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Saturday, May 9, 2015

6 techie gifts for Mother’s Day

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, which means it’s time to think about which techie products are suited for your own mother, the moms in the office, extended family, or your wife. Fortunately, there are quite a few new gadgets for 2015 suited for the big day. There’s a digital picture frame that lets you load through a website. There’s even a clock radio that has a trendy flower-print design.
These colorful wall outlet covers serve multiple purposes. They are safer for kids, since the plugs are located below the faceplate. You can design your own (think: pictures of the kids). One outlet turns into three plugs and you can charge a phone or tablet using USB.
This low-cost digital frame connects to the cloud so the kids (or grandkids) can stream photos from anywhere in the world. It connects to Facebook so you can add photos that way using a Web app or you can load pictures onto a local camera card. The frame powers down and can sense when someone is in the room and turn on automatically.
These low-cost headphones come in bright colors like pink, yellow, and red. There’s a “Zound Plug” that lets the listener share the music stream with a second person who has headphones. Sound quality is better than most earbuds and they’re more comfortable to wear.
This portable keyboard will fit in mom’s purse or shoulder bag. It connects to an iPad over Bluetooth, but the pairing process is ultra-simple. The Jorno comes in a faux leather case, and the keys feel springy and responsive enough for fast typing sessions.
It’s a bit expensive, but this meal service ships right to Mom’s front door. You just create an account, select your plan (six meals per week costs $69) and select the recipient. The meals are mostly gluten-free, low-carb, and tasty enough for a gourmet cook.
Speakers come in all shapes and sizes, but the SoundRise is the only one that has a flower print pattern on the front. It has a small footprint for a nightstand and big, high-quality sound. There’s a USB charger for your phone, and you can stream over Bluetooth.

Apple appears to be on track for giant iPad

Apple is on track to bring out a giant iPad later this year that would rival, in size at least, Microsoft’s 12-inch Surface Pro 3, according to an analyst.

“We expect it to be part of the iPad refresh in October,” Rhoda Alexander, director of Tablet and Monitor Research at marketing research firm IHS Technology, told

“Our sources are still indicating this is a 2015 product, slated to go into production mid-to-late third quarter,” she wrote in an email. Alexander is citing Asia-based sources who garner data from companies that supply components to Apple.

“Sources indicate the panel will be 12.9-inches, with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,920,” she added.

That would be slightly less than the resolution (using pixels-per-inch as a yardstick) of the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2. A 12.9 inch display would approach the screen size of Apple’s 13.3-inch MacBooks.

It may come with other features too. A recent report said that the tablet may come with a stylus. Alexander wrote that IHS has not been able to confirm this, however.

Though Alexander added that she doesn’t believe the large iPad is a response to Microsoft’s 12-inch Surface Pro 3 tablet – one of the most popular large tablets on the market – the jumbo tablet could nonetheless expand the already-growing large-sized tablet market. One of the few growth areas in an otherwise shrinking tablet market.

“Only large tablets are growing,” Bob O'Donnell, president and chief analyst at marketing research firm TECHnalysis Research, told

According to a TECHnalysis Research forecast, larger tablets are expected to grow this year, “albeit very modestly, versus a decline for smaller tablets,” O’Donnell said.

Alexander asserted that current estimates on 2015 production of the 12.9-inch iPad are less than 3 million units.

At this point, it’s anybody’s guess what market Apple may be aiming at. Initially, it was thought that education was the target market but that may be changing, according to one source familiar with the upcoming 12.9-inch iPad. That person believes there has been a shift from education to business.

Certainly, that’s a market Microsoft has targeted with its Surface Pro 3. Microsoft’s promotional materials for the Surface Pro 3 make ample reference to business applications. That’s partly because of its size and partly due to the use of a relatively powerful Intel processor that’s able to run demanding business applications on top of Windows 8.1.

It’s not clear what processor Apple would tap but the company typically uses its most powerful A series processors in its iPads. For example, the iPad Air 2 packs a special A8X chip, which is more powerful than the A8 processor used in its iPhone. Theoretically, a larger design like the 12.9-inch iPad could accommodate a high-performance Apple chip.

Amazon's delivery drones will track you from your smartphone

Amazon's patent has been published by the US Patent and Trademark Office. It says that the drones will track the location of the person they're delivering to by pulling in data from their smartphone. Creepy? A bit. But if it means it knows you've popped out to the shops, that will give it an edge over a regular human courier.
The drones will also talk to each other about the weather and traffic conditions. But not what happened on Strictly last night.
The US Patent and Trademark Office approved the idea when Amazon proposed it back in September 2014. Now the e-tail giant has to convince the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to approve widespread commercial use of drones. There are also plenty of technical obstacles to overcome – how will it discern between flats, for example?
You'll be able to specify where the drone should deliver – options include 'bring it to me', 'bring it to my home' or even 'bring it to my boat'. Which shows Amazon's target market.
The firm will have a fleet of drones of varying sizes, able to carry products of all shapes and weights. The drones will be equipped with flight sensors, radar, sonar, cameras and infrared sensors to ensure they can land safely. They would also monitor their path for animals and humans in a bid to avoid them.
The law has been clamping down on drones here in the UK lately. It's illegal to fly a drone within 50 metres of a building you don't own – including landmarks – and within 150 metres of any congested area. In other words, steer clear of London.
We'll have to see if Amazon's flying robot army of delivery bots ever becomes real. Our guess? Not any time soon.

Recode: Apple to offer free music with its upcoming streaming service

It's no secret that Apple plans on revealing a new streaming music service -- thanks to its Beats Music acquisition -- some time this year, supposedly at its annual developer conference in June. What has so far been a secret, however, is whether or not that service will be free or paid. While it's been widely reported that Apple plans on charging $8 a month for a subscription, it now appears that the folks in Cupertino could be planning on integrating a free option or two as well. According to ReCode's industry sources, those options include a free trial period of one to three months, a SoundCloud-type service where artists could upload free tunes for non-subscribers, and a new version of iTunes Radio that would feature human-curated playlists similar to, of course, Beats Music.
Yet, ReCode also reports that Apple doesn't plan on going up against other unlimited free streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Apparently the company thinks that ad-supported free streaming won't make enough money, plus it'll prevent users from ponying up for the paid version. At the same time, Apple has been under investigation by the FTC for supposedly striking up exclusive streaming deals with artists and labels -- this, the FTC posits, could be seen as an unfair advantage due to Apple's dominance in music downloads thanks to iTunes. Tidal, on the other hand, can get away with exclusives due to its relatively small size. So it still remains to be seen what exactly Apple plans to offer with its streaming service, be it free or paid. Fortunately we only have a month or soto find out.

'Photofucket' devs arrested for selling their pic-stealing app

Photobucket image hosting website
Years before stolen pictures of celebs hit the internet in a massive bundle, news that Reddit posters were searching for private photos popped up under the term "fusking." As detailed by Buzzfeed in August of 2012, Reddit channels were dedicated to using a security flaw in to search for pictures posted in private folders. If anyone on the internet knew (or could guess) a private photo's direct URL it was visible, and guessing the default filename of digital photos isn't very difficult. Today the US Department of Justice is announcing the arrest of two men for selling "Photofucket" software that it says stole guest passwords for protected albums and sought out those private pictures.
Brandon Bourret of Colorado and Athanasios Andrianakis of Californias are facing charges of "computer fraud and abuse, access device fraud, identification document fraud and wire fraud." Access device fraud carries the longest potential penalty, with up to ten years in federal prison and a $250k fine per count. According to the indictment (PDF), evidence against Bourret and Andrianakis includes emails they sent discussing exploits, customer service messages to Photofucket buyers, and Paypal transfers to fund the operation.
Back in 2012, many users of the picture sharing site -- who may have uploaded photos years earlier for sharing on early social networks like Myspace or Friendster -- had no idea that marking a folder private only hid the folder. At the time Photobucket announced that all new accounts would have their links scrambled by default, as well asan option to scramble links for existing users. It's unclear if that helped stem the tide of the hackers for those who even knew about it, and the originally revealed Reddit channels are marked private now. Investigation of the breach and the accounts that were accessed is ongoing, but if you have any old albums gathering dust it's probably well past time to up their protection or delete them entirely.

Google executives talk Snowden and NSA backdoors during AMA

NSA Surveillance
Senior members of Google's public policy team took to Reddit today to discuss the company's stance on government surveillance reform and the pending expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act that allows for the bulk collection of phone records. Google's director for law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado and David Lieber, its senior privacy policy counsel took part in the discussion. Judging by the responses, the AMA didn't start as smoothly as they probably hoped. The very first answer about Google being hacked by individuals in China in 2009 seemed extremely canned and prompted the reply, "that is a non-answer. Did the PR team type it up for you?" After that, the answers got a bit more genuine.

Russia and China promise not to hack each other

Russia and China have further solidified their growing friendship this week by making a cybersecurity pact. According to The Wall Street Journal, the two countries have sworn not to launch cyberattacks against each other. They've also agreed to an exchange not only of technologies, but also of information (such as data about cyber threats) between their law enforcement agencies. In addition, the two heads of states promised to have each other's backs and thwart any technology that might "destabilize the internal political and socio-economic atmosphere," "disturb public order" or "interfere with the internal affairs of the state" together.
The two countries have been friends since the end of the cold war. But Russia has been turning to the East more and more after its military actions in the Ukraine affected its relationship with the US and the rest of Europe. The WSJ says this new agreement "is the latest sign that Beijing and Moscow favor changes to global Internet governance that would reduce the traditional role of the US." Both nations believe the government should have tighter control over the internet and their people's digital information. It's also in line with Russian Minister of Communications Nikolai Nikiforov's confirmation last year that the country's conjuring up a plan of action to take in case their "esteemed partners [US and Europe] suddenly decide to shut [them] off from the Internet."
As for China, well, everybody knows the country's frenemies with the US, even though things have been awkward since the DOJ charged five Chinese military men for espionage in 2014. Sure, it made this pact with Russia, but it also recently started working with Homeland Security to fight cyber criminals.

Looking at the future of mobile gaming with Samsung's new Gear VR

If you just got yourself a Samsung Galaxy S6 (or its curvier sibling, the S6 Edge) and you happen to be a fan of VR, well good news: the latest Gear VR for the Galaxy S6 is now officially on sale. It's still in limited rollout but it should be in your local Best Buy starting today for around $199, with availability expanding quickly to even more places.Introduced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the new headset is not only designed for Samsung's new phones, but also features a number of improvements over the original Gear VR for the Note 4. We had a chance to take a brief spin with the new hardware a few days ago, tried out a few new made-for-VR games and also talked to Max Cohen, VP of mobile at Oculus, for more on Gear VR's future.

LG G4 review: refined, but not game-changing

LG G4 review: refined, but not game-changing
When LG cooked up last year's G3, we (and many of our contemporaries) fell in love with it. At last, a well-designed phone with a killer Quad HD screen and a custom interface that didn't make us want to wrap a USB cord around our necks! Building a beloved smartphone is no small feat, but it's still not as hard as crafting a sequel that will be just as well-received. When it came time for LG to design the new G4, the company latched onto a handful of areas it thought people really cared about. It rebuilt its 16-megapixel camera from the ground up. That Quad HD screen? LG tried to make it more "accurate." Now the question is: How'd LG do? Did it figure out how to excite people for another year? The answer -- in case you've got somewhere else to be -- is "almost."

ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi review: thinner than air, but at what cost?

When ASUS formally unveiled the Transformer Book Chi T300, it did so in the cheekiest way possible: with a cleverly worded swipe at Apple. "Our Chi is thinner than Air," the company proclaimed -- a clear shot at the MacBook Air. ("Chi" means "air" in Mandarin Chinese, by the way, in case the dig wasn't obvious enough.) Indeed, ASUS' newest laptop/tablet hybrid measures a scant 0.3 inch for the tablet (or 0.65 inch when docked), making it slightly thinner than the Air, which comes in at 0.68 inch at its thickest point. The Chi is also more affordable than the Air (not to mention most other thin-and-light laptops), with a starting price of $699. On paper, it's a relatively affordable way to get your hands on a super-skinny machine. In practice, though, you're probably better off spending a little more on something else. Here's why.

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