This week’s technology news – 20th March 2015

The Windows 10 launch party welcomes all including pirates

Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be launching this summer to 190 countries. A new feature of the system called Windows Hello was also demo’d for the first time. It also lets users log in via fingerprint, face recognition or iris recognition.

To get ready for Windows 10’s big launch party, Microsoft has been teaming up with app service providers worldwide including Chinese internet giant Tencent who will bring their hugely popular (over 32 million active players) online game ‘League of Legends’ onto the Windows 10 store and their QQ social app which has over 800 million active users.

Microsoft sees China as a huge opportunity for Windows 10 and getting companies onboard in providing relevant and highly successful apps, games and services to the Windows 10 store will go a long way to securing Chinese users to upgrade to Windows 10 this summer.

The biggest challenge has always been getting users to adopt genuine Windows instead of pirated versions. Currently two-thirds of all PCs in China run pirated versions, not purchased from Microsoft.

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will be allowing these ‘non-genuine’ versions of Windows to also be upgraded to Windows 10 for free. Those who do upgrade in this fashion will still have non-genuine, non-supported systems, but will have access to the new features of Windows 10 – most importantly for Microsoft, being the new Windows 10 store where Microsoft takes 30% of all profits made.

Microsoft continues to be very aggressive in its push of the upcoming Windows 10.  It’s strategy of allowing pirated system upgrades and free upgrades in general, is tactically cunning, showing that its first goal is to get as many people as possible using the new system, sooner rather than later and gain maximum marketshare.

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Amicus ITS explores a trio of cyber security stories in this week’s roundup of technology news:

US healthcare provider Premera not so premier following cyber attack

The FBI were recently called in by Premera Blue Cross, a US non-profit health insurance company which posted revenues in 2013 of $7.6 billion, to investigate a cyber attack on their IT systems which occurred over an eight month period without detection from May 2014.  It is not clear yet how the attackers broke in and the company has not identified how the breach was discovered. However, 1.8 million records were illegally accessed, with medical records, personal data and employee data exposed, as well as any company which did business with Premera Blue Cross.   The data penetrated included:  access to names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, member identification number, medical claims information and financial information (though no customer credit card information was held).

This comes on top of another huge cyber attack on Blue Cross Shield insurance giant Anthem, which recently had 78.8 million customer records illegally accessed.

The correct professional PR stance of both Premera and Anthem has been to publish a direct response on the front pages of their websites to try and assuage customer concerns by advising of their remedial steps with their security partners, including offering 24 months of free credit monitoring and ID protection services.

Whether either company will fully regain the trust of their clientele only time will tell, but at least the right reactive steps were taken to tackle the issue head on with its customers.

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Get me insured – I’m under attack!

The US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) has started a wholesale review of cybersecurity insurance, as it has emerged that security issues have been marginalised and are not forming a core part of an organisation’s enterprise risk management framework.

Cyber insurance is a relatively new aspect for the financial markets and given the rise in cyber attacks and major data breaches worldwide in recent months, it seeks to offer an olive branch to the financial toll companies can face from the fall out of attack.  However, delivering the insurance is another matter as data to evaluate the threat landscape is thin on the ground.

Senior Cybersecurity Strategist at the US DHS Tom Finan comments:  “Perhaps unsurprisingly, companies are not publicly disclosing their own damages from cyber incidents they’re experiencing….. big data about cyber incidents could be a potential treasure trove that would aid their efforts (to get insured) immensely.”

Meanwhile in the UK, HM Government in its November 2014 summit between Government departments, leading UK insurers, trade and industry representatives and GCHQ, agreed a joint statement to commit industry and government to closer working to develop the UK’s cyber insurance market. They also recognised the role insurers can play in driving improvements in cyber security risk management.  The cyber insurance market report will be supplied to the Cabinet Office in April 2015.  In the meantime, practical measures for businesses to undertake include:

• Detailed insurance gap analysis
• Network security survey
• Security policy review and development
• Cyber risk identification and quantification exercise
• Risk financing optimisation.

Plus, evaluation by experts on internet and network exposures, including:

• Liability: privacy and confidentiality
• Copyright, trademark, defamation
• Malicious code and viruses
• Business interruption: network outages, computer failures
• Attacks, unauthorised access, theft, website defacement and cyber extortion
• Technology errors and omissions
• Intellectual property infringement.

Clearly, Finan adds, “CISOs need to be a central part of any business risk management discussion going forwards,” he said. “And until they do so, businesses will miss out on otherwise more extensive cybersecurity insurance offerings than would otherwise be available to them.”

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World Economic Forum publishes cyber threat risk framework

The World Economic Forum (WEF) launched a new framework in collaboration with Deloitte recently based on resiliency, to help companies calculate the risk of cyberattacks. The risk calculation involves three components:

• An assessment of a company’s vulnerabilities and defences
• The potential cost of data breaches and
• A profile of the attacker

Understanding the risk vs cost is still very difficult even amongst expert voices.  However, it should force Boards globally to sit up and work through the problem, identifying risk areas within their organisation as they try to get inside the mind of a potential attacker.

The lack of historical data required to estimate the probability of attacks from particular types of attackers in particular industry sectors is a stumbling block. However, if, as the WEF have proposed, businesses globally start to openly share information about cyberthreats, instead of burying their shame, all businesses will gain.  Mass learning will ensure companies start to deploy better strategies, policies and more resilient tactics including education, training and staff awareness which can only be a good thing.

Amicus ITS is part of the new Government led UK IT Cyber Security Forum.  Any enterprise seeking advice about major infrastructure security concerns is invited to contact JP Norman or one of the Sales team on 02380 429429.
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Samsung and Blackberry team up for new secure tablet     

Blackberry has announced a new tablet called SecuTABLET for the public sector and government use.

The SecuTABLET differs greatly from the company’s only previous tablet, the ‘Playbook’, which launched in early 2011. Unlike the Playbook which ran on Blackberry’s own OS and hardware, this new tablet runs on Android for the OS and the hardware is being provided by Samsung.

Samsung is also providing part of the security with its KNOX security layer which helps separate personal and professional apps and data, by having two distinct modes that the user can switch between.

The now Blackberry-owned ‘Secusmart’ is providing encryption, including an inhouse built secured microSD card, equipped with a range of encryption features.

Finally, IBM is providing a software wrapper for secure apps to keep the data of each app separated and protected from others apps and services.

Altogether the SecuTABLET comes with an impressive list of security features, built on-top of a reliable Samsung tablet foundation – but these do come at a cost. The tablet won’t be available for general consumer purchase – and the reported retail price will be $2,380!   This incredibly high price point makes the SecuTABLET very hard to recommend.

Although the amount of security features is impressive, each of the three core security components seem to overlap in actual usage. Blackberry is going to have an uphill battle convincing organisations to go with one of their new tablets instead of, for the same price, three Samsung tablets with KNOX – or even a Microsoft Surface 3.

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The Week’s Technology News – 5th December 2014

Outsourcing priorities changing
The latest Forrester Research report across 435 Europe-based IT decision makers has found that whilst 60% of European businesses are satisfied with IT infrastructure service providers, there is a subtle shift in focus from simple cost reduction desire (66%) to businesses offering  services to help increase sales and improve customer experience (71%).

The overall feedback stats should give serious food for thought to MSPs when marketing and servicing their offerings:
• 34% said cost savings were lower than expected
• 29% said service quality or delivery was inconsistent or poor
• 26% said there is a lack of innovation and/or continuous service-level improvements
• 23% said there is a lack of flexibility in changing volume, scope, business needs or pricing models
• 22% said service providers lacked a fully developed and functioning global delivery model.

“Faced with this customer demand for better, faster and more cost-effective infrastructure services, and increased competition from emerging and India-centric suppliers, Europe’s leading providers are forced to bring new offerings and delivery models to the market,” said Forrester analyst Wolfgang Benkel. “The good news is some of them are finally listening to their customers.”

Businesses which have moved to cloud services are benefiting from accessing more flexible services and MSPs need to ensure that to deliver the most for their clients they have a) the right technical skill set b) the business skills to think strategically around the business objectives of their clients and c) the experience, diligence and ability to adapt to create a more innovative approach with their offerings, in order to stand out from the crowd.

The Euro responses indicate that just meeting an SLA is no longer what is needed in the MSP marketplace and that evidencing and thinking about all ones added values will be the key to retaining customers and winning new business in 2015.

Modular mobile phone developments and corporate tailored opportunities
Google was first out of the gate with a modular mobile phone announcement with Project Ara, planned for release in 2015, but not without competition. Finland based Circular Devices has announced its own plans to create and sell a modular smart phone called Puzzlephone next year.

The Puzzlephone approach is a simpler one with the smart phone being detachable into 3 parts; the spine (the main structure including the screen), the Heart (a large piece that slots into the bottom half of the back – this includes the battery and secondary electronics) and finally the Brain (This slots into the top half of the back – includes the processor and camera).   Google’s Project Ara approach is a lot more customisable with prototypes having 8 smaller, changeable parts – compared to Circular Devices larger 3.  However, it is possible that the simpler solution could win out with users finding Project Ara a bit too complex to get their head around.

With two companies now in preparations for a modular phone launch next year, making reality from the concept is s significant step closer. These devices should appeal to tech enthusiasts and organisations.  The potential for modular phones in the workplace is huge. Organisations would be able to create their tailored smartphone using selected prioritised modules according to their business need and deploy to employees. This would both have the benefit of cutting costs on unneeded or unused features but also being able to add in requested features such as larger capacity batteries or fingerprint scanners.   Another advantage of the modular approach is when things go wrong. Currently if a particular part of a phone fails, the whole unit has to be replaced or sent off to be repaired.  With a standard modular build, fixing future issues could be as simple as swapping the faulty part with stock.   Modular phones will be arriving next year, but their success will be dependent not only the cost of the phone and its modules, but how well the platform is supported by manufacturers providing unique hardware.  Over then to the android market and the likes of Samsung, HTC and Sony for part two of this evolving story…

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Sony hacked again – leaking unreleased films and 47,000 personal records
Sony is no stranger to data breaches, infamously having to pull down their Playstation network in 2011 for 3 weeks after 77 million customers were potentially compromised, later to be fined by the ICO.

Now Sony Picture Entertainment is the next division to fall under cyber-attack. The attack itself appears to be malware and has been used not only to steal data, but also wipe machines at Sony.  With hugely damaging commercial potential, four unreleased films have been leaked online pre-launch with personal details of 47,000 people including Hollywood stars such as Sylvestor Stallone exposed.

Since the Sony attack, the FBI has sent an alert out to US businesses warning them of malicious software that matches up with reports from the Sony Pictures attack. The report warns of malware that overrides all data on a computer’s hard drive including the master boor record, preventing booting up successfully afterwards.  The geographical origin of the attack remains unknown, but a group calling itself Guardians of Peace is claiming responsibility.     With both the risk of data leaks and data deletion, the importance of both a truly secure infrastructure and multiple data stores is more important than ever. For Sony this is another huge wake up call for a household name, swiftly becoming synonymous with susceptibility to cyber-attacks.

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Radio heads up some surgical changes for 5G
The race is on to deliver the fifth generation of our mobile network.  The build in excitement around 5G may in fact be wholly worthy of the buzz, if the latest news on this joined-up superfast technology pans out, as vaunted by Professor Rahim Tafazolli of Surrey University’s 5G Innovation Centre.  This means the opportunity for properly connected smart cities, remote medical surgery, driverless cars and the “internet of things”.  The thought of stalling videos and apps and load delays becoming a mere footnote in tech history would be thrilling news.  Prof Rahim Tafazolli says, “5G will be a dramatic overhaul and harmonisation of the radio spectrum”.

The difference comes from the 5G networks transmitting data via uninterrupted radio waves bouncing off small masts with improved antenna technology.  The waves split into bands (frequencies) with each band reserved for different communications ie.  one for TV broadcast, one for mobile data, one for aeronautical signals etc.  The system has got messy with new technologies squeezed into the gaps.  Now, the regulators, the International Telecommunications Union (ITG) are restructuring parts of the radio network used to transmit data to make more space whilst simultaneously creating efficiencies in the traffic flow, whilst 3G and 4G use carries on.  The network which scientists hope will kick in by 2020, will need to cope with vastly increased levels of communication. Through The Internet of Things (IoT), devices will ‘smarten’ and dynamically switch between three TBC ‘lanes’ (bandwidths) in order to avoid frequency overload and will rely on lower latencies (timelag between action initiation and response).  Ericsson predict that 5G’s latency will be around one millisecond – unperceivable to a human and about 50 times faster than 4G.

So what?  Well 5G is anticipated to run faster, much faster. In 2013 when Samsung announced it was testing 5G at 1Gbps, journalists reported that a high-definition movie could be downloaded in less than half a minute.  A speed of 800Gbps would equate to downloading 33 HD films – in a single second. This is 100 times faster.  To do this, it will need capacity – and lots of it.  By 2020 it is thought that 50 billion to 100 billion devices will be connected to the internet.

Whilst there is great competition between the giants Ericsson and Huawei, both are investing hugely in this research phase and despite the obvious rivalry and associated costs, each is co-operating with the other to bring on the technology to enable product development to advance.   Samsung hopes to launch a temporary trial 5G network in time for 2018’s Winter Olympic Games, whilst Huawei is racing to implement a version for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow. For Managed Service Providers and businesses alike the vast potential of 5G is a major game changer, but harnessing and directing opportunity to create an ‘intelligent’ and more intuitive commercial response for customers will be the real game changer for business.

Barclays seeks (again) to improve customer experience
Barclays is leading the way again in banking technology by seeking to deliver a more personal form of assistance to its customers.  Barclays Beacon service called ‘Barclays Access’ is being trialled in Sheffied and will work through an iPhone app.  iBeacon which uses Bluetooth to detect when a person using the app enters the branch will trap personal details, information on their requirements, plus the option of a photo, to assist with speedy ID on arrival.  An iPad at the front desk picks up the alert.  All of these touch points can then alert bank staff to react promptly, discretely and courteously when a customer with an assistance need arrives at the branch to improve the overall customer experience.

Previously, Barclays pioneered customer banking transfers using only a mobile number, plus enabling some businesses to swap PINs, passwords and authentication codes for fingerprint scanners.  Technological advances have not by themselves caused massive behavioural changes to get customers to switch or stay loyal, but a combination of technology and personal intervention with insight creates a whole new level of customer care.

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This Week’s Technology News – 31st October 2014

Are companies doing their best to speed up collaboration and productivity amongst the workforce?

A new joint study of finance, HR and IT staff from 160 mid-tier organisations by Source for Consulting and Advance Business Solutions (ABS) has revealed that 79% of employees believe social media integration with back-office solutions is essential to improving productivity, collaboration and supplier engagement.  Perhaps surprisingly, 69% felt that social networks could help cut down on unnecessary email.

Whilst 86% of organisations use social media for external marketing, only 17% use social media tools such as enterprise social network systems to collaborate and share information internally.  One of the benefits of social media can be to streamline the recruitment processes by enabling companies to engage directly with potential employees and providing specific e-recruitment solutions to manage online applications.

Worldwide publisher Pearson formally used a software system called Neo but found far greater take up with an application called Jive, which has seen adoption grow to 10,000 of its staff globally since 2011.

Any technology that can bring a workforce, especially a disparately located one, closer together and increase productivity is something certainly to be considered by any Board. Surmounting the notion of internally employed social media on the other hand is an education path that needs careful navigation, understanding and education if it is to be successfully deployed.

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Samsung in doldrums as Xiaomi looks over its shoulder

Samsung appears not to be wowing its customers as much as it did before.  The tech giant is seeing competitors like Sony, HTC and Chinese brands start to bite into its previously dominant market share, with more innovative and interesting products in this highly commoditised mobile market.

Its position as the world’s largest smartphone maker with 25% of the global market for smartphones should have been consolidated with better profitability in its results. However, the decision to push out the Galaxy S5 in April, be the first to launch the smartwatch last year AND rush other releases ahead of schedule in September (Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge), to see off competition from Apple’s larger screen iPhones, failed to deliver on the balance sheets.  Added to this, the delay in launching the long-awaited Tizen operating system, which would have reduced its reliance on Google’s Android system for its phones seems to be showing the cracks in overall strategy, as Samsung’s operating profit (where mobile business provides 70% of income), fell by 60% against the same period last year with sales falling commensurately by 20%.

The technology market is moving very fast and there remains a rapacious appetite for transformative and innovative developments, but Samsung has lacked the integration and added value that has benefited its rival Apple for example, which sought to make their smartwatches work with their phones, tablets, PC or TVs, positioning them to be able to mine behavioural data insights, future trends and revenue opportunities.

Additionally, Samsung have ignored the lower end of the market where Chinese company Xiaomi has started to mop up in the emerging markets. Forecasting sales of 60 million budget smartphone handsets in China alone for 2014, Xiaomi offers almost flagship quality at reasonable price and  a good spec (no doubt helped by their poaching  a key Google exec for product development to help target western markets).

An indicator of Xiaomi’s true ambitions may be the news that the Chinese firm intends to open an Indian data centre to overcome concerns from the Indian Government against its military using the devices because of privacy fears over the data being kept in Beijing.   This is probably the single largest barrier to Xiaomi’s expansion plans in the world.  They have already been moving non-Chinese data into Amazon data centres and whilst they advise they never collect user data without permission, with 100,000 handsets sold every week, assuring the Indian market of its good intent, would certainly send the right signal and open the door for more rapid growth and potential market share gain worldwide.

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Microsoft enters the wearable race

Announcing a new product one day and releasing it the next used to be associated exclusively with Apple, however recently Microsoft managed to surprise the tech press by stealth releasing its rumoured, but not leaked, new wearable – the day after its announcement last Thursday.

Microsoft’s new wearable is simply named Band, comes in three sizes and is worn around the wrist. Featuring a better than average 2-day battery, 10 different sensors, GPS and a horizontal screen made up of tiles as seen in Windows and Windows Phone. Unlike the Apple Watch and Google Wear, Band works across all mobile platforms including iOS, Android and Windows Phone giving it a competitive edge to those who do not want to be locked into one particular platform.

Band has two main focuses; for the fitness conscious it can monitor pulse rate, calorie burn and quality of sleep. It also works as a smart watch, showing the time and giving you at a glance, notification such as texts, emails, calendar and social network alerts. Band also goes a step further by combining these two areas. For example, Band can detect if calendar meetings with particular people are likely to raise your stress levels based on your pulse rate from previous meetings.

Microsoft may be last out of the big three to unveil its wearable solution but its stealth release puts it way ahead of Apple’s Watch release if Spring next year. With the wide compatibility across different devices and the combination of price ($199), size, battery and features, Microsoft’s first wearable offering makes a compelling proposition. What is yet to be confirmed is whether Microsoft will be looking to licence its new wearable platform to other OEMs as it does with PCs, Tablets and Phones. A new platform that is compatible across all devices could see as big a success as Windows on PCs and Android on Smartphones has proven before.

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Are non-wearable devices the new threat to wearables?

Wearable technology is finally picking up steam with the three big players in mobile now all having their own wearable solutions. Wearables have a lot of applications but the biggest overlap feature and focus is on healthcare. For healthcare, wearables make a lot of sense. Sensors on the device can have direct, consistent contact with the user’s skin, allowing all sorts of analytical data to be accrued.

Will everyone be happy to wear one of these devices, or will their use be limited to tech enthusiasts? Or is there another, less intrusive alternative?

Video game Company Nintendo is no stranger to incorporating technology with health and fitness. As well as traditional video games, Nintendo has been making software to keep people active. The bundled launch game Wii Sports included with the Wii took advantage of the Wii Remotes at-the-time unique accelerometer (a technology now standard in smart devices). This gets people off the couch to re-enact real sports and has found its way into over 80 million homes worldwide. Their Wii Fit software was even less game-like and came as a pair with its Balance Board selling over 20 million units, and their latest portable game playing device (3DS) has health based sensors built in. Of course all of these, games or not, are currently limited to being use on Nintendo’s game devices.

Earlier this year the Japanese gaming giant quietly announced a new non-gaming division of the business to create technology around Quality Of Life (QOL) and non-wearable technology and one that is not reliant on its own gaming devices.

Detailed this week, the first product will arrive in the financial year ending March 2016 and is focused around your sleep and co-developed with US Company ResMed. A small box like device can be placed upon your bedside table and wirelessly monitor your sleeping habits via radio waves. Without intrusive human contact, the device can detect heart rate, respiration and fatigue. The data is sent to the Cloud where it is analysed and fed back to inform about how to achieve a healthier sleeping pattern. You will then be able view your data on smart devices where it will make recommendations in exercise and diet.

Nintendo noted that their know-how in gaming has given them great experience in creating fun-to-use software that people want to come back to daily. If a user is not engaged in the process of improving, this can be the biggest hurdle in maintaining a fitness programme. If Nintendo’s first non-wearable QOL product delivers on its promise of wireless health analytics, it could shake up the current wearables industry as motion control and touch screen gaming did on their Wii and DS systems.

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This week’s technology news – 8th August 2014

Microsoft’s fight against the Feds ramps up another notch

The US Government is seeking to have email data from Microsoft’s Dublin server handed over, but the technology giant has been firmly resisting any such interference in a unique legal case that has been escalating since December 2013.  One of Microsoft’s main attractions for data sensitive companies is to allow its users to choose where their data is stored, helping them maintain strict governance and compliance controls and they argue that this case is about protecting data customers’ rights to privacy in the US and around the world.  As part of an ongoing drug-trafficking trial, a New York federal judge dismissed Microsoft’s latest appeal against a government warrant demanding access to emails stored on servers in Ireland.  Microsoft immediately announced plans to challenge the decision.    Tech companies worldwide have rallied around in support of their competitor on the issue.

The UK Government acted swiftly last month with emergency legislation to close a loophole, following a change in European law, which would have left a gap in the Government’s ability to provide unbroken access for the security services to people’s phone and internet records. as part of wider Government counter-terrorism measures.    Whilst not implying that the sort of data held by businesses is on a par with terrorism threats being tracked, it is the principle of privacy at stake – and the impact of this case will have important ramifications for business users regarding their data storage in the UK and Europe.

Bitcoin bandwagon

First it was the banks seeking to regulate Bitcoin, now the UK Government wants to enter the fray and explore commercial opportunity for virtual/cryptocurrency.   The tenet of its value (currently 1 Bitcoin is worth £347), is held by people’s belief that the virtual tokens have value – and there is a finite number of them being traded.   With retailers increased adoption of Bitcoin (60,000 worldwide), this growth in popularity and rising trade endorsement, has prompted Chancellor George Osborne to undertake a review of the merits and risks of including virtual currency as part of his flagship aim to promote the UK as the “global centre of financial innovation”.

Bitcoin has proved popular with the public, but it still holds risks as it remains unregulated. This is part of the public attraction, being alternative, but also part of the explanation of its allure to criminals as there is no registry identification, only a randomised Bitcoin address (27 – 34 letters and numbers creating a virtual postbox and traded in a Bitcoin “wallet”.  The European Banking Authority is concerned at the lack of consumer protection and the Bitcoin market IS volatile.  Market value is swayed by the volume of online enquiries, chatter and “mining” from the downloads (part of a reinforcement cycle identified in recent research by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich).

With the Government aspiring to identify alternative sources of finance for lending to business, Bitcoin might leave too strong a taste of risk on the tongue of industry for the timebeing, and would have to demonstrate greater stability – the exact antithesis of what Bitcoin wants.  This might prove one hurdle too far at present for a Chancellor seeking to be innovative and “on trend” with the City.

The end of an era – Apple and Samsung agree to drop patent lawsuits

Many will recall that following the success of the iPhone, Apple started filing lawsuits for copyright infringement because they believed Samsung’s phones looked a bit too similar to theirs (both on the outside and what was on screen – including the individual designs of App Icons).  This has been ongoing for many years until now.    We are happy to report that an agreement has been made (ex US) covering Australia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France and the UK – where all claims have been abandoned.

This potentially signals the closure of the saga (which will include the US) and this incredibly expensive, drawn out and occasional rather nasty patent fight, which has resulted in products being withheld from sale.

Despite the assumption that the outcome would be some new form of cross licencing deal, the two companies have put out statements stating they are NOT pursuing any new licencing deals or other pacts.  Samsung’s shareprice fell after the news.  However, whether this will change the ultimate judgement or outlook for the US case has yet to be seen.  Such a strategic alliance would certainly shake up the mobile industry, putting the squeeze on anyone who is not Apple or Samsung.

BlackBerry has finished the job cuts, but what does its future look like?

After a brutal three years for BlackBerry it seems the worst (the job cuts),  is finally over. Current CEO John Chen hopes to bring the company back into the black in 2016.  So how should the former smart phone juggernaut rebuild themselves in an Apple, Google and Microsoft world?  Being realistic, even in a best case scenario BlackBerry will not be eating Apple’s or Google’s marketshare in the short term, so what’s their best option?

Future Smart Phones should be designed with their primary audience in mind; corporations and governments, these customers demand ultra-secure comms and this should be the main area of focus for their devices. BlackBerry should also not shy away from their roots, while an all-touch option is good, their flagship device should have that old-school Blackberry physical keyboard. Despite popular opinion, they still have their strengths which make them stand out from the slab crowd.  Finally, services are where the real money will be made – and a chance to win over other phone users without getting them to change their phone.

Blackberry has already delivered their BBM app to iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and they also support their competitors’ devices on their latest servers.  If they made a bigger push in this direction they could substantially build a new user base and really get businesses excited about using BlackBerry once again.

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This week’s technology news – 6th June 2014

Microsoft excluded from Gartner’s Magic Quadrant
Gartner’s newly released report has failed to include Microsoft this year for Enterprise Mobility Management (“EMM”). Gartner say this is strictly based on Microsoft not meeting their business metrics and technical capabilities. Microsoft acknowledge it was a matter of timing as they only launched Windows InTune in Autumn 2013 and the window to the EMM Magic Quadrant in January 2014 was too short a proving space. With an Enterprise Mobility Suite combination of Windows Intune (for MDM and mobile application management), Microsoft Azure Rights Management and Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium, Microsoft were confident it presented quite a strong offering. Gartner commented: “”The offering has promise, but Microsoft must drive adoption and demonstrate that it can meet enterprise requirements.” Microsoft remains confident it will be firmly in the “zone” next year.

Vodafone reveals it is vulnerable to government wire taps
Mobile network giant Vodafone currently operates across 29 countries worldwide. Despite the majority of countries having legal process requirements for warrants to be submitted should law enforcers or intelligence agencies wish to intercept communications, the BBC has established there are six governments which have a permanent link to monitor their communications.

Vodafone will not name the six countries, but the disclosure has emerged as new transparency efforts are being made by telecoms companies between their customers and governments. Data privacy is a theme regularly in the news following US whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks and his influence in causing telecoms and governments to offer more transparency. Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti described news of the ease of access “unprecedented and terrifying”. However, the main difficulty in making meaningful comparisons are the different laws operating in each country and a lack of willingness to discuss the issue. Whatever the outcome, the net effect is to reinforce broad customer distrust against government and major corporates wherever personal data is held.

Samsung – without the Android
Samsung is the TOP Android manufacturer, pushing out more Android smartphones than anyone else. No-one else comes close. In fact with Android leading the Smartphone OS race, Samsung jumping ship would stir up the whole industry. Samsung has been developing its own smartphone OS called “Tizen” over the last few years and is finally ready to put it on their next Smartphone, the Samsung “Z”.

Samsung with its Galaxy line has been building up huge brand recognition, arguable more than the Android name itself, if they were to put Tizen on their next flagship Galaxy phone and tablet instead of Android, Tizen would likely get the stab in the arm needed to make it a viable platform going forwards. How hard Samsung pushes their own Tizen over Google’s Android on their devices will be interesting to watch going forwards.

As tempting as it must be for them to switch everything over to Tizen – they would likely frustrate users if the software didn’t match Android’s feature set, so they will have to walk a careful tightrope act between the two until Tizen reaches feature parity. If however Samsung does play its card’s right, it not impossible to imagine a future where Samsung can beat Google at their own game.

Gravel driving a greener power in the renewables market
The mission to find an alternative power source for storing electrical energy created by wind and solar power on windless and cloudy days, may just have got a step nearer. British company Isentropic has developed a system using a gravel-filled silo with Argon gas. Using a heat-exchange pump it drives an engine to create the power needed for the grid. Despite a 75% efficiency for the system, this energy solution may be a very intelligent one as it is low cost, easy to install and argon gas is highly available (being the third most abundant gas in the planet and 23 times more abundant than carbon dioxide). More ideas like this are desperately needed if we are to successfully service an increasingly power-hungry world – and all the better when sometimes it is not a high tech solution that captures headlines.

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This Week’s technology news – 14th March 2014

New data protection age as Europe votes in data protection laws
MEPs this week voted overwhelmingly to tighten up new data protection laws in the “Data Protection Regulation”. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding commented: “This reform is a necessity, and now it is irreversible…”. She added: “Strong data protection rules must be Europe’s trade mark. Following the US data spying scandals, data protection is more than ever a competitive advantage”. This was echoed in a speech by Euro Commission VP Neelie Kroes who said: “The next phase of the internet will be data-centred and connectivity-driven. Cloud computing, big data, the internet of things; tools which support manufacturing, education, energy, our cars and more. It is no longer about emails. In this new world, reliability and trust is a pre-condition”. These changes will be especially hard for smaller businesses to manage and could cripple them with onerous administrative responsibilities. However, for MSPs there is a clear opportunity to sift through the complexities by providing proper consultative and support services to ensure companies and individuals are better protected.

New storage horizons with Blu-ray’s successor
Not long ago, Facebook started utilising Blu-rays for a low powered storage solution. This was done with a customised solution holding 10,000 Blu-ray discs. However a much more efficient and practical solution is on the horizon. Sony and Panasonic have teamed up to create the next generation of disc-based media called Archival Disc. This goes far beyond Blu-ray, storing up to 1TB of data per disc (the equivalent of 250 DVDS or 40 Blu-rays). With this much storage on such a slim profile, Archival Disc’s could genuinely change the way we think about corporate data backup. Compared to tapes these are much easier to store and secure. The only unknowns so far are speed and cost. The first discs are due out in 2015 in 300GB variety, with 500GB and 1TB versions rolling out at a later date.

Microsoft and Samsung and now on the board for Qi wireless charging
Wireless charging technology has been creeping into the mainstream since launching in 2009. Mostly used as a cable-free way to charge your smart phone at your desk. Like all emerging technologies there is a lot of money to be made and big tech companies will fight to have their version of the technology become the universal standard. The two big names in wireless charging are Qi and PMA. PMA have managed to catch some big contracts like AT&T. The communications giant has been controlling mobile phone manufacturers to force use of the PMA technology instead of Qi. Qi on the other hand has penetrated the market more and won over move mobile phone manufacturers with Nokia, Google, Samsung all mostly using Qi. The latest news in this battle of wireless technologies brings tech giants Microsoft and Samsung to the QI board. This emphatic demonstration of commitment shows not only their support of the technology but also the drive for its wholesale adoption. This could be the fatal blow to PMA, whose product could soon end up in the bargain bin where HD-DVDs were just a few years ago.

Healthcare breakthrough in surgery using 3D printing
The UK has become one of the world’s pioneers in implementing 3D technology in surgery. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than a recent pioneering operation in Wales, where a motorbike victim had reconstructive surgery to his face, using 3D printed parts (including custom printed models, guides, plates and implants), months after the accident. The speed with which this technology has been adopted for surgery is remarkable. It is in stark contrast to the news in 2013 when 3D printers were first used to print guns in the States. Criminals unsurprisingly have also found uses for the technology, notably creating card readers (“skimmers”) to steal money from ATMs. Consequently, police organisations have set up dedicated departments to monitor cyber-crime alongside emerging technology. But at least on this occasion, the outcome is a wholly positive one for everyone involved.

Sense and sensibility as collaboration wins over censure

In an increasingly litigious age, it is refreshing to hear that technology and communication giants Samsung and Cisco have chosen to engage in a 10 year patent cross-licence agreement. During this period they will promise not to sue each other.  Current and future patent portfolios will be shared between the two, opening the doors for greater innovation and future groundbreaking products, without the red tape and costly licence contracts. The agreement marks the third deal in recent weeks for the Korean company which has announced deals with Google and Ericsson to settle litigation and prevent . The join up will boost Samsung’s efforts with apps in the Connected Home, whilst Cisco’s network specialisation and dealings in the “Internet of Things” makes it a good marriage more than just on paper, although details are sketchy.