Saturday, January 12, 2013

A week in technology news

There have been some interesting developments in the world of technology this week from security concerns to new technology that should make any tech geek happy.

Java risks

Java was labelled as being a high security risk and computer users were advised to disable the software in their browsers. Java has had a chequered history, being responsible for 50% of all cyber attacks last year in which hackers broke into computers by exploiting software bugs, according security organisation Kaspersky. Adobe Reader came second and was involved in 28% of all incidents. Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer were also cited as a security risk and were involved in about 3% of incidents, according to the survey [Reuters / BBC].

CES 2013

The biggest buzz of the week was the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. As well as the quirky ideas such as the Happi Fork and giant robotic spiders, the show featured huge innovations in television display units.

4K was the buzz word as was OLED and 3D. 4K resolution is seen as the future of television though it will some time before content is made available for such hi-res displays. 3D has not taken off in a way that manufacturers would have liked and some have placed their bets on OLED screens. The cost of devices using such technology will be out of reach for most people however.

Google TV

For the average consumer the big announcement will likely be the release of smart televisions with Google TV built in. There are already many Internet capable televisions on sale now, but Google TV with its android operating system allows the installation of apps making access to the various video streaming a great deal more convenient.

TCL, a Chinese manufacturer, unveiled at the show a new TV and set-top box to be sold later this year in the US using the Google TV platform which recognizes who is watching in order to suggest potential programs [Business Insider / Engadget / MobileMag].

Another Chinese manufacturer, Hisense also showed off its line-up of televisions and Google TV devices. The company had taken over a large space where Microsoft - absent from this years show - usually stood. The XT780 line of Google TV-powered displays will be available in 55" and 65" models, and feature the same Android-based technology under the hood seen in other Google TV devices, such as Sony's Internet Player the NSZ-GS7  [Engadget / Android Central].

It wasn't just Chinese manufacturers that displayed their Google TV devices. During its press conference at CES 2013, LG announced its extended LG Google TV line-up that will include a total of seven models in five screen sizes, all scheduled for 2013. The new line-up also includes LG's new premium models with Cinema Screen design [Fudzilla].

Google has also confirmed that other major TV manufacturers will also be joining the fold. In a blog Google said that Samsung and Sony will reveal new Google TV powered products.

What is not entirely clear at this stage is whether the integrated sets will come to the UK and ship elsewhere outside the US. The first integrated sets were the Sony NSX range of smart TVs. However they are all now discontinued and were only available in the US. Sony's set top box is only available in the US and Britain.

Some fans of Google had hope that the Internet giant might team up with a television manufacturer to produce a Google Nexus TV, making the device a so-called pure Google device rather than integrating what many Android smartphone users see as bloatware added by device manufacturers [StreamingMedia / Vexithmedia]. 

Messenger killed off

Outside the CES there was the news that Microsoft was finally going to ditch its Instant Messenger service, integrating it with Skype. The software company have announced a date of March 2013 when Windows Live Messenger will be retired. Microsoft acquired Skype in late 2011 in a £5.4 billion takeover of the VoIP service [TechWeek / BBC].

Amazon launches AutoRip

There was several snippets of news concerning the retail giant Amazon who announced that it was adding all CD purchases of customers to their cloud music player. The AutoRip service automatically adds the MP3 version of the CD's tracks to the customer's Cloud Player, from which they can be streamed or downloaded. In essence, AutoRip gives customers access to the digital copy without having to convert that CD via their PC.

There were several voices of criticism however. The AutoRip service only applies to purchases made through the US version of the Amazon site. For UK customers, which were recently offered access to Amazon's Cloud Player only US purchases may show. And even some of those have not been made available [BBC].

While Amazon's offer might be applauded on one level, there are probably few people that will not have already ripped their CD collection for personal use by now given the common use of MP3 players. Amazon are trying to play catch-up with the likes of iTunes and Google Music with this offering, however it may prove to be just a useful extension to what people already have stored in the cloud rather than an exclusively used service. There are some who might benefit. If one had lost, sold or had discs stolen, the AutoRip service could be a Godsend [Pocket-Lint / Telegraph].

The AutoRip service did prompt some to suggest that Amazon should offer anyone who had bought a hard copy of a book a Kindle version of the same. Such an enterprise would prove far more useful. "Now that Amazon is giving people MP3s for the CDs they bought since 1998 (on Amazon) will they do the same for books?" asked one Twitter user. Such a possibility is unlikely given Amazon and other eBook providers ongoing war with publishers and authors over pricing.

Eroding anonymity

There are other issues revealed by the new service which are concerning to some. Writing in the Guardian Dan Gillmor says that the AutoRip service suddenly makes it clear how much a single company might know about an individual, their tastes in music, books, clothes and even more personal medical conditions.

"Onerous terms of service, a standard feature of today's internet, are related to another fundamental problem with all online buying – or, for that matter, anything you buy using a credit card anywhere," Gillmor says. "As giant companies create mega-databases of information about you and your purchases, and then hand them over (often for a fee) to governments and others who are interested in learning more about you and your habits, two things are happening: you and your data are becoming much less secure, and you are losing fundamental privacy rights."

In particular Gillmore is worried that companies like Amazon have knowledge bases containing lists of "books, movies, music and other brain-food that collectively say a great deal about who you are and what makes you tick."

"We need to create systems that allow anonymous purchasing in this new world – to recreate cash in a digital format or some other method to recreate anonymity," he suggests, and warns that if "cash and anonymous buying do disappear, so will a fundamental freedom, and we'll regret it in the end."

But it seems privacy is perhaps, less of a concern to many people now as it once used to be. As the digital soup becomes ever thicker, people appear to be unconcerned with sharing almost anything online through a growing number of social networks, or video and picture sharing websites.

Yet another smartphone

Much of this will be uploaded from a smartphone. And into an already saturated market there was a new entry unveiled, that of a device running Mozilla's Firefox OS. The phones are expected to be launched in Europe in 2013. Chinese phone-equipment maker ZTE said it was working with a European wireless carrier to sell the phones and was looking carefully at the US market. However with Android controlling three-quarters of the share in shipments in the smartphone market, a phone running on Firefox OS is unlikely to make a huge impact. Nonetheless some have forecast the device might capture 1% of the share of global smartphone shipments in 2013 [BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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