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Google’s Android smartwatches invade Apple’s iPhone

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SAN FRANCISCO — Google is introducing an application that will connect Android smartwatches with Apple’s iPhone, escalating the rivals’ battle to strap their technology on people’s wrists.

The move thrusts Google on to Apple’s turf in an attempt to boost the lackluster sales of watches running on its Android Wear software. The program uniting the devices running on different operating systems is being released Monday in Apple’s app store.

Until now, Android watches only worked with smartphones powered by Android software, just as the Apple Watch is designed to be tethered exclusively to the iPhone.

In this Aug. 21, 2015, Android Wear smartwatches compatible with the Apple iPhone are displayed at Google's offices in San Francisco. Google is introducing an application that will connect Android smartwatches with Apple's iPhone, escalating the rivals' battle to strap their technology on people's wrists. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this Aug. 21, 2015, Android Wear smartwatches compatible with the Apple iPhone are displayed at Google’s offices in San Francisco. Google is introducing an application that will connect Android smartwatches with Apple’s iPhone, escalating the rivals’ battle to strap their technology on people’s wrists. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Google’s new app, though, will enable the latest Android watches to link with the iPhone so people can quickly glance at their wrists for directions, fitness information and notifications about events, emails and Facebook updates.

The devices still won’t be able to be tied together in a way that will allow the Android watches to communicate with all the other apps that a user might have installed on the iPhone.

That roadblock is likely to discourage many iPhone owners from defecting from Apple to buy an Android watch unless Google eventually finds a way to overcome the obstacle, said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

For now, the Android watches are most likely to appeal to iPhone owners reluctant to spend a lot of money on a device that remains more of a novelty than an essential gadget.

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Google expects the prices of Android watches compatible with the iPhone to range from $100 to $400. Apple, which has a long history of demanding premium prices for its products, sells most of its watches for $350 to $1,000, though its luxury models cost more than $10,000.

Android watches aren’t going to be bought by “the fan boys and fan girls that have to have absolutely everything with an Apple logo on it,” Llamas said. “We are talking about going after people who are open to other possibilities with what they can do with their devices.”

Although Apple was a late entrant into the smartwatch market, the company quickly surged to the front of the pack after its April release.

About 4 million Apple Watches were sold during the three months ended in June to command three-fourths of the worldwide smartwatch market, based on estimates from the research firm Strategy Analytics. The combined sales of Android watches made by various device makers during the same period totaled 600,000 units for an 11 percent market share. Samsung watches running on Tizen software grabbed most of the rest of the market with a 7.5 percent share.

Google is hoping the next wave of Android Wear watches will help to shift the tide in its favor. The upcoming Android watches that will work with the iPhone include the Asus ZenWatch 2 and the Huawei Watch. LG Electronics already makes an Android Watch, the $300 Urbane, that’s compatible with the iPhone. Working with the new app, the Android smartwatches will be compatible with iPhones dating back to the 5, as long as their operating systems have been updated to at least iOS 8.2.

“This is a shrewd move by Google to expand its potential market,” Llamas said. “There is only so much space available on each wrist.”

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No matter who you are, Amazon wants you to be using Alexa

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SEATTLE — Amazon really wants us all to be talking to its smart assistant, Alexa. The company announced a half-dozen new products that make clear that the tech giant wants you to be talking to its assistant at every point in your day, in every room of your house, no matter who you are.

The company introduced four completely new products to its smart-speaker category: the high-end Echo Plus that doubles as a smarter home hub; the Echo Spot which is a smart alarm clock with a video screen; a set of button accessories aimed at making the Echo more of an entertainment device; and the Echo Connect — a $35 speakerphone box that plugs into the traditional landline connection and uses your home phone number.

Amazon also revealed updates to the Echo, which hasn’t seen an upgrade since its 2014 launch, and decreased the size of the Fire TV so that it’s no longer its own set-top box. Though it still offers 4K streaming, it now plugs entirely into the back of a TV. BMW also announced it will put Alexa-friendly microphones and the voice assistant in select BMW and Mini models in 2018.

The aggressive push to make Alexa as ubiquitous as possible may substantially raise expectations for others in the space, such as Google and Apple — which has yet to even launch its dedicated smart home speaker, the HomePod.

(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

Amazon’s senior vice president of devices, Dave Limp, said that the company dedicates 5,000 people to Alexa and Echo alone to help with this efforts — a huge effort, given that reports place its competitors’ teams at dozens or hundreds of employees. Limp said, however, that Amazon saw demand for development with Alexa from all stripes: products, services and hardware. That focus may explain how Amazon has been able to tackle one of the biggest obstacles facing the smart home: how difficult it is to set up. 

The complexity of setting up a smart home — downloading apps, figuring out which devices work with which services, even naming each individual bulb — has proved a major hurdle to smart appliance adoption even as companies aggressively pursue the space.

But Limp showed off how Alexa — using the $149 Echo Plus — can now make smart home setup as easy as, well, screwing in a lightbulb. After the bulb was twisted into the socket, the Echo Plus picked it up in a scan for smart devices in the room, named it and was able to control it within 15 seconds.

Every version of the higher-end Echo will also ship with its own Philips Hue lightbulb, as a very transparent push to get more people to try out the smart home for themselves.

Adding the Echo Plus puts Amazon’s speakers, price-wise, on either side of Google’s $130 Home.

Amazon showed off the Echo Spot, which could work for those more comfortable with the idea of smart home technology. About the size of a compact clock radio, the Spot features a video screen that can play video, display a watch face and be used for video calls. The $130 Spot is essentially a more compact riff on the Echo Show, the video-enabled Echo that debuted earlier this year.Amazon is also making a new push to style the Echo as a more active entertainment device. Echo Buttons, which would look at home on any game show set, connect to an Echo device via Bluetooth; the firm showed off a trivia game demo, where players buzzed in when they knew the answer. Toy giant Hasbro will make a version of Trivial Pursuit that uses the buttons, Limp said.

The traditional Echo saw a price drop, to $99, and a redesign that makes it more compact, a little shorter and a little squatter. A new “routines” features allows Echo to trigger multiple actions — turning on lights, opening the blinds, starting the coffee maker — from a single phrase such as “Alexa, good morning.” Both the Echo and Echo Plus will get free outbound calls to any number in the United States, Canada and Mexico, pulling contacts from your smartphone.

The forceful push on hardware — at relatively low prices — dovetails exactly with Amazon’s hardware strategy in the past, analysts said.

“For Amazon, hardware is a means to drive more consumption be it media or washing powder,” Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight said in a note following the event. “Amazon has the momentum in the smart speaker and voice assistant space. It’s clearly determined to maximize that advantage and use it to spearhead its move deeper into the home.”

 

 

© 2017, Paul Umoh. All rights reserved.

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Microsoft is determined to make virtual reality work for everyone

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For a while, virtual reality has seemed stuck in neutral for the nongaming audience, with companies struggling to make VR appealing to everyone. But firms keep trying — and they’re starting to make a better case as prices continue to drop. Microsoft on Tuesday showed off a slew of new high-end virtual reality headsets for Windows 10 PCs from a number of partners to show off the breadth of its ecosystem, including a new $500 set from Samsung.

I had around 10 minutes to try out Samsung’s HMD Odyssey which works on Windows 10 and is set to hit store shelves on Nov. 6.And it’s pretty good. The graphics were immersive enough to activate my fear of heights in a demo set high in the mountains. The headset also has a design that curves snugly around the face. That makes the immersion feel pretty complete, even if the graphics aren’t quite as striking as what you’d see on a high-priced headset hooked up to an equally pricey gaming computer

Having tried out a few versions of virtual reality headsets over the past several years, I was surprised by how comfortable this one was. It weighs about a pound and a half — on the heavy side for a headset, but the weight is distributed well.

Above all, the price of the HMD Odyssey is notable, as it’s in line with the fast-descending price of virtual reality headsets. Both computer-based virtual reality headset makers, Oculus and HTC, slashed their prices this summer to $500 and $600 respectively — down from their original price tags of $700 and $800. Other previously announced sets from HP, Dell, Acer and Asus are launching for Windows 10 on Oct. 17, and their prices go as low as $350 or so.

Those still aren’t quite impulse-level prices — at least for me. But at least the price of good VR is down significantly from when the hype began.

Which is to say: This may be the beginning of the beginning of VR for the average person. Microsoft showed off some appealing applications, such as being able to watch video on the virtual equivalent of a 300-inch television or being able to easily teleconference. Outside of entertainment, the promise becomes murkier. The idea of editing a spreadsheet or writing an article using those VR controllers makes me queasier than any VR-related motion sickness.

 

© 2017, Paul Umoh. All rights reserved.

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Net ‘not ready’ for vital security update

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A plan to update the security around some of the net’s core address books has been delayed.

Net administrative body Icann put its plans on hold after it emerged that some ISPs and large firms were not ready to make the change.

It feared that tens of millions would lose net access if the change went ahead as planned on 11 October.

Icann said it was working with ISPs to update software and ensure everyone is ready to switch next year.

“It would be irresponsible to proceed with the roll [out] after we have identified these new issues that could adversely affect its success and could adversely affect the ability of a significant number of end users,” said Goran Marby, head of Icann.

Trusted information

Since early 2017, Icann (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has been preparing to update the cryptographic keys used to ensure that information about web domain names can be trusted.

The Domain Name System Icann oversees can be thought of as the net’s address books and they help to turn the written names for websites that humans use into the numeric equivalents that computers prefer.

Many organisations have turned to a secure version of DNS, known as DNS SEC, because it helps them avoid many attacks cyber-thieves use to hijack traffic to popular sites. About 750 million people browse the web using information provided by DNS SEC servers.

Icann has been distributing new keys to DNS SEC users for months. It planned for all of them to start using the new keys on 11 October.

But an investigation by the net admin body found that many organisations were running versions of DNS SEC that had not updated properly or did not have the new keys in place ready to use. It said it was not clear why some versions of DNS SEC had not been updated as expected.

Icann has now started contacting ISPs and firms that were not ready to ensure their software is updated as expected. No fixed date has yet been given for when the new keys will be used but it said it hoped it would be completed by the end of March 2018.

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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