Monthly Archives: April 2016

New Tech Targets

Microsoft made a slew of announcements at its New York City event Wednesday, focusing on the idea of user as creator.

Among its new offerings:

  • The Surface Studio, an all-in-one desktop computer with a touchscreen that’s 12.5mm thick;
  • The Surface Dial, a new input device that provides haptic feedback;
  • The Surface Book i7;
  • VR headsets for Windows 10 that use the same Windows Holographic platform as its HoloLens;
  • A revamped Paint app with 3D capability; and
  • Creator’s Update, an upcoming Windows 10 refresh providing 3D creation tools, live streaming, and custom Xbox app tournaments.

“Ultimately, technology is just a tool in the hands of humanity,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the event. It’s “a tool that helps amplify our ingenuity and creativity. New computing medias do not take shape by technology alone.”

The Surface Studio took center stage at the event.

“The Surface Studio is my favorite simply based on looks and the way it’s aimed at graphical productivity,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“It would be ideal for desktop publishing integrating graphics,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This makes productivity through graphical manipulation practical.”

The Surface Studio’s 4.5K ultra HD touchscreen stood out for Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“All the OEMs buy screens based on price and yield,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Microsoft specified a screen that was matched to what Windows can do, which means this one product will work better with Windows than anything currently in, or coming to, market.”

The only other firm that has done that is Apple, Enderle noted.

Surface Studio Specs

The Surface Studio’s screen delivers 63 percent more pixels than a state-of-the-art 4K TV, said Terry Myerson, EVP of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.

It works beautifully with a stylus pen, touch and the new Surface Dial, he noted.

The Surface Studio comes in various configurations built around an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, starting at US$3,000.

“It replaces a high-end digitizer, lets users work vertically or horizontally, is appealing to the eye, and the screen is uniquely accurate,” Enderle said.

The price tag “may be seen as a bargain,” he pointed out, because the “very well-defined group of users and executives” who will want it “will generally buy the best tool, and often have stations costing over $5,000.”

The Surface Studio will be available Dec. 15.

The New Surface Book

The new Surface Book has an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and comes in several configurations. Battery life is up to 16 hours, and it ranges in price from $1,500 to $2,800.

The new version is an incremental upgrade to the Surface 2-in-1 line that “gives OEMs breathing room to incorporate new tech like Intel’s Kaby Lake processors into their models before Microsoft fully upgrades Surface Pro and Surface Book next year,” said Eric Smith, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.

VR for the Masses

HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer will ship the first VR headsets capable of mixed reality with the coming Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft’s Myerson announced. They will start at $300 and “work with affordable laptops and PCs.”

Fancy Bear Attacks Microsoft

Microsoft earlier this week said it had fallen victim to “Strontium,” its code name for the Russian hacking group also known as “Fancy Bear,” which has been linked to recent attacks on Democratic Party systems.

The group launched a spear phishing attack that targeted vulnerabilities in both the Windows operating system and Adobe Flash, according to Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.

The attack, first identified by Google’s Threat Analysis Group, involved two zero-day vulnerabilities in Flash and the down level Windows kernel, he explained. It used the Flash exploit to gain control over browsers, elevate privileges to escape the browser sandbox and install a backdoor to gain access to a user’s computer.

Microsoft is working with Google and Adobe on a patch and plans to release the fix by Nov. 8, when the next update is scheduled, Myerson said.

Those who use Microsoft Edge on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update are known to be protected from versions of the attack observed in the wild. Microsoft recommended that users upgrade to Windows 10 and said that those who enable Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection will be able to detect the attempted attacks.

Google’s Disclosure

Google should not have disclosed the vulnerability before the patches were made available, according to Myerson.

“We believe responsible technology industry participation puts the customer first, and requires coordinated vulnerability disclosure,” he said. “Google’s decision to disclose these vulnerabilities before patches are broadly available and tested is disappointing and puts customers at increased risk.”

Google on Monday revealed the Microsoft and Adobe vulnerabilities, noting that Adobe already had updated Flash to address the flaw. The Adobe patch is available through the Adobe updater and Chrome auto update.

Google, per its policy of seven-day disclosure of actively exploited critical vulnerabilities, reported the remaining critical vulnerability in Windows, noting that it was being exploited in the wild.

The vulnerability was a local privilege escalation that could be used as a security sandbox escape, noted Neel Mehta and Billy Leonard of Google’s Threat Analysis Group in an online post. They urged users to make sure that Flash was auto updated, or to manually update if necessary.

They should make sure to apply Windows patches, when available, Mehta and Leonard also wrote.

Election Jitters

The new attacks came at a sensitive time in the United States, with the presidential election less than a week away. Federal and local officials have made a major effort to ensure the public has confidence in the electoral system.

Thus far, 48 states and 36 county and local governments have taken up an offer by the Department of Homeland Security to assist local governments with ensuring that the state and local election systems are protected against cyberattacks, DHS spokesperson Scott McConnell told TechNewsWorld.

The states of Illinois and Arizona were targeted more than a month ago by a suspected Russian hack that impacted 200,000 voters in the Illinois voter registration database.

There is little risk of a foreign hacker impacting the actual outcome of the race, but there are fears that a new round of cyberattacks could impact the level of confidence in the integrity of the system.

“While the actual fallout is hard to predict, it’s important to look at the chaos that Russian hackers have allegedly been sowing in the past couple months,” said Bryan Burns, vice president of threat research at Proofpoint.

The next of galaxy phone

images-45Samsung Electronics this week revealed plans to unveil its flagship Galaxy S8 mobile phone with a new digital assistant powered by AI. The assistant will be based on technology gained with Samsung’s recent acquisition of Viv Labs.

The plans call for Samsung to incorporate the AI into its family of electronics and appliances, ranging from mobile devices to wearable technology and home devices.

Rhee Injong, CTO of Samsung’s mobile communications business, was one of several executives who briefed Reuters on the plans.

Samsung may delay the introduction of the new phone past the Mobile World Congress in February, pushing the launch to as late as April, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company may add a button on the side of the S8 to launch the AI capabilities, similar to the buttons for launching Siri on Apple devices.

“Samsung is excited to begin integrating initial AI capabilities into its future products and we look forward to sharing further details at a later date,” a spokesperson said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Ashley Wimberly.

Smart Enough?

In the aftermath of the Galaxy Note7 debacle, there is skepticism that Samsung’s revelations concerning plans for a digital assistant amount to much more than face-saving hype.

“Personally, I’m a little wary about Samsung’s ability to compete in this space,” said Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst at IDC.

“Without search and large amounts of user data, it will be quite difficult for Samsung to differentiate their AI from others,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others have years of consumer data to build on artificial intelligence platforms that rely on learned user preferences to work in an optimal way, Ubrani noted. Their existing AI technologies include Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana.

The proof will be in the pudding as to whether Samsung truly can assemble a new AI digital assistant that can compete, said industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

“There are many different versions of AI,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Some are really advanced and interesting and real. Others are just there to let a company use the term to gain media attention.

“The real question is which is Samsung’s AI?” Kagan asked.

Although Viv Labs is a startup, it is not a babe in the woods when it comes to AI systems. Its founders are Siri developer Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham. The open AI technology they developed for Viv Labs is designed to allow third-party developers to integrate digital assistants using natural language into their apps.

Viv Labs will coordinate closely with Samsung but continue to operate essentially as an independent company.

Major Flameout

The plans come at a critical time for Samsung, which is working to extract itself from one of the biggest debacles in the history of mobile electronics. The company had to recall millions of Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphones due to safety issues. Many phones overheated and some caught fire in dozens of incidents around the world.

The devices were banned from commercial flights amid reports of some spontaneously catching fire on board aircraft. Samsung last week announced that it had collected 85 percent of the recalled devices and said it would be issuing a software upgrade that would limit the power from the unreturned phones’ batteries to 60 percent.

Working with the U.S. Product Safety Commission, Samsung launched a recall of the defective phones, found a different supplier of lithium-ion batteries, and offered replacements.

However, some of the replacement devices were vulnerable to the same type of random overheating that had occurred in the original phones. Samsung issued a recall of all Note7s, including the replacement phones, and warned its customers to stop using them immediately.

While the recall of Galaxy Note7 phones was ongoing, the company found it necessary to recall another product: top-loading Samsung washing machines sold between 2011 and 2016.

The CPSC last week ordered the recall of 34 different models of Samsung washers — a total of 2.8 million machines — warning that the top of the machines might unexpectedly detach from the chassis, posing a potential risk to users.

Are you interest in googles pixel

Google’s Pixel smartphone, which made its debut last month, has gathered some high praise from reviewers.

“The Google Pixel is now the best Android smartphone you can buy,” wrote Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal.

“The other leading contender was disqualified due to spontaneous combustion,” she added, referring to Samsung’s doomed Galaxy Note7, which was recalled for safety reasons.

Stern was impressed with Pixel’s display; its high pixel count made the blacks in photos appear deeper, colors more vibrant, and everything sharper.

“The AMOLED display makes photos look better — even ones taken on an iPhone,” she wrote.

Keep Your Pixels Dry

Pixel “offers the look and competence of an iPhone with a truly great cameraand loads of innovative software and services,” David Pierce noted in a review for Wired.

“It changes my answer to the question I hear most often: ‘What phone should you get?’ You should get a Pixel,” he wrote.

“The immediate joke everyone, including me, made on Twitter after the Pixel launch was that Google made an iPhone,” Pierce added. “Well, that’s true. As it turns out, an iPhone running Android is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”

Pixel is a standout compared to other heavyweights in the market, according to Lisa Eadicicco, who reviewed it for Time.

“All told, the Pixel is Google’s first smartphone that can go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy flagship,” she wrote. “It’s on equal footing with those phones in most of the areas that really matter, although its lack of water resistance is a setback. Still, Android fans who pick up the Pixel should be pleased, so long as they keep it dry.”

Smooth Performance

Google hit a home run with its first branded smartphone, said Cnet reviewer Lynn La.

“With Pixel, Google stepped up to bat, called its shot andknocked it out of the park,” she wrote.

It’s a departure from Google’s earlier Nexus smartphones, because you don’t have to be an Android enthusiast to appreciate what Google has accomplished with the Pixel.

“The only thing you’ll have to be enthusiastic about is owning a phone that’s beautiful, takes awesome photos, and has smooth performance,” La wrote. “If you are, the Pixel’s for you.”

The Pixel’s performance was won kudos from Jason Cross, writing for PC World.

“Android fans often complain about phones (especially Samsung’s) that lead benchmark charts, but still somehow seem to stutter, chop, and sputter when you use them,” he explained.

“The Pixel XL does none of that,” he wrote. “At every turn it is smooth, fast, and most of all, responsive.”

“Indeed, this may be the smoothest and most responsive Android phone I’ve ever used,” he added.