September 18, 2018

Killing off the Galaxy J line of budget phones is part of a major shakeup planned at Samsung

Details keep trickling out about a major shakeup under way at Samsung that encompasses everything from the handset maker revamping the design of its flagships to its attempt to make its mid-range smartphone models more attractive to millennials. And now comes word that Samsung will be killing off its Galaxy J budget series entirely, which is apparently part of the reorganization of its lower tier and midrange smartphone series. News about the Galaxy J getting deep-sixed comes via ET News, which reports that Samsung is going to kill of the Galaxy J series and as a result expand the Galaxy A lineup to cover some of those lower price points. Furthermore, per SamMobile, that report states that "Samsung is planning to introduce the Galaxy M lineup to replace the online-exclusive Galaxy On series devices. The Galaxy M models will target the budget segment, where the Chinese brands are most dominant. They will reportedly be priced very competitively so that Samsung can effectively compete against its Chinese rivals in key markets such as India, Latin America and in China itself where its market share has eroded to below one percent." Samsung apparently is ok with taking a hit on profit margins as part of playing a longer game of maintaining and hopefully growing its position in those markets. All of this comes as Samsung is rethinking so much of how its smartphone business operates, such as a key angle we reported earlier this month. DJ Koh, the CEO of Samsung’s mobile business, told CNBC the company is going to change itself up a bit so that it brings new cutting-edge technology to its cheaper phone models like those in its Galaxy A series first. Before the tech ends up in the company’s much pricier flagship models later. Meanwhile, Samsung fans are expecting to be wowed by the upcoming tenth generation of the Galaxy S, and to that end Koh told Chinese media outlets earlier this week that "very significant" design changes for the Galaxy S10 are on the way. He didn't elaborate beyond saying that some "amazing" color choices would be available. Nevertheless, the writing on the wall is clear. Samsung knows it's being challenged on every front, at every level of its business, and needs to respond accordingly. "Chinese brands have made a lot of progress in the emerging markets with their value-for-money offerings," SamMobile reports. "While the growth in some markets didn’t necessarily come at the expense of Samsung, it was a lost opportunity for the company for sure. The intensity with which the Chinese brands compete in the market demands Samsung to take some drastic steps, and it might be planning to do exactly that with these reported lineup changes."
September 18, 2018

Report: Amazon will unveil 8 new Alexa devices at an event later this month

Amazon is about to add its popular voice assistant Alexa to more than half a dozen new products -- devices that range from a microwave oven to an in-car gadget, all of which will reportedly be unveiled at a company event later this month. The news comes via CNBC, which reports that at least eight new Alexa-powered products are on the way which include a subwoofer, an amplifier and a receiver. The company is expected to show them off at an event this month, CNBC goes on to note, according to an internal Amazon document. "The new devices reflect Amazon's ambition to make its Alexa voice technology ubiquitous by focusing on areas where people spend most of their time -- at home and in the car," the outlet reports. "Alexa was initially considered a geeky experiment at Amazon. Now it is one of the most popular voice assistants, leading the growth of the burgeoning smart speaker market, which is expected to be worth $30 billion by 2024, according to Global Market Insights." Worth noting is the milestone this set of new products represents for Amazon, which would as a result be moving into the home appliance market for the first time. As the CNBC report notes, the new products also potentially strike at established competitors like Sonos and GE. Sonos has an Alexa-compatible amplifier and subwoofer, while GE has a microwave that can be connected to Alexa. Amazon, of course, declined to comment about the news. Speaking of the home appliance market, we should note this is not Amazon's first involvement with that market, not by a long shot. The company is also working on robots of some kind for the home, per Bloomberg. Amazon also earlier this year bought the smart doorbell maker Ring. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in July the company wants customers "to be able to use Alexa wherever they are," which adds some obvious context to the new products in the pipeline. "There are now tens of thousands of developers across more than 150 countries building new devices using the Alexa Voice Service," Bezos added at the time, "and the number of Alexa-enabled devices has more than tripled in the past year." It's not just new products for the home the company is working on, meanwhile. Amazon is also stepping up partnerships with home installation companies and home builders. As an example -- earlier this year, it teamed up with the home builder Lennar to add Echo speakers in some new homes. All of which underscores how the company, pun very much intended, is certainly at home sniffing out opportunities wherever it can to put new Alexa-powered gadgets in the hands of consumers.
September 17, 2018

Study: Netflix users are so addicted to bingeing there’s not much time left for family

Imagine, for a moment, how much time a day you spend uninterrupted with family members. Got it? Now go ahead and double it. That, friends, is roughly how much time every single day the average Netflix user spends bingeing content. It's an estimate that comes via Streaming Observer, which found that the average Netflix user now spends a little more than an hour a day streaming content on the service. Which adds up to some 434 hours, the equivalent of 18 days, over the course of a year. Here's how the site arrived at those numbers. "At the end of last year, the company announced that its users streamed 140 million hours of content per day. At the time, there were 117.58 million subscribers. Simple math shows that dividing 140 million hours of content watched daily by 117.58 million subscribers results in the average user spending 1 hour and 11 minutes each day watching content on Netflix." One hour and 11 minutes doesn't sound so bad, until you put it up against the roughly 36 minutes of quality, distraction-free time that other studies have found people spend with family members each day. Here's a closer look at what Streaming Observer has found: "Recent studies have found that families only spend anywhere from 34 to 37 minutes of quality, undistracted time (e.g. time where they “feel they actually bond”) together on a typical day," Streaming Observer notes. "Let’s average that out to 35.5. That means the typical subscriber spends about half as much quality time with their family as they do with Netflix." But there's more. Again, these are all rough estimates, but according to the most recent annual edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, the Streaming Observer data also shows that Netflix users generally spend a lot more time bingeing than they do exercising, reading and hanging out with friends. Combined! The crazy thing is that even with numbers like this, and with Netflix binges eating up so much of users' time already, the company's CEO Reed Hastings thinks the company still doesn't own enough of its users' day. “We’re still a small fraction of every society’s overall viewing,” he said on a call with investors earlier this summer. “So I think there’s still room to go there.” Indeed, the company is still working to grow as much and as fast as it can. During the most recent quarter, Netflix reported 130 million global subscribers, up 25 percent from 104 million in the year-ago quarter. Per Zacks Equity Research, Netflix is hoping to add 650,000 subscribers in the U.S. and a little more than 4 million internationally in the third quarter.
September 17, 2018

Political campaigns can ask for new tools from Facebook to help ward off hackers

We're less than two month away from the midterm elections, and Facebook has decided to roll out a new suite of tools to protect campaigns from hackers. It's a new layer of cyber protection that Facebook is making available as a pilot program open to any state or federal campaign. Under the program, per an NBC report, "campaigns as well as campaign committees that opt in to the program would be designated potential high-priority users and be able to take advantage of expedited troubleshooting if they detect any unusual behavior involving their accounts." It's all meant to help spot dubious activity sooner and give Facebook even more lead time to develop a response or take action. Via a company blog post today, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher explained that page administrators can apply to participate in the program at Once enrolled, they can add others from their campaign or committee, and Facebook says it will help officials adopt "our strongest account security protections, like two-factor authentication, and monitor for potential hacking threats." "If we discover an attack against one campaign official, we can review and protect other accounts that are enrolled in our program and affiliated with that same campaign," Gleicher says. "As we detect abuse, we will continue to share relevant information with law enforcement and other companies so we can maximize our effectiveness. And, we are continually assessing how this pilot and our other security programs might be expanded to future elections and other users, such as government officials." Facebook didn't provide a lot of detail about what this new security layer entails, probably for obvious reasons. In terms of what it has been detailed about, the company has already said it's banned hundreds of fake accounts and pages in the lead-up to the midterms, some of which the NBC report notes used behaviors similar to the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency that caused mischief around the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also on record saying the company was caught off-guard by how the company's tools could be misused by hackers and related groups, which makes today's news another step in trying to atone for its inaction of recent years. As well as being another proactive move toward making sure as little as possible coopting of its network for nefarious purposes happens going forward. Time will tell, of course, if that's a too-lofty goal or if it actually succeeds in making the service better overall. In a post along these lines on his personal Facebook page a few days ago, Zuckerberg wrote that "In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face. But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services.
"This effort is part of a broader challenge to rework much of how Facebook operates to be more proactive about protecting our community from harm and taking a broader view of our responsibility overall."
September 17, 2018

Apple catches a break on Trump China tariffs – Watch and AirPods will be spared

You could make an argument that Apple CEO Tim Cook's delicate handling (or courting?) of President Trump is starting to pay off. Exhibit A? After Cook dined with Trump and the first lady last month at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, the administration is poised to hand Apple some welcome news -- the next round of tariffs imposed on China won't include products like the Apple Watch and AirPods. That's according to two sources who confirmed the news Monday to Bloomberg, ahead of the administration's release of the final rundown of up to $200 billion worth of Chinese goods that will get hit with a new 10 percent tariff. Per Bloomberg, "a product code that covers Apple Inc.’s Watch and AirPods -- as well as similar smart watches, fitness trackers and other goods made by competitors including Fitbit Inc. -- is not on the list." In a Sept. 5 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Apple asked that the tariffs be reconsidered, adding that they "increase the cost of our U.S. operations, divert our resources and disadvantage Apple compared to foreign competitors." What's more, the company continued in that letter, tariffs broadly lead to higher U.S. consumer prices, lower economic growth and other unintended consequences. The product code that includes Apple Watch was part of a list the Trump administration released earlier this summer. Also included as part of that product code are the HomePod, as well as AirPort and Time Capsule internet routers, and the sum total of those imports from China is reportedly around $12 billion. Levying new taxes on those goods, Trump told reporters today, could generate "a lot of" revenue. U.S. businesses have generally been strongly opposed to the tariffs, for the same reasons Apple articulated in its letter. Speaking of Apple, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said during an appearance at the Economic Club of New York Monday that the Trump administration consults often with Cook and, according to Bloomberg, "takes his views seriously." “We’ve spoken to Mr. Tim Cook many times. He’s a really smart guy. He’s given us some good advice,” the outlet reported Kudlow as saying. Advice the administration apparently took, in this case, which is certainly welcome news for Apple. The company's massive production apparatus is heavily reliant on China. Earlier this year, a newspaper in the country also named Apple as one of the U.S. companies a trade war might hurt the most.
September 17, 2018

Touch-based blood pressure readings via iPhone and Apple Watch might one day be a thing

The commentariat is still generally positive about Apple's unveiling last week of the newest model of Apple Watch, which comes packed with new and potentially life-saving health features. Analyst Ben Thompson, in today's edition of his Stratechery newsletter, writes that Apple is showing us via innovations in products like the watch that "middle age ain't so bad." And that the new feature in the watch which lets you take an electrocardiogram might underscore to some people how Apple is starting to look like "a tech company that actually cares about you." Apple already got FDA clearance to use the watch for that purpose. But a new report in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend suggests blood pressure readings might eventually be possible via an even more simple process for both Apple Watch and iPhone users -- long-pressing on the display. Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a proof-of-concept iPhone app that measures blood pressure by using the display's 3D Touch "peek-and-pop" feature. By 2020, Michigan State electrical and computer engineering professor Ramakrishna Mukkamala told the WSJ, some three billion people will own smartphones. Many of them also "have high blood pressure and don't know it," he adds. According to the paper, "Recently, a group he led created a way to take blood pressure with a phone, using the same principle as the blood-pressure cuff, which varies pressure on the arm. In a study published in March, the group used a modified smartphone case with two sensors, one that measured blood volume and one that measured applied pressure. Users steadily pressed their fingertips against the case to get a reading. The data was transmitted via Bluetooth to an app, which calculated blood pressure and displayed it." This month, however, a study in which Dr. Mukkamala participated showed that same method of long-pressing can be applied to sensors already built into phones that help users take selfies and provide for 3D Touch. "The group has developed an iPhone app that guides fingertip placement and calculates blood pressure," the WSJ continues. "Comparing the results against a traditional blood-pressure cuff, the app was less accurate than the arm cuff. But Dr. Mukkamala says it was comparable to a finger cuff, a device that’s been cleared by the FDA for measuring arm blood pressure but used primarily so far in research." Dr. Mukkamala hopes to market the touch-based blood pressure app and make it available sometime next year, though some more work and testing is still needed before it's approved. Still, the possibilities this opens up offers yet another reminder of the new era Apple is entering with its watch, now being firmly positioned as, in the words of Apple COO Jeff Williams, "an intelligent guardian of your health."
September 16, 2018

DC Comics’ long-awaited digital streaming service is finally here

DC Universe, the new streaming service from the comics giant that was announced in June at Comic Con in San Diego, is finally here and will go live this weekend. Starting tomorrow, you'll be able to download the service in the U.S. on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Apple TV and Roku, as well as via the desktop and mobile web. The launch is timed to coincide with "Batman Day" (yes, that's a thing) and will make tons of Batman movies, animated series, comics and giveaways available to users through the rest of the month. Here's a rundown of some of the Batman content that will be available, per DC: Films
  • Batman (1989)
  • Batman Forever
  • Batman Returns
  • Batman & Robin
  • Batman Begins
Animated Films
  • The Dark Knight Animated
  • Batman Ninja
  • Batman: Bad Blood
  • Gotham By Gaslight
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Animated Series
  • Batman Beyond
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold
  • Batman: The Animated Series HD
Specials and documentaries
  • Batman Tech
  • The Dark Knight Unmasked, the Psychology of Batman
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Batman: Year One (1987)
  • Batman: Year Two
  • Batman: Shaman
  • Batman: Mad Love
  • Batman: Year 100
  • Batman #1
  • Detective Comics #27
  • Batman #497
  • A Death in the Family
  • Batman: Black & White #1 - #4
  • Batman: Strange Apparitions
  • Batman Eternal
  • Batman: Gothic
In terms of the details about the service itself, membership costs $7.99 per month or $74.99 annually, and benefits include exclusive original live-action and animated series, classic TV series and films, a selection of digital comic books, breaking news including the all-new DC Daily show, a DC-centric encyclopedia and access to exclusive merchandise. All memberships kick off with a week-long free trial, and other goodies you get include the ability to connect with other DC fans, earn rewards and participate in contests. The first original series to premiere on the service will be Titans, coming Oct. 12. It will be followed by other exclusive series like Young Justice: Outsiders, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, Harley Quinn and Stargirl. “This weekend as we celebrate one of our most iconic heroes, we launch a digital service that unites Super Heroes from every corner of the DC universe, from our most treasured films and comics to exclusive originals all-in-one place,” Warner Bros. Digital Networks President Craig Hunegs said in a statement released about the launch. “DC Universe stands out as a fan-first service in what is quickly becoming a crowded marketplace of consumer choices."
September 15, 2018

In one study, Apple Watch Series 4 was near-perfect in flagging healthy vs. irregular rates

Much has been made since the unveiling this week of the new Apple Watch, which sports an abundance of health-focused features like its fall-detection and the ability to take an electrocardiogram. Buried in this skeptical piece from Quartz, which argues that the new watch's features "aren't all that impressive," we also get a look at study results that seem a bit incongruous to include in a piece that's dubious about the watch. In order to get FDA clearance for the inclusion and marketing of the watch's ECG features, Apple and Stanford University conducted a study of a little less than 600 people, the results of which were submitted to the FDA for review. According to Quartz: Half of those study participants were healthy, while the other half had atrial fibrillation -- or AFib, for short, which is a heart condition that can lead to serious health complications. The smartphone app that the Watch 4 works with was able to identify more than 98 percent of the patients with AFib and more than 99 percent of the patients with healthy heart rates. Cardiologists, according to the Quartz report, were able to read 90% of those total readings, although about 10% of them were unreadable. So, on one level that certainly sounds promising for a product that Apple is trying to position as "an intelligent guardian for your health.” So why are some people skeptically poking at some of the most promising aspects of the watch? Andrew Moore, an emergency department physician at the Oregon Health and Science Universitytold Quartz the tech in the watch is "rudimentary" compared to what you'd get in a hospital setting. Which leaves one wanting to reply -- well, of course the $399 watch (preorders for which went live today) doesn't compare to the much more robust treatment and diagnosis that happens in a hospital setting. We've already written about this in an earlier post, but the FDA gave Apple the approvals it needed for the watch on the condition it stress that any readings should be seen as a guide that you'd want to get a doctor to look into. That the readings you get on your watch shouldn't be regarded as a definitive medical diagnosis. The Washington Post weighed in on this, noting that "heart rhythms naturally vary, meaning that it's likely that Apple Watch or any heart monitor could signal a problem when there isn't one -- and send someone running to the doctor for no reason." The new Apple watch falls in an FDA category for "low to moderate risk" devices. The risk here being the misreading of a user's heart rate, which isn't as likely to be fatal like you'd see with a subpar device in a higher risk category. To get its FDA clearances, Apple had to show the device was safe and that it worked. Which, as you can see from the study results, were requirements the company easily met.
September 15, 2018

Here’s something congressmen actually agree on: Google’s China plans sound alarming

David Cicilline, a U.S. Rep. from Rhode Island, blasted Google with a tweet on Thursday that said the search giant shouldn't be using its vast resources to enable authoritarianism in China. Included with his tweet, which you can see below, is a copy of a letter that Rep. Cicilline joined a bipartisan group of congressmen in addressing to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Among other things, it says the lawmakers felt compelled to reach out to Google with a list of questions following the disclosure last month that Google is looking into making a version of its search engine available in China that would block some websites and search terms. "We have a responsibility," they wrote, "to ensure that American companies are not perpetuating human rights abuses abroad." Ouch. In the letter, which includes several questions directed at Google's chief executive, they ask if the company would "ensure that individual Chinese citizens or foreigners living in China, including Americans, will not be surveilled or targeted through Google applications." The lawmakers also want to know what words or search terms Google would put controls in place to prevent users in China from being able to surface results for. As we reported this afternoon, Google has already toyed around with a version of its search engine to pass Chinese muster that included blacklisting search terms like "human rights," "student protest" and "Nobel Prize." Google, which has been blocked in China for almost a decade, might get hammered about this on Sept. 26. It's been summoned to appear before a Senate committee that day along with Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications and Twitter, for a hearing with a focus on how these companies protect customers and their data.
Per NBC, "House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said on Tuesday that Google would be invited to testify on a number of issues. He wrote on Twitter that Google had worked with China and Russia on censorship but no longer wanted to do a technology deal with the U.S. Defense Department."
It's not just outside the company -- there's also significant concern within Google about its potential China plans. Also according to NBC, Google research scientist Jack Poulson resigned on Thursday over what he said was Google not honoring a commitment to human rights. Poulson told Reuters, according to the report, that Google executives wouldn't tell him where they'd draw the line on concessions China's government. "Unfortunately, the virtually unanimous response over the course of three very vocal weeks of escalation was: 'I don't know either,'" Poulson reportedly said.
September 15, 2018

Peter Dinklage says Game of Thrones’ final season is so epic that ‘you are in for it. Truly.’

Another day, another bit of hype from a Game of Thrones actor for the final season of HBO's celebrated series that we still have to wait another year for. This time, the tantalizing hints are dropped thanks to Peter Dinklage, who of course plays Tyrion and was questioned by a reporter while Peter was at the world premiere of his new film I Think We're Alone Now. The reporter wanted to know -- can the show possibly top the Battle of the Bastards? Referring to the insane ninth episode of the show's sixth season, which critics hailed as a truly epic episode with an amazing battle that featured, according to an IGN reviewer, a "phenomenal clash of sword and shield." It included "so many great, ferocious moments," that review noted, "from Jon facing down Ramsay’s arrows with a shield at the end, to Tormund killing Smalljon Umber in a fittingly intense manner, to the giant Wun Wun using his last breaths to break down the Winterfell gate." So, back to the reporter's question. Peter, can you guys top that episode in the coming season? Here's what Peter said in response: "Oh my god, and then some. You are in for it. Truly." (BRB, going to go to sleep now and just -- wake me up when it's 2019 and time for the new series). In all seriousness, GoT news site speculates Peter's response could be a reference to the fact that Season 8's production work included filming a battle sequence that spanned 55 straight nights. "Film crews worked on location at Moneyglass" the site notes, "where the set for Winterfell is located, at Magheramorne Quarry, where an enormous green screen was erected, and at Saintfield, where Battle of the Bastards was filmed in season 6. Apparently, the idea for this incredible battle sequence was to splice the shots from each location together, for one huge scene."
Check out this note that cast and crew members got after that 55-night sequence was finished being filmed: In related but sort of unrelated news, the internet also kind of freaked this week when it seemed like some of the production team might have accidentally spilled the beans on news about Tyrion. They were addressing reporters backstage at the Creative Arts Emmys, when visual effects wiz Steve Kullback leaned into the mic to say, "And we can't tell you in what episode Tyrion dies. "Or doesn't." As a reminder, the final season will debut sometime in early 2019.