News Roundup: Remodulating Phones, Acquisition Mysteries and Spy Kettles

Remodulating the Phone

So last week one man caught the attention of pretty much every media outlet with even the vaguest interest in tech. Dave Hakkens caused a stir when he revealed his Phonebloks concept. A fairly simple idea designed to reduce waste, Hakkens envisions a world where instead of replacing whole phones when they go caput or become obsolete, we just replace individual parts. So if you want a bigger camera or more battery, you just add the corresponding module to the mother board, kind of like electronic Lego. It’s a novel concept that some have tried before, but not for a while. There were plenty of detractors saying it couldn’t work for a number of reasons, from performance and lazy users to a lack of interest from manufacturers and excessive wear and tear.

One company who did back the idea, however, was Motorola. The Google-owned phone makers announced their own version of the idea, named Project Ara. So identical are the ideas that they will be “engaging with the Phonebloks community throughout our development process.” Though it sounds something like a partnership, it has to be more than a coincidence Motorola announced on the same day as Phoneblock’s Thunderclap. Those who missed Phonebloks but caught Motorola’s announcment created a second wave of naysayers and unbelievers. And one that thinks it could actually work. I’m a fan of the idea, though I’d definitely need a keyboard option to actually buy one. And maybe a mini flamethrower or something to keep me entertained.

Wearable Wars

Google Glass has had a makeover, and now comes with an earbud, and a traffic ticket. But the whole wearbles market is getting crowded. Microsoft and Samsung are both working on their own versions [though whether it would be Android or Tizen is unclear, which would presumable launch sometime next year.

In the smartwatch segment, we can expect an iWatch in 2014, as well as offerings from Google and HTC, while an interesting Nokia patent points to multiple screens on the wrist. Chinese company Geak, who launched a watch and smart ring combo this year, has announced it’s sold 100,000 of the watches so far, and plans a global roll out next year.

Research firm GfK did some research to see what people who aren’t geeky tech writers think about wearable tech, and found most are already priced out of joining in. Of 1,600 British and American people 6/10 thought a none-phone dependent smartwatch appealing, while 4/10 thought the same of Glass tech. But when told of the price [£150-200 for a watch, £400-600 for Glass] the number planning to buy a device halved.

Liquid, light, lasers - Internet in Spaaaaace!

Scientists have been busy lately, and done a lot of cool things:

-          Researchers have created ‘underwater Wi-Fi’ using soundwaves. This will be used for research, not helping Mermaids bridge the Digital Divide.

-          Other researchers have created ‘Li-Fi’, or superfast wireless internet connectivity using light.

-          NASA have tested what could eventually be an outer space internet using lasers and the  LADEE lunar spacecraft.

-          EU researchers have come up with a prototype internet infrastructure that won’t need servers.

-          IBM has unveiled a new kind of computer is says is powered by ‘electronic blood’.

-          Scientists are closing in on a way to use Graphene effectively, and could do away with batteries.

NSA still leaking

Snowden’s leaks are still causing a stir. Latest headlines…

-          The NSA website went down, was possibly hacked.

-          Google & Yahoo! were being hacked by NSA via fibre optic links, Google unhappy about this.

-          NSA reportedly spied on the Vatican as cardinals elected new Pope.

-          Spain spied on, reportedly with help from Spanish authorities, and same for France.

-          Germany planning its own German internet to avoid the US.

-          Indian government says civil servants can’t use Gmail, Yahoo! or Outlook any more.

-          Senate panel says NSA is ok to carry on as it was, Dick Cheney agrees.

-          NSA staff say leaks will cost lives, also admits they may be screwed.

-          NSA Director says government must stop media, UK PM agrees.

-          US intelligence officials defend spying on foreign leaders.

-          Companies shut down due to NSA are proposing new encryption standards to create ‘darkmail’.

-          Edward Snowden has a new job.

-          John Kerry admits it might have all got a bit out of hand.

Normally I don’t comment much on this story anymore, since it’s being covered by everyone. But surely pissing off Germany, all the Catholics and two of the biggest tech companies in the world is bordering on the foolish? I think there’s going to be some serious long-term repercussions from this.

Youth and young smartphones

I do worry sometimes that we’re all becoming tech addicts. There’s endless surveys highlighting how much time we spend on this device, how dependent we are on that app. A new poll this week says we’re now starting our kids on mobile devices from the age of two. Two! I didn’t get my first NES until I was four, and my first phone until I was in my teens. The result? Another survey that basically says we never put our devices down, and another that says younger employees just do what they want with tech, regardless of the rules.

Some good tech news, however, is that all you IT workers out there are happy. According to a survey of 200 IT workers by Randstad Technologies,73% of UK IT workers are “fulfilled”. Another 20% were “indifferent,” while only 6% said they were unfulfilled. That makes you lot more fulfilled than any other industry. So next time you complain, be thankful you’re not a worker in financial service, those poor buggers are the least satisfied workers in the UK.

I’m not a fan of crappy startup names. I’m even less of a fan of websites helping to propagate this trend. But there’s a whole website dedicated to listing all the various “.ly” websites you can have for your startup. Quite why it starts listing 22 letter options is a mystery, I doubt even the most oblivious Silicon Valley startup would name their business “”.

Also, I just realised “Dogfooding” is a term tech dudes use for testing out their own software. It’s an excellent term, and it’s a shame that “icecreaming” and “drinking our own champagne” didn’t stick as well.

Lucky Bitcoin Git

Some lucky git has made a fortune off Bitcoins again. It wasn’t some super financially savvy hacker or one of the Winklevoss twins, but some guy who bought 5,000 coins back in 2009 while writing an essay on encryption, and forgot about them until now. Based in Norway, Kristoffer Koch invested $27, which returned him over $800,000, and all he had to do was spend a day trying to remember his password. Wish I got a small fortune every time I remembered my email passwords.

Elsewhere, Australian crowdfunding site Pozible is now accepting Bitcoin payments, while one Redditor has made a neon sign for shopkeepers who accept BTC payment. 

Apple’s Acquisition Mystery

At this week’s announcement to investors, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his company had completed 15 acquisitions in fiscal 2013. As TechCrunch points out, however, we only know about eight of them, leaving seven still a mystery. This cloak and daggers game is far removed from the likes of Yahoo!, who broadcast everything (probably in a bid to remind everyone how relevant it still is), but you’ve got to wonder why they’re so reluctant to share.

Blackberry’s Hazy Future

Blackberry are another company who like to do things out in the open, again to probably remind people that it still exists. The 4th November deadline for bids is looming, otherwise Fairfax will win out. Lenovo have made a bid, though won’t say for how much, but might have trouble due to US governmental interests. SAP have taken themselves out of the picture, while Facebook may be in the mix, even though the HTC ‘Facebook phone’ has been a general failure. And in some news bound to put a few bidders off, one analyst has predicted that the company will burn through all its cash within 18 months, resulting in 'material liquidity problems'. The word ‘doomed’ comes to mind.

The Zuckerberg files

In other Facebook news, the social network apparently offered $1 billion in a bid to acquire Snapchat. I talked last week about how pointless most of these ‘Snapchat for X’ apps are, and I feel the same way about the original. Considering how much Faecbook likes to collect and store data for life, I can’t see how this would have made sense to anyone. Also apparently Facebook is no longer cool with teenagers, and that means the company is worth £11.2 billion less. Sometimes it seems finance people are even more fickle than teenagers.

Mr. Zuckerberg himself is a bit of an enigma, saying a lot, throwing money around various right/left –wing causes, so it can be hard to read him. To help clear things up over his views on privacy, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is hosting the Zuckerberg Files; “a digital treasure trove containing over 100 full-text transcripts and about 50 video files documenting Zuckerberg's public statements, for scholars to download and analyse.”Not quite as interesting as the X-Files, but there will be less David Duchovny, so that’s something.

And now for something completely different

Some very odd tech stories in the news this week. The first raises serious questions about what Dell actually does in its manufacturing plants, after users have been complaining their laptops reek of cat’s urine. The issue is only affecting the Latitude 6430u, and Dell cited the manufacturing process as the cause. "The smell is not related to cat urine or any other type of biological contaminant, nor is it a health hazard," Dell support technician SteveB said.

Meanwhile in Russia, Kettle spies on you. A very odd story popped up on The Reg where Russian authorities claimed spy chips had been embedded into Chinese-imported kettles. The devices would “seek out open WiFi networks and then get to work sending spam and distributing malware.” Sounds like something from a Roger Moore-era James Bond film doesn’t it?



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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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