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News Roundup: Apple bores, McAfee16 and Baidu AI

A roundup of the week’s tech news including compostable electronics, Kellogg’s VR, and Irn Bru.

That Apple thing happened

Apple’s much-hyped conference took place this week, and was probably their least inspiring event yet. Apple TV finally got an update, the expected iPad Pro made an appearance (and with a stylus!), as did the iPhone 6S. There were also some new Watch straps.

There were no announcements about how many Watches had actually been sold (no surprises there) or how well Apple Music is doing, no word on HomeKit or nuggets about the Cupertino’s AI car project. The event wasn’t a let-down because there wasn’t anything unexpected aside from the appearance of a Microsoft representative onstage; in today’s world it’s amazing there are ever any surprises at these kinds of conferences. But Apple used to do really interesting things and making slightly bigger versions of current products doesn’t really do it for me.

Meanwhile Apple co-founder and headline generator Steve Wozniak has been at it again. The Woz might be a fan of the Steve Jobs movie he was involved with – Fassbender’s, not Kutcher’s – he’s not shy about being honest. “Steve Jobs played no role at all in any of my designs of the Apple I and Apple II computer and printer interfaces and serial interfaces and floppy disks and stuff that I made to enhance the computers,” he said in an interview. “He did not know technology. He’d never designed anything as a hardware engineer, and he didn’t know software. He wanted to be important, and the important people are always the business people. So that’s what he wanted to do.” He also claimed that he had already designed the Apple II for himself, and it “it was just waiting for a company.”

Shock logo theft

Last week, the tech world was set alight by the news of Google’s new logo. But as the Verge points out, Lenovo had already called dibs on the slanted “e”. Shocking. Who do they think they are, Apple?

McAfee16

The US Presidential race already reads like bad satire; another round of Bush vs. Clinton, Trump as a genuine frontrunner, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina having a go, that Zoltan guy. It’s all a bit weird, and now John McAfee’s involved.

The security software guru told Wired in an interview that he was mulling a run – later confirmed via a YouTube vid – for the White House via his Cyber Party. McAfee, infamously forced to leave Belize for fear of prosecution after his neighbour was murdered, says his party “Is not really related to any existing party in terms of ideology and aims,” but is yet to outline much in the way of policy.

While his chances are probably pretty slim, you never know what could happen. It’s a crazy world.

Compostable chips

A few months ago we told you about new biodegradable semiconductors being developed out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now similar research is underway over at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) in Germany. The Biolicht project aims to make semiconductors and dyes made of plant extracts or insulators made of gelatine as an alternative to current materials, which are often toxic. These may not be as long-lived as the inorganic alternatives, but they easily survive the service life of disposable electronics,” says Dr. Gerardo Hernandez-Sosa, leader of the Biolicht Young Investigator Group of KIT. The aim is to enable electronics to be as compostable as a banana skin.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA & privacy-related headlines

-          Ed Snowden has slammed Russia’s attitude to internet freedoms as “fundamentally wrong” and “mistake in policy”.

M&A

IBM has acquired Node.js developer specialist StrongLoop, Accenture has continued its recent spending spree with the purchase of S3 TV Technology, Equinix has bought Japanese data center firm Bit-Isle, Interoute now owns Easynet, and NTT Data has snapped up iPay88’s Malaysian operations.   

AMD has announced that it is forming a new business unit called Radeon Technologies Group out of its graphics offerings.

New things – Baidu, Adidas and more

We saw Facebook join the virtual assistant game last week with “M”, and this week saw Baidu join the fray with its own version. Announced at the 10th annual Baidu World conference in Beijing, China’s answer to Alphabet has named its virtual assistant “Duer”, which roughly translates to “Du Secretary”. Feature-wise it seems to be along the same lines as all the rest.

Nike might have decided to get out of the wearable tech business, but that hasn’t stopped Adidas having a go. The sports clothing company has just released a full activity-tracking hybrid watch device through its recently-acquired Runtastic unit.

Sony has also decided digital smartwatches aren’t the coolest and released its own take on the traditional watch. The Wena goes down the “smart strap” route while leaving the time-keeping to a standard unit from Japanese watchmaker Citizen.

Facebook has announced this week that it is to move into the Ed-tech sector. Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is to offer free educational software to schools in the US that will reportedly let children learn at their own pace. “We’ve seen that there’s an opportunity to help apply our skills to the future of education, and we all wanted to find a way to help make an impact by doing what we do best — building software,” FB’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox wrote in a blog post. According to the post, students start by working with teachers to set long-term goals (e.g. “become an investigative journalist”, “go to a state school”, “learn to code”), then lay out a plan to achieve them over the course of many years.

Diversity

Enterprise messaging company Slack has just released its diversity data. The company’s workforce is around 70% white (roughly in line with other tech companies), but nearly 40% of its workforce are female, higher than many of its peers. Also, 7% of its engineers are African-American, again higher than other tech companies.

Driverless cars – Uber and VW

Uber is definitely working on a self-driving car. “Self-driving cars is an example of where Uber is really putting all its efforts, passion, drive and momentum behind something, so it will happen,” Uber’s (outgoing) VP of Mobile Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen said in an interview with the Memo. Doesn’t say much about the “sharing economy” if its biggest company is trying to remove the sharing bit of its model, does it?

Autonomous vehicles might be a major industry of the future, but not everyone is convinced. VW has come out in favour of keeping a person behind the wheel. “The desire for freedom of individual mobility is here to stay,” the car manufacturer said this week. The German car giant joins Jaguar Land Rover as companies firmly against AI cars.

Kellogg’s VR

Google Cardboard has done a lot for Virtual Reality. It’s enabled anyone with a smartphone to immerse themselves into alternate worlds without splashing out obscene amounts of cash for headsets and accompanying hardware. So pervasive is the design that it now literally comes on the back of a cereal box. Kellogg’s New Zealand is sticking the design for a VR headset onto boxes of Nutri-Grain and offering a free app that allows users to watch other people do extreme sport from the comfort of their breakfast table. Remember when you used to just turn empty boxes and bottles into imaginary forts and rockets and things?

Irn-Bru

Irn Bru is great. That can of orange nectar might be the best thing to have ever come out of Scotland, and has now been made useful in the world of technology. Computer repair shop owner John Lawson has created a computer, named the “Aye Mac”, which uses Scotland’s national drink as its liquid cooling system. Not particularly practical, but a good stab in the eye to Coca-Cola. 

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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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