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Turns Out The Samsung Galaxy S5 Tanked Outside The U.S.

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 3:30pm

The bleeding in Samsung’s mobile business hasn't stopped, and not even its own flagship could stanch it. The Wall Street Journal reports that, despite its strong start and popularity in the United States, sales of the company’s Galaxy S5 smartphone fell far short of expectations—as much as 40% less than projections pegged.

Now Samsung co-chief and mobile honcho J.K. Shin could have reason to fear for his job.

The Galaxy S5 reportedly sold 12 million units over its first three months of availability, about 4 million less than its predecessor, the Galaxy S4. While sales in the U.S. actually increased, the American market was the only one that saw gains. But that apparently couldn’t overcome waning interest in other regions, like China, where domestic smartphone makers like Xiaomi give the South Korean tech maker a run for its money.

See also: Samsung Reveals Its Master Plan To Connect Your Life

Bad Timing

Xiaomi, now the world’s third largest smartphone maker, claims to have no interest in entering the U.S., where Samsung still reigns. But in the Chinese market, where they go head to head, the S5 fell more than 50%.

The S5 initially debuted with a strong showing, but sales appear to have flatlined. Last May, Shin boasted to the Journal that the company moved 11 million units in its first month, topping the Galaxy S4 by a million units. The math reveals a sobering detail then: If the latest figures are true, it would mean Samsung only sold another one million S5 phones over the ensuing the two months.

See also: Galaxy Alpha Won’t Stop Samsung's Bleed

As the 5.1-inch S5 flatlines, mediocre shipments of the huge Galaxy Note 4 don’t seem to help. The 5.7-inch “ hablet" pulled in first-month sales of 4.5 million units—half a million less than the Note 3.

For Shin, the bad news couldn’t come at a worse time. Word has it that Samsung is on the verge of some organizational rejiggering—the result of which could cut executive compensation and oust the incumbent mobile head. In his place, current co-chief B.K. Yoon may step in to run the company’s mobile division, people “familiar with the matter” told the WSJ.

Though he runs Samsung's key home appliance and TV divisions, he's less expensive than Shin ($3.3 million, compared to Shin’s $11 million earnings). The move, if it happens, would place phones, tablets and watches all under the same umbrella. 

Photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

"Big Data Ethics" Sound Great, But They Won't Stop The NSA—Or Facebook

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:23pm

It was worth a shot. At the recent Strata Conference in Barcelona, Hadoop founder Doug Cutting took to the stage to argue for a new era of Big Data ethics.

"It’s time for us to reflect as we enter this new data age on how we want it to work," Cutting declared. "This is the time when the practices and policies we want will be set for the coming decades."

Cutting is right, of course. But he's also too late. By open sourcing Hadoop under a liberal license, Cutting gave the world the rope to save or hang itself.

On the data privacy front, we seem hell bent on the latter.

Spying On The Elephant

While Big Data bad behavior isn't remotely exclusive to government, it is the U.S. government that has turned data into a cause for concern. Against this backdrop of widespread data (mis)use, Cutting told Strata attendees that the time is now to establish principles of transparency and ethics for the coming decades of Big Data adoption and use.

"In science fiction, the people who collect the data are the bad guys," he laughingly noted. "I don’t want to be one of those bad guys."

Few, perhaps, do aspire to misuse data. But one person's misuse is another's fair use. And given that all the best Big Data technology is open source, there's really nothing to prevent governments or private corporations collecting and using data however they see fit. 

As one Quora commentator puts it, "Open source is open source and people will use it for whatever and however they want to use it. It's hard to make a morals call."

And why shouldn't they? After all, not only are organizations like the NSA and CIA feverishly using Hadoop, they're also actively helping to develop Hadoop and other Big Data technology. In fact, while the NSA used to try to build its own data tools, it now has turned to Hadoop for much of the heavy lifting on analyzing data sets on its citizens.

Some of the NSA's modifications to Hadoop are being contributed back. Some almost certainly are not. Regardless, both jeopardize trust in government to the point, as Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt posits, "We're going to wind up breaking the Internet."

The People Fight Back

Concern over government and corporate spying has given rise to new open-source projects like Detekt to help consumers fight back. Detekt, launched by Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other non-profits, aims to uncover "commercial surveillance spyware that has been identified to be also used to target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world."

It's a nice step in the right direction, though it's hobbled by being a Windows-only executable. Running on Windows is irony at its finest, given that Windows has long offered U.S. spy agencies a back door

What, Me Worry?

But it's probably not fair to single out the U.S. government—or any other—for Big Data malfeasance. After all, private corporations are only too happy to use data to fight competitors and rope in consumers.

As I've written before, I've watched my own son get hammered by data-hungry gaming companies, and I have friends whose lives have been decimated by data-mad porn companies. 

Cutting wants a new era of responsibility, but the temptation to use data will almost certainly prove irresistible for companies and governments to resist. The only solution seems to be an uprising, not from the tech industry but rather from ordinary folks whose data is misused. 

But for that to happen, we need to lose our addiction to free services like Gmail or Facebook (powered by Hadoop), which encourage us to contribute data so that we can have free storage, free socializing, free everything. Evgeny Morozov calls out this "disturbing trend whereby our personal information—rather than money—becomes the chief way in which we pay for services—and soon, perhaps, everyday objects—that we use."

In sum, it's nice to wish for a new era of Big Data ethics, whereby corporations and governments respect our privacy, but it's hard to square that vision with the consumer's willingness to sell her data for a mess of free services.

Lead image by takomabibelot 

Categories: Technology

Leaked FAA Proposal Forecasts Turbulence For Drone Rules

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:14pm

Federal guidelines for commercial-drone use may be even harsher than expected, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The WSJ apparently got hold of the FAA’s drafted rules through anonymous sources. Among other restrictions, the prospective rules would require drone operators to hold a pilot’s license and would ban drone flights outside of daylight hours.

Currently, the FAA requires would-be commercial-drone operators to obtain case-by-case basis approval. Efforts to lift the restrictions have been slow. The FAA has been working on guidelines for the better part of two years and plans to have them finalized by September 2015.

See also: Why Commercial Drones Are Stuck In Regulatory Limbo

However, recreational drone use has surged. Aircraft pilots are increasingly reporting drone sightings alongside planes, and are concerned about collisions. However, some drone supporters believe the FAA’s intense restrictions, including the need for a manned pilot’s license to operate a small drone, have gone too far. For example, the ruling would group all drones weighing 55 pounds or less under one set of rules. That would impose the same rules on hobbyist machines and significantly larger commercial drones alike.

“[The rule will be] so divorced from the technology and the aspirations of this industry … that we’re going to see a loud rejection,” Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, an advocacy group for drone makers, told the WSJ.

To be fair, the WSJ story has the hallmarks of a leak from drone proponents, quite likely one intended to help organize opposition to the FAA rules. We may not be getting the whole story, and we won’t know for sure until the FAA discloses its final decision.

Photo by Don McCullough

Categories: Technology

8 Things Startups Should Consider Before Entering A Collaboration

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:00am

Guest author Scott Gerber is founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Partnering with another company can be great for both parties involved—or it can end in disaster. Collaboration can be tempting for a quick sales fix, but do your due diligence first.

To learn more, we polled eight members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) on the questions you should ask before saying yes to collaboration, and the red flags to look out for during early discussions. Their best answers are below.

Figure Out Why They Want to Collaborate

Sometimes the answer is as simple as "to increase sales." But sometimes it's because of an internal political struggle, a desire to compete with you, or even just to look like they are doing something.

Beware of people who seem to be too eager to work with you. That usually fizzles out at some point, either quickly or after they have wasted a lot of your time.

Jessica Richman, UBiome

Work With Doers

Ideas are easy. Everyone has them.

If you're talking with a company and their focus is strictly on how big and successful the partnership will be, but there is no discussion about how the partnership will actually happen in reality, run and hide. These are talkers, not doers.

Adam Stillman, SparkReel

Look at the Size of the Project

I like a challenge, but I also think it's prudent to first prove the need. If a company proposes a collaboration in which both parties would be required to invest 40 hours of work, be prepared to rebut with an idea that will only take five hours of work.

If that's successful, then you can build up to bigger projects. Otherwise, you'll risk having wasted time on something that ultimately offers little to no ROI. Businesses can fall victim to their own ambition, so beware of the delusional entrepreneur who dreams up new "winning ideas" every few minutes.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

It’s important to make sure the collaboration is on brand for both companies. One party will always have slightly more to gain, but associating with another company whose market perception and/or consumers are noticeably below the level of your own is a big red flag.

Another thing to watch out for is the appearance of playing favorites. Too many collaborations with one brand can have consumers associate you together and you never want your perceived value to be tied too closely to that of someone else’s.

—Jess Levin, Carats & Cake

Make Sure You Are a Priority

When it comes to selecting potential partners, one of the most overlooked issues is prioritization. Make sure the company is vetting you as a partner as much as you are vetting them.

If this partnership is a top priority for the executive team, that is a good sign that they will commit the resources to make it work. Outside of this, you should also research the health, reputation and integrity of the company.

John Berkowitz, Yodle

Check Out Their Core Values

It might sound cheesy, but if a potential partner doesn't have core values defined or smirks when you want to review yours, don't move forward. Would you want to date someone who doesn't have an idea of where he or she is going—or worse, thinks your direction is silly and misaligned?

One of the best new client meetings we ever had was when we said, "Now, we want to talk about our 10 core values," and the client said, "We have 10, too. And look, we have exactly four in common." Shared values are a solid sign of a good relationship to come.

Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications

Ensure ROI on Your Time

Collaborations often sound fun, but they can be incredibly time consuming with little reward at the end. I once set up a special referral program with a company that promised they would send many leads our way, only to see zero sales. We wasted a lot of time on our end setting up that partnership.

Collaborations are fun and can be a huge win for your business, but make sure that you can be very confident that the math will work out before you dive in. Look for a partner that is willing to be open with their numbers about similar partnerships in the past.

Laura Roeder, 

Make Sure They Have Experience

Do they have the experience and can they deliver on what they say? Low rates of repeat purchase, negative feedback online or difficulty getting their customers to take your calls are red flags.

Also, if a potential partner isn’t a culture fit, it’ll never work. That disparity doesn’t make them bad, but might be a sign your ways of working aren’t compatible.

Chris Cancialosi, Gotham Culture

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

Categories: Technology

Meet Regin, Government-Created Spyware That's Been Active Since 2008

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:05am

Symantec has uncovered yet another sophisticated, malware-based spying tool, dubbed “Regin,” apparently the latest spyware tool created by a national government agency.

The company's research, published Sunday, identifies Regin—also known as Backdoor.Regin—as a Trojan virus that exhibits “a degree of technical competence rarely seen” on behalf of its creators. Its purpose appears to be mass surveillance of government organizations, businesses, researchers, and individuals. And it's been on the loose since 2008. Writes Symantec:

It is likely that its development took months, if not years, to complete and its authors have gone to great lengths to cover its tracks. Its capabilities and the level of resources behind Regin indicate that it is one of the main cyberespionage tools used by a nation state.

Symantec has been unable to identify the origin of the software, but Re/code reporter Arik Hesseldahl suggests that the U.S., Israeli, and Chinese governments all have the technological capability and M.O. to engineer it. Also raising suspicions: not one Regin attack has targeted either the U.S. or China.

See also: The Flame Virus: Spyware On An Unprecedented Scale

Private researchers have uncovered several instances of such government-created spyware over the past few years—most notably, the Stuxnet malware (also discovered by Symantec) that targeted Iran's nuclear program and Flame, a much larger program that infected hundreds of computers across Europe and the Middle East.

In any case, Regin’s targets are decidedly global. Symantec has detected about 100 different infections in ten different countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. Nearly half of all targets for surveillance, 48%, are small businesses and private individuals. In every case identified, Regin attacks systems that are running Microsoft Windows.

Symantec wrote that Regin attacks have been occurring since 2008, and it may have taken this long to discover them since a major function of the software is to cover its own tracks.

Researchers are still unpacking the mysteries of this complicated program. For more technical information, Symantec has published a 21-page white paper.

Photo by nolifebeforecoffee

Categories: Technology

Download Your Google Data With One Click

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:00am
<em>&nbsp;Editor's Note: This post was originally published by our partners at <a href="">PopSugarTech</a><a href="http://Editor's Note: This post was originally published by our partners at PopSugarTech. "></a>.&nbsp;</em>

Nothing is truly permanent—especially on the Internet—so Google is working towards allowing users access to e-mails anytime, even long after the company's online services are gone. Google offers a one-click export system to download a copy of your data from Gmail and Google Calendar.

Previously, users had to turn to not-always-effective third party backup or extraction services. Now, Gmailers can download their entire archive of mail or select labels as an MBOX file. MBOX is a common format for storing email messages, with all of the user's email threads stored in a single, long text file. Many clients, such as Entourage, Eudora, and Mozilla Thunderbird, can recognize MBOX files.

To export your personal data, sign into your Google account, click on the profile thumbnail in the top right corner, and select "Account" just beneath your email address. In the navigation menu on the left, click "Download your data" and select "Create an archive" to begin picking and choosing the Google services you'd like to preserve.

Calendar export is available for all users today, and Gmail export is rolling out over the next month.

Read More: 

Categories: Technology

How Starbucks Could Take Wireless Charging Mainstream

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 9:00am

Offering a shot of one-stop convenience, Starbucks began its roll-out of free Powermat wireless charging last week. The Seattle, Wash.–based coffee purveyor equipped roughly 200 stores in San Francisco with the technology, ahead of a nationwide launch next year.

I stopped by a location in Levi Plaza to check out the system and see if it lives up to the promise. There could be no in-between: It would either be a cool new convenience or a lame, over-hyped feature. 

See also: How To Boost Your Phone's Battery Life

Sitting in the cafe, with my phone resting on the table that piped juice to it, the answer was clear. Starbucks should consider extra security; Frapuccino-fueled patrons are destined to jockey for a seat at one of these tables. After years of trying, wireless charging could finally be on the verge of going mainstream in a big, caffeinated way. 

Getting Juiced Up At Starbucks

Wireless charging seems like a misnomer. People who have bought Powermat and similar products know that the main charging mat connects to a wall outlet with a cable. But it’s still considered “wireless” because phones, handheld gaming machines and other devices can power up just by sitting on top of it.

At Starbucks, the mats (or "Powermat Spots”) are built into some of the tables and countertops. Despite reports to the contrary, Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, claims the charging speed rivals cabled connections. I gave it a try, and found the charging action to be pretty speedy. 

 The downside is that few phones support Powermat charging out of the box. Some Lumia phones have it built in, and compatible backplates, phone cases, batteries and small Power Ring attachments are available under the joint Duracell-Powermat brand. The system offers some backward compatibility—if you have one, even an older unit, you'll be able to charge your device on Starbucks' tables. 

If not, you can still use the Starbucks charging surfaces. The store loans out Power Rings for free on the spot and sells them there too for about $10, if you'd like to own one. Duracell-Powermat also sells them online

“You’ve got to have a complete system,” said Matthew Guiste, Starbucks’ vice president of in-store digital. “No one has taken the plunge, [but] we want to start giving manufacturers a reason to put it in their phones.” The retailer has a habit of pushing technologies into the mainstream. Back in 2001, the business proselytized Wi-Fi, being among the first to offer it for free.

The chain’s knack for popularizing tech was the main reason Powermat partnered with it. “Wi-Fi was not a known commodity then,” said Schreiber. “They’re in a place to educate consumers.” 

Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, at Starbucks wireless charging roll-out

Education is needed. Wireless charging has been around for quite a while, but despite that, it still hasn’t managed to gain traction with consumers yet. 

Why Isn’t Wireless Charging A Thing Yet?

Even though the electromagnetic technology behind wireless charging goes back a century, people still mess with cables and power adapters—now more than ever. 

See also: If The Future's Battery-Powered, We're Screwed

Poor battery life forces the hassle. Today, huge phones with larger batteries and power-saving tactics, like Android’s Project Volta, try to prolong the longevity of our devices, but these are workarounds for batteries that just can’t keep pace with advancements in mobile technology. 

Processing power, new features and our demanding requirements for connectivity make us "more dependent on our devices,” said Schreiber. “[But] it’s reached a crisis point where the industry is bringing us new uses that we routinely disable to give us more battery life.” The issue becomes worse with wearables, as tiny gadgets leave little space for big power cells.

<a href="">Some reports</a> say the system won't work with iPhones. Don't believe everything you read.&nbsp;

Wireless charging’s convenience can help ease the pain of short battery life. Unfortunately, like the old video rivalry between VHS and BetaMax, warring factions within the industry prevent a universal standard from paving the way for wider adoption.

Earlier this year, two of the leading power consortiums—Powermat’s Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP)—made some headway by joining forces. Reinier H.M. van der Lee, director of product marketing at Broadcom, a key member of A4WP, told me then that it would lead to "dual-mode receivers,” or gadgets that support both PMA’s open standard and A4WP’s Rezence standard. 

But the deal left out a third, the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi—currently the most popular wireless charging option available in mobile devices. Devices like Samsung's Galaxy, Motorola's Droid and some Lumia phones offer built-in support. 

All three standards essentially rely on the same technology. Coils (in mats) create electromagnetic fields that transmit electricity when receivers (in gadgets and accessories) sit on top. But their approaches vary, and none work directly with either of the others. 

Rezence devices don't exist as consumer products yet, but even if they did, single-mode products wouldn’t work on Starbucks’ Powermat charging tables. (They'd have to be dual-mode.) Qi gadgets, the most prevalent so far, won’t directly work either. 

To cut through the complications, Starbucks and Powermat made a smart move: Those free Power Ring loaners come in a choice of micro-USB or Apple’s lightning port. This cross-compatibility should cover most smartphones, and their in-store availability means people won't have to plan ahead. 

This simple decision gives every customer some wireless charging powers. It just so happens to spread the gospel of Powermat to a massive audience as well.  

Powermat's Power Play

After starting out with test roll-outs in select stores in Boston and San Jose, Starbucks is ready to go all in with PMA now. Guiste calls Powermat "the perfect partner," thanks to its focus on commercial installations and managed support.

“What we got is not just a standard,” he said. “We got launch partners and a managed network that can tell us what’s going on, down to the location and the [specific] spot at that location.”

What Powermat got is a direct line to the vast market of coffee drinkers across the country. (Starbucks serves more than 5 million customers per day.) While obviously beneficial to Powermat, the strategy could also raise the profile of wireless charging overall, giving the whole industry a boost. 

It may even compel the various camps to work together on a universal standard. If so, it couldn't come too soon. The already complex landscape of wireless charging could get even more complicated before long. 

As cable-free power-ups work to establish themselves in the mainstream, fringe candidates have been trying to push it in new directions. Startups like Humavox and Ossia want to ditch the mat entirely, using radio frequency technology to transform charging into Wi-Fi-like affairs.

It’s All Up In The Air

Humavox CEO Omri Lachman explained the design strategy behind his Eterna charging platform to me earlier this year: Users don't use mats, he said. Instead, they toss their devices in a box. 

Those devices can vary, not just in variety, but size. With more than a little showmanship, he told me his company "didn’t start off with these devices,” holding up a smartphone. “We started with these,” he said, pointing to a small in-ear canal hearing aid. 

The components were designed to fit inside one of the smallest consumer devices imaginable, so it's not tough to see those tiny receivers embedded inside the compact casings of wearable gadgets, one of Humavox's target areas. 

Another startup, Ossia, believes charging should work entirely over the air.  

Though a bit slower than traditional charging, Ossia's Cota technology can supposedly transmit power safely over a distance. It has been tested at 16 feet, and the company claims it can work up to 30 feet. 

Ossia has been making motions toward the smart home industry, hoping to power battery-operated sensors and other gizmos. In the controlled setting of a retail environment, Cota devices could theoretically start charging your devices the moment you walk in. But that scenario will probably take a lot of convincing to appease public concerns over safety. 

If these emerging companies succeed, or the leading troika of wireless charging proponents get their act together, they could banish the drudgery of plugging in cables and power adapters once and for all. 

We're not there yet. But Starbucks and Powermat took a big step toward that future. And until it gets here, at least now we can sip our lattes and charge on a table while we wait. 

Starbucks coffee photo (cropped) courtesy of Starbucks; Ossia photo courtesy of Ossia; all others by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology