthome security provider Nodal Industries.

Yahoo! has shut down its video streaming service, The Alliance@IBM union is folding, and Fujitsu is planning to spin-off its PC and phone businesses.

NSA

-          Former NSA Director William Binney says bulk data collection is “99% useless

-          Blackberry has cancelled plans to cease operations in Pakistan

-          Twitter has reached an agreement to bring back Politwoops

-          Encryption expert David Chaum is planning a new project to protect online anonymity

IndieGoGo Enterprise

Once upon a time, crowdfunding was about helping the little guys, the garage tinkerers with wacky ideas. But no more. Recent years have seen more and more big companies use crowdfunding as a way to create hype and jumpstart pre-orders. This week IndieGoGo launched an Enterprise Crowdfunding program designed to help large companies launch products on its site. Another blow for the little guys.

Amazon chips

There are few things in the world that Amazon doesn’t sell, and that will soon include own-brand microchips. Annapurna Labs, an Israeli chip designer Amazon acquired last year, has announced it is releasing a series of ARM-based chips for OEMs making smarthome devices.

Glasses

Despite all the headlines, there’s still been new announcements made away from CES. The first pictures of Alpha-Google’s second generation Glass headgear have surfaced online. Images on the FFC’s site seem to show a sleek but heavy-duty design featuring just one arm and a pivoting screen.

Drones

The FAA’s mandatory drone registration rules has seen over 180,000 signees since it launched late last year. However one hobbyist is taking the FAA to court in order to overturn the order and has a decent chance of winning.

Windows phones

HP could be getting back into the phone business! Anyone expecting a Palm revival will be disappointed, however. Rumours around the web say the HP “Falcon” will be a decent-spec Windows 10 phone. Possibly expect an announcement at MWC next month. Maybe. Or not.

Meanwhile, Microsoft aren’t giving up on making their own phones. “We need some sort of spiritual equivalent on the phone side that doesn’t just feel like it’s a phone for people who love Windows,” said Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela this week. “It’s got to be a phone where it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s a real shock or that’s a real breakthrough, and that’s going to make me (as a hypothetical Apple fan) pause before I buy my 17th iPhone.’ And we need time to actually go build that.”

Capossela also claimed this week that people are playing with fire by staying with Windows 7. “We do worry when people are running an operating system that’s 10 years old that the next printer they buy isn’t going to work well, or they buy a new game…and it doesn’t work on a bunch of older machines,” he said. “And so, as we are pushing our ISV [Independent Software Vendor] and hardware partners to build great new stuff that takes advantage of Windows 10 that obviously makes the old stuff really bad and not to mention viruses and security problems.”

Kids and tech

Smartphone addiction is a real thing, and it seems to be worse in kids. A survey conducted by Action for Children found nearly a quarter of parents struggle to limit their child’s technology use. Luckily it seems most mummies and daddies have at least some awareness of what their kids get up to online; a Pew study found that nearly half of parents in the US check the browsing history of their little darlings and know at last one of their passwords, while 2/3 have “digitally grounded” kids by taking away technology.

Swiss Alp Watch

It’s no secret that the top brass of the Swiss Watch Industry are dismissive of smartwatches, especially when the prices start reaching five or six figures. H Moser & Cie – whose watches generally sell for at least $15,000 but can reach much higher – has taken an unsubtle dig at Apple with the announcement of the Swiss Alp Watch. The $25,000 device is the same size and shape as Apple’s but features no digital wizardry, just good old fashioned Swiss engineering. "The Swiss Alp Watch does not allow you to make calls, or send messages to share the latest gossip,” claims the press release. “It does not give you the option to send beautiful sketches you have created on a two-inch screen or to share your heart rate. It does much more than that: it lets you reconnect to what matters in life.” Could the Swiss Alp Watch become the smartwatch of choice for hipsters who are too cool for Apple and smartwatches?

Bribes

Two cases of tech bribery in the news this week. First was a former employee of Russian search engine Yandex being jailed after trying to sell the company’s source code for a mere $25,000. 

Meanwhile, the former president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli has been named as one of the conspirators in the bribery case involving SAP. In August, Vicente Eduardo Garcia, a former VP at the German giant was charged with bribing Panamanian officials in an effort to secure government contracts. Neither SAP nor Martinelli have been charged, and the former President denies any involvement.

Hackers

Security experts and worry worts have long warned of hackers breaching critical infrastructure such as the power grid, but had no evidence of it happening. This week researchers confirmed that a blackout in Ukraine over Christmas was the result of a hacking group using malware, the first attack of its kind to have been found.

Apple HQ on the moon

When building a moonbase, it’s important to take style into consideration. Apparently. That’s why the European Space Agency has tasked Foster + Partners – the designers behind Apple’s new futuristic HQ – to design a habitat that can be 3D-printed on the moon. The lunar base would be located near the moon’s South Pole, printed using lunar soil and populated by both people and robots. 

Alien phones

I’ve met a few people over the years who have, without irony, dismissed Moore’s Law in place of “It must be aliens” as an explanation for the rapid pace of technology. And what if they’re right?

A few “out there” news outlets have been reporting that a clay tablet dug up by archaeologists in Austria dating from the 13th century BCE looks suspiciously like a Nokia 3310. Coincidence, or proof of aliens? 

Obviously this was a hoax. And an old one at that. The original creator – the Art Replik Studio – created the tablet back in 2012, and has since explained via a post on Facebook how they created what they have dubbed “BabyloNokia”. Sorry world, the search for proof of extra-terrestrials continues. 

 

CORRECTION OF A GLOBAL HOAX!I want to clear up the mystery about Babylonokia and correct it. It has got worldwide...

Posted by Art Replik on Thursday, 7 January 2016

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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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