Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Streaming Video Race Too Early to Call: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast

The Race Too Early to Call: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast

SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 | 11:11PM PT
By Andrew Wallenstein

The more data that emerges regarding the streaming video player category, the less clear it is just who is on top.

The latest sprinkling of data points carefully designed to make a company look robust without actually revealing too much came from Roku Tuesday, which disclosed reaching the 10-million-unit sales mark in the U.S. since launching in 2008.

That nice round number probably brought to mind Apple CEO Tim Cook, who in April revealed that rival product Apple TV had reached a global installed base of 20 million, which had generated $1 billion in revenues for the company last year.

But Apple TV and Roku don’t have the streaming device marketplace to themselves anymore, according to data issued earlier this month from NPD Group’s retail tracking service ( based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. consumers). The emergence of Google’s Chromecast on NPD’s radar for the first time in the second quarter of the year reduced U.S. market share for the category leaders.

Apple TV saw its share drop from 46% in the second quarter last year to 39% in 2014. Roku had a slightly smaller dip, from 33% to 28%. Both of their drops were on account of Chromecast grabbing 16% share. Keep in mind last year IHS pegged Roku and Apple TV’s combined market share at 94%.

Yet it’s too early to draw any conclusions because this is quickly becoming a four-player race where all three incumbents could see share drop further next quarter, when sales of Amazon’s Fire TV are tracked for the first time.

Not to be outdone, Roku also shared an NPD Group stat Tuesday that makes a more direct comparison: The purple box served an aggregate 37 million hours of video streamed per week compared to Apple TV at 15 million hours, Chromecast at 12 million hours and Amazon Fire TV at six million hours. Can’t get a clearer sense of what the competitive set is than that, right?

But time is a tricky metric. Consider a damning Parks Associates estimate made in June that found a declining percentage in the number of Chromecast users using the device at least once a month. Google responded the following month at its I/O conference with a different data point suggesting the total number of minutes Chromecast is being used shot up 40% from last year.

Both points could be true: While the overall number of Chromecast buyers are using it less, the core user base is more engaged than ever.

Parks also issued a worrisome indicator for Chromecast in June that Q1 sales of Chromecast had remained flat from the two previous quarters, with just 6% of U.S. broadband households buying Chromecast. That figure held steady even as the usage of streaming media players overall is on the rise.

Moreover, Parks estimated in July that Google sold 3.8 million Chromecast units over the previous 12 months worldwide, on par with how many units Roku sold in all of 2013. Apple TV sold just over 2 million last year. Chromecast is available in 19 countries as of July, significantly more than Roku, which is just in four countries, while Apple TV is in far more than both competitors combined.

Chromecast was also likely the culprit for the pronounced decrease in the average price of a streaming media player, which went from $88 in 2012 to $61 in the first half of 2014, according to NPD. A big factor in Chromecast’s ability to move the volume of units it did was its cheap $35 price tag, which in turn prompted newer, cheaper devices in the market like Roku’s $49 HDMI stick.

Another research firm, IHS, estimates 24 million units as the installed base for streaming media players in the U.S. this year, comprising nearly half of the 50 million total worldwide. That’s up from 16 million the previous year and expected to climb to 44 million by 2017. Streaming media devices are distinct from Blu-Ray players, game consoles and connected TVs, which altogether are expected to reach 213 million by 2017. All of the other segments are still more pervasive than streaming devices.

As of the first quarter of 2014, according to Parks, 20% of U.S. broadband households use streaming media players, up from 14% in 2012. When consoles, connected TVs and Blu-Ray players are added in, that’ number is near 70%.

Of course, with all the attention now on this sector, the question in the years to come is what use devices that attach to TVs to allow for streaming when an increasing number of smart TVs come with that capability baked in? Until then, there’s a short-term horse race worth watching.

Robots to mow your lawn, clean your floor

Robots mow your lawn, clean your floor

Deborah Porterfield, Special for USA Today 12:08 p.m. EDT September 16, 2014

The hammock looks inviting but your lawn needs to be mowed. A Robomow robotic mower provides a tempting solution. Powered by a rechargeable battery, the mower trims your lawn while you nap in the sun. Before you can put the mower to work, you'll have to set up the mowing perimeters with the included perimeter wire and plastic pegs. This lets the mower know where to mow and — more important — where not to mow. When the mower senses an obstacle, the blades will stop moving and the mower will change course.

Forgetful? You can set the mower to do its job at preset times and days. The RC306, a mower that can handle a 6,500-square-foot lawn, costs about $1,100. The RM200, a basic model that can handle a 2,200-square foot lawn, costs about $800. Other models are available.www.robomow.com

Using the remote control, you can direct the Moneual’s Hybrid Robot Vacuum Cleaner to vacuum a room’s floor and then have it scrub the floor with water and cleanser placed in its tank. (Photo: GANNETT )

Vacuum and mop at the same time

Should you sweep or mop? You can set up Moneual's Hybrid Robot Vacuum Cleaner to do both. Using the remote control, you can direct the RYDIS H68 Pro to vacuum a room's floor and then have it scrub the floor with water and cleanser placed in its tank. The sparkling results will make your home ready for drop-in guests. The robotic cleaner also can vacuum without mopping and vice versa. Either way, its smart vision mapping sensors can track down — and clean — dirty areas that are often overlooked. It costs about $500.

High-tech speaker looks vintage

Tired of speakers that try too hard to look hip? Take a look at the Stanmore Brown, a vintage speaker from Marshall Headphones. Inspired by the looks and sounds of classic rock 'n' roll, the compact speaker bears the Marshall logo, brown vinyl casing, a fret-grille cloth and control knobs that really turn. Equipped with wireless Bluetooth technology and an audio jack, the active speaker promises to deliver big sound for $400. Similar models are available in black and cream.

Chrome Industries provides an appealing option for techies with an artistic eye. Designed by NOA, an artist known for his creative take on Japanese line-making, the eight Yalta bag designs are based on a canvas and acrylic painting depicting Black Fog.

If you need to lug your laptop from place to place, you might as well do so with a bag that will make you smile. Chrome Industries provides an appealing option for techies with an artistic eye. Designed by NOA, an artist known for his creative take on Japanese line-making, the eight Yalta bag designs are based on a canvas and acrylic painting depicting Black Fog. Each water-resistant bag represents a specific part of the painting where the Black Fog "produces" its own energy. Inside each bag, you'll find a laptop pocket as well as room for other essentials. The bag costs about $140.

Self-driving cars now need a permit in California

Self-driving cars now need a permit in California

Posted: Sep 16, 2014 7:11 AM PDT
Updated: Sep 16, 2014 10:42 AM PDT

By JUSTIN PRITCHARD Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Computer-driven cars have been testing their skills on California roads for more than four years - but until now, the Department of Motor Vehicles wasn't sure just how many were rolling around.

That changed Tuesday, when the agency issued testing permits that allowed three companies to dispatch 29 vehicles onto freeways and into neighborhoods - with a human behind the wheel in case the onboard computers make a bad decision.

These may be the cars of the future, but for now they represent a tiny fraction of California's approximately 32 million registered vehicles.

Google's souped-up Lexus SUVs are the biggest fleet, with 25 vehicles. Mercedes and Volkswagen have two vehicles each, said Bernard Soriano, the DMV official overseeing the state's "autonomous vehicle" regulation-writing process. A "handful" of other companies are applying for permits, he said.

The permits formally regulate testing that already was underway. Google alone is closing in on 1 million miles. The technology giant has bet heavily on the vehicles, which navigate using sophisticated sensors and detailed maps.

Finally, government rules are catching up.

In 2012, the California Legislature directed the DMV to regulate the emerging technology. Rules that the agency first proposed in January went into effect Tuesday. Among them:

- Test drivers must have a sparkling driving record, complete a training regimen and enroll in a program that informs their employer if they get in an accident or are busted for driving under the influence off hours.

- Companies must report to the state how many times their vehicles unexpectedly disengage from self-driving mode, whether due to a failure of the technology or because the human driver takes over in an emergency. They also must have insurance or other coverage to pay for property or personal injury claims of up to $5 million.

California passed its law after Nevada and Florida and before Michigan. The federal government has not acted, and national regulations appear to be years away.

It's impossible to know the total number of self-driving cars being tested on public roads because, unlike California and Nevada, Michigan does not require special permits to test self-driving cars on public roads.

Toyota, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are "all running around here with some form of autonomous vehicle," said James Fackler, assistant administrator for the Michigan Department of State, which registers motor vehicles. Carmakers do not need a permit - manufacturer's license plates are enough, and those plates can also be used on future models or other kinds of experimental cars.

Nevada has issued several test vehicle licenses to Google, VW and the auto supplier Continental, according to its Department of Motor Vehicles.

In Florida, only Audi has tested self-driving technology and it is not ongoing, according to a spokesman for the state's motor vehicles department.

With California's testing rules in effect, the DMV is drafting regulations that will govern self-driving cars once they are ready for the general public.

Those rules, which the DMV must finish by year's end, will untie knotty issues such as whether a person needs to be in the vehicle at all.


Pritchard can be contacted at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman .

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Google wants to test drone wireless Internet in New Mexico

Google wants to test drone wireless Internet in New Mexico

Martyn Williams Sep 15, 2014 11:45

Google is planning to test Internet delivery by drone high above New Mexico, according to a government filing.

On Friday, the company asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use two blocks of frequencies for the tests, which are scheduled to last about six months and begin in October. They will be conducted above an area of more than 1,400 square kilometers in the center of New Mexico to the east of Albuquerque.

“Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a firm that specializes in developing solar and electric unmanned aerial systems for high altitude, long endurance flights,” Google said in its application. “These systems may eventually be used to provide Internet connections in remote areas or help monitor environmental damage, such as oil spills or deforestation.”

Google said its application for temporary permission to make the transmissions was needed “for demonstration and testing of [REDACTED] in a carefully controlled environment.”

The FCC allows companies to redact certain portions of their applications when they might provide too much information to competitors.

In the application, Google said it wants to use two blocks of frequencies, one between 910MHz and 927MHz and one between 2.4GHz and 2.414GHz. Both are so-called “industrial, scientific and medical” (ISM) bands typically used for unlicensed operations.

The application has not yet been approved.

It’s the latest in a series of moves by the company to trial Internet delivery from the skies.

The company unveiled its ambitious Project Loon last year, which uses a series of high-altitude balloons that float in winds at about 20 kilometers (65,000 feet) above the Earth. The first experiments with Loon involved using a transmission system based on WiFi, but earlier this year the company began experimenting with LTE cellular transmissions in a test site in Nevada.

Google acquired Titan Aerospace in April this year for an undisclosed price.

Google could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mice given human brain gene learned tasks faster: study

Mice given human brain gene learned tasks faster: study
22 hours ago

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Although it's far from the sort of brain transplant beloved by science fiction enthusiasts, scientists have taken one step in that direction: they have spliced a key human brain gene into mice.

In the first study designed to assess how partially 'humanizing' brains of a different species affects key cognitive functions, scientists reported on Monday that mice carrying a human gene associated with language learned new ways to find food in mazes faster than normal mice.

By isolating the effects of one gene, the work sheds light on its function and hints at the evolutionary changes that led to the unique capabilities of the human brain.

For the study, scientists used hundreds of mice genetically engineered to carry the human version of Foxp2, a gene linked to speech and language. In a 2009 study, mice carrying human Foxp2 developed more-complex neurons and more-efficient brain circuits.

Building on that, neuroscientists led by Christiane Schreiweis and Ann Graybiel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology trained mice to find chocolate in a maze. The animals had two options: use landmarks like lab equipment and furniture visible from the maze ("at the T-intersection, turn toward the chair") or by the feel of the floor ("smooth, turn right;" "nubby, turn left").

Mice with the human gene learned the route as well by seven days as regular mice did by 11, scientists reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Surprisingly, however, when the scientists removed all the landmarks in the room, so mice could only learn by the feel-of-the-floor rule, the regular rodents did as well as the humanized ones. They also did just as well when the landmarks were present but the floor textiles were removed.

It was only when mice could use both learning techniques that those with the human brain gene excelled.

That suggested, Graybiel said, that what the human gene does is increase cognitive flexibility: it lets the brain segue from remembering consciously in what's called declarative learning ("turn left at the gas station") to remembering unconsciously (take a right once the floor turns from tile to carpet).

Unconscious, or procedural, learning is the kind the feel-of-the-floor cue produced: the mice didn't have to consciously think about the meaning of rough or smooth. They felt, they turned - much as people stop consciously thinking about directions on a regular route and navigate automatically.

"No one knows how the brain makes transitions from thinking about something consciously to doing it unconsciously," Graybiel said. "But mice with the human form of Foxp2 did much better."

If Foxp2 produces the cognitive flexibility to switch between forms of learning, that may help explain its role in speech and language.

When children learn to speak, they transition from consciously mimicking words they hear to speaking automatically. That suggests that switching from declarative to procedural memory, as the humanized mice did so well thanks to Foxp2, "is a crucial part of the process," Graybiel said.

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Andrew Hay)

What to expect with Windows 9

What to expect with Windows 9

With Build 9834 leaks and confirmations springing up all over, here’s what to expect from Microsoft on Sept. 30

InfoWorld | Sep 16, 2014

As widely anticipated, Microsoft has sent out invitations to the journalistic A-list to "hear about what's next for Windows and the Enterprise" on Sept. 30, in San Francisco. Tom Warren at The Verge says (and Paul Thurrott confirms on his WinSupersite) that Windows honcho Terry Myerson and his superstar sidekick Joe Belfiore will lead what Warren calls "a discussion" -- which seems like a weird way to describe a product rollout that will ultimately affect a billion and a half Windows users.

That's what we know for sure. Everything else is conjecture, but it's backed by a string of revelations based on build 9834 of the Windows Technical Preview, which appears to have fallen into the hands of the folks at the German-language site WinFuture.de. WinFuture is dribbling out screenshots and videos, turning a buck by pasting Netflix, Hornbach, and Peugeot ads on the front of their leaked videos. Somebody in Redmond must be fuming.

Here's a recap of what's been revealed, starting with the features I described last week:

The build they've uncovered (9834.fbl_partner_eeap.140908.0936) is dated Sept. 8. Screenshots were apparently taken between Sept. 11 and 15. If Microsoft distributes the Technology Preview bits at the event on Sept. 30, this is a likely candidate.

There are no displayed Windows version numbers, aside from the internal version 6.4, adding fuel to the argument that the next version of Windows will be called simply "Windows." Windows Phone is already in the process of becoming Windows.

The desktop's Start Menu returns, with Windows 7-like cascading menus on the left and Metro tiles on the right. Menus and tiles can be dragged, dropped, pinned, unpinned, resized, and sliced and diced. We haven't seen any fully functional "interactive" tiles as yet -- Metro apps that respond to interaction with their tiles without popping up on the screen -- but I expect that will be coming soon.

Metro apps running in resizable windows on the desktop. There appears to be some debate about whether the Charms bar will get the axe in the process, but all of the Charms you're likely to want will be in the right-click menu in the upper-left corner of the title bar.

Virtual desktops, which will undoubtedly get some sort of whiz-bang marketing name, because "virtual" is supposedly too spooky for consumers. Windows has had virtual desktops since Windows XP, but you had to install a third-party app (or something like Sysinternals Desktop, from Microsoft) to get them to work.

A Notification Center, which displays and lets you get at both bubble and toast notifications. It's long overdue.

Storage Sense and Wi-Fi Sense, two Windows Phone (er, Windows on the phone, or something like that) features will likely make their way into the Technical Preview.

That leaves a whole crop of interesting open questions, including:

Will Internet Explorer 12 make it into the Technology Preview? It will definitely ship with the next version of Windows, barring any monstrous complications. If IE12 isn't in the Technology Preview, how can enterprise online app developers and general Web developers test the next version of Windows?

Where's Cortana? WinFuture has published screenshots that show vestiges of Cortana in build 9834 -- they seem to indicate Cortana will be just another app -- but how will Cortana integrate into the next version of Windows?

How/when will the Start Menu supplant the Metro Start Screen? A WinFuture video shows options for switching from Start Menu to Start Screen and back, but apparently switching requires a reboot of Windows Explorer. No idea if there will be similar options for mouseless systems.

If the Windows 7 and Windows 8 beta experiences are any guide, you can bet that this Windows Technology Preview won't look much like the final, shipping next version of Windows. This Preview will show off the plumbing and the broad strokes of Windows' future. For fine details -- including just about every detail of the user interface -- we'll have to wait and see what Microsoft dreams up next.

Don't tell anybody, but for the first time in years, I'm actually excited about the way Windows is headed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tech chiefs in plea over privacy damage

September 14, 2014 9:01 pm

Tech chiefs in plea over privacy damage
By Richard Waters in San Francisco

The US tech industry has failed to appreciate the mounting global concern over its record on online privacy and security and must act fast to prevent deeper damage to its image, Silicon Valley’s top executives and investors have conceded.

The self-criticism, much of it aimed at consumer internet companies such as Google and Facebook, comes as some of the tech sector’s best-known names have been battered by a backlash over revelations of widespread US internet surveillance and concerns about their growing business and cultural dominance.

Peter Thiel, a prominent start-up investor and Facebook director, said: “Silicon Valley is quite oblivious to the degree to which this crescendo of concern is building up in Europe. It’s an extremely important thing and Silicon Valley is underestimating it badly.”

Google has been most in the line of fire, with the European Commission turning up the heat in a competition case last week and a recent “right to be forgotten” legal ruling forcing it to remove some links from its European search services.

The US government and [tech] companies will have to step up significantly if they want to regain the world’s trust
- Jim Breyer, former board member of Facebook

“I was surprised it turned this quickly,” Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, said of the change in the political mood over US tech. However, he denied that Silicon Valley had failed to anticipate the concerns. “It’s easy to blame the tech companies for being insufficiently sensitive – we are way sensitive, trust me.”

Mr Thiel conceded that Facebook had work to do regarding its approach to Europe: “We certainly don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all. Facebook would like to be more sensitive to more local concerns.”

Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce.com, one of the biggest sellers of internet-based services to businesses, said consumer internet companies had “paid a terrible price” for imposing a US-centric view of their technology.

Jim Breyer, an early investor and former board member of Facebook, said: “The US government and [tech] companies will have to step up significantly if they want to regain the world’s trust.”

The backlash over privacy and security has started to ripple more widely through Silicon Valley, where young companies have typically raced to launch new technologies without making these issues an overriding priority.

“A lot of people have been caught off-guard,” said Aaron Levie, chief executive of Box, part of the latest generation of fast-growing start-ups aimed at the cloud. “I don’t think it was what many people thought about as they built these companies and technologies.”

The tensions have exposed rifts inside the tech industry, bringing mounting criticisms of the internet companies that collect large amounts of consumer data. While companies such as Facebook and Google claim to have seen little or no damage to their businesses, those that sell cloud services have been caught up in the backlash and stand to lose significant amounts of business.

US commercial cloud companies will lose $22bn-$45bn over the next three years as a result of the Snowden backlash, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“Some in our industry have underestimated the degree to which people care about privacy,” said Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft, which is trying to refocus its business on commercial cloud services. “I’m not sure across Silicon Valley people have completely woken up to this.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014.