Thursday, December 29, 2011

Windows Phone upgrade plans: First Tango, then cash

Microsoft plans to target inexpensive smartphones with the next release of its mobile operating system, and won't add more advanced features until a software release slated for the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a leaked Windows Phone roadmap obtained by the Web site

The next iteration of the software known as Tango will be out the door in the second half of 2012, the leaked plans reportedly indicate. By Q4, Microsoft plans to roll out its next big upgrade, known as Apollo. This update will provide features such as dual-core devices, near-field communications, and HD screens. It will also focus on business-related features.

The roadmap plans are "up to date as of October 2011," which of course means that Microsoft may have changed them already. The timing of the releases is somewhat unclear. The leaked roadmap lists Mango for release in the fourth quarter of 2011--but Mango began shipping on devices in September. Also, it's believed that Microsoft partners such as Nokia will begin releasing lower end Windows Phone devices in the first half of 2012 instead of the second half.

In any case, it looks like Microsoft is targeting the most price-sensitive customers with Tango, as it tries to provide devices with "the best prices." To some degree this makes sense, given that Microsoft sees itself as the platform for people who are buying their first smartphone.

But competing at the low end is difficult, especially with Google Android already aggressively addressing this market with several devices that sell for $50 or less with a two-year contract. Android has also even managed to address the prepaid market with devices that are just over $100 without a contract. What's more, Apple offers its older iPhone 4 for $99 and the 3GS is available for free with two-year contracts.

The Apollo release will target "competitive superphones." Hopefully, for Microsoft's sake, the company won't wait until the fourth quarter to roll out this software. If it does,Windows Phone may already be too far behind the competition.

While the current version of Mango offers a ton of enhancements, the software is still missing support for devices with dual-core processors. And it also doesn't yet support 4G LTE. Meanwhile, Google has been offering 4G LTE support an dual-core phones for several months. And its devices also support bigger screens.

There are indications that Microsoft's actual timeline may not match up with the supposed leaked roadmap. Microsoft's major partner Nokia has already mentioned that it will be using less expensive chipsets in upcoming devices to address the lower-end of the market using the Windows Phone software. And a top Nokia exec has also stated that upcoming releases of the Windows Phone software will support more advanced features like NFC, which will enable mobile payments, in mid-2012.

The big question for Microsoft and its Windows Phone platform is whether it can gain enough traction to compete effectively with Apple and Google. So far, Microsoft's performance has been mediocre at best. Even though the release of the Mango software was a huge improvement over the previous version, Microsoft hasn't gained much market share.

That said, Microsoft is rapidly expanding its app store, with more than 50,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace to date. Apps for Windows Phone still lag way behind those in app stores run by Apple and Google. But Microsoft is adding more new apps at a quicker pace than Android did at the same stage of development.

Microsoft is banking on Nokia and its other hardware partners to make a big splash in the U.S. in 2012. Nokia, which launched the first of its Windows Phone devices in Europe, is expected to make a slew of announcements for its Windows Phone smartphones at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. In addition, to lower-end smartphones, the company is also expected to include 4G LTE into its Windows Phone products.

Separately, Engadget reports that Microsoft may be looking to improve backup and restoration technology on Windows Phone devices. Microsoft, apparently, has posted a job opening on its Windows Phone Backup, Migrate and Restore team for someone who can help "ensure that no matter if someone loses their phone, drops their phone in a lake ... a user can quickly and seamlessly get their phone back to a good state."



Monday, December 5, 2011

11 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

Billions of dollars will be spent online over the course of the next month, and, unfortunately, there are those that will be looking to steal some of it. Make sure you're not a victim.

Let's face it, there's every reason in the world to shop online. The bargains are there. The selection is mind-boggling. The shopping is secure. Shipping is fast. Even returns are pretty easy, with the right e-tailers. Shopping has never been easier or more convenient for consumers.

But what about the bad guys who lay in wait? IID's Third Quarter eCrime Report for 2011indicates that use of phishing attacks (where thieves attempt to swindle you out of your sign-in credentials and even credit card info by pretending to be a real website, or even an online bank) is down, as much as eight percent since the second quarter and 11 percent since the third quarter of last year. That's great news—except the same report says sites with malware (malicious code aimed at compromising your privacy) has increased by 89 percent since the second quarter.

Stay calm. While somewhat alarming, these stats should not keep you from shopping online. You simply need some common sense and practical advice. Follow these basic guidelines and you can shop online with confidence. Here are 11 tips for staying safe online, so you can start checking off items on that holiday shopping list.

1. Use Familiar Websites
Start at a trusted site rather than shopping with a search engine. Search results can be rigged to lead you astray, especially when you drift past the first few pages of links. If you know the site, chances are it's less likely to be a rip off. We all know and that it carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from Target to Best Buy to Home Depot. Beware of misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (.net instead of .com, for example)—those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, the sales on these sites might look enticing, but that's how they trick you into giving up your info.

2. Look for the Lock
Never ever, ever buy anything online using your credit card from a site that doesn't have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed—at the very least. You'll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar. It depends on your browser. Never, ever give anyone your credit card over email. Ever.

3. Don't Tell All
No online shopping store needs your social security number or your birthday to do business. However, if crooks get them, combined with your credit card number for purchases, they can do a lot of damage. The more they know, the easier it is to steal your identity. When possible, default to giving up the least amount of information.

4. Check Statements
Don't wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly during the holiday season and look at electronic statements for your credit card, debit card, and checking accounts. Make sure you don't see any fraudulent charges, even originating from sites like PayPal. (After all, there's more than one way to get to your money.)

If you do see something wrong, pick up the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, pay the bill only once you know all your charges are accurate. You have 30 days to notify the bank or card issuer of problems, however; after that, you might be liable for the charges anyway.

5. Inoculate Your PC
Swindlers don't just sit around waiting for you to give them data; sometimes they give you a little something extra to help things along. You need to protect against malware with regular updates to your anti-virus program. PCMag recommends Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (4.5 stars, Editors' Choice, $39.95 direct), which has extras to help fight ID theft, or at the very least the freeAd-Aware Free Internet Security 9.0 (4.5 stars, Editors' Choice).

6. Use Strong Passwords
We like to beat this dead horse about making sure to utilize uncrackable passwords, but it's never more important than when banking and shopping online. Our tips for creating a unique password can come in handy during a time of year when shopping around probably means creating new accounts on all sorts of e-commerce sites.

7. Think Mobile
The National Retail Federation says that 5.7 percent of adults will use their mobile devices to do comparison shopping before making a purchase. (And 32.1 percent will comparison shop online with a computer, as well.) There's no real need to be any more nervous about shopping on a mobile device than online. The trick is to use apps provided directly by the retailers, like Amazon, Target, etc. Use the apps to find what you want and then make the purchase directly, without going to the store or the website. (For more complete information, be sure to also read our tips for shopping safely on a mobile device.)

8. Avoid Public Terminals
Hopefully we don't have to tell you it's a bad idea to use a public computer to make purchases, but we still will. If you do, just remember to log out every time you use a public terminal, even if you were just checking email.

What about using your own laptop to shop while you're out? It's one thing to hand over a credit card to get swiped at the checkout, but when you must enter the number and expiration date on a website while sitting in a public cafe, you're giving an over-the-shoulder snooper plenty of time to see the goods. At the very least, think like a gangster: Sit in the back, facing the door.

9. Privatize Your Wi-Fi
If you do decide to go out with the laptop to shop, you'll need a Wi-Fi connection. Only use the wireless if you access the Web over a virtual private network (VPN) connection. If you don't get one from your employer, you can set up a free one with AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, if you're willing to put up with the ads, or pay $4.99 a month or $44.99 a year to skip the ads. There's even an iOS app version of Hotspot Shield, but that will cost you $.99 per month or $9.99 a year after the first seven days.

By the way, now is not a good time to try out a hotspot you're unfamiliar with. Stick to known networks, even if they're free, like those found at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble stores that is powered by AT&T. Look for the network named "attwifi," then open a browser to click into the "walled garden" to get final access. You can also find free Wi-Fi at McDonalds, Panera Bread, and FedEx Office locations, not to mention libraries and local cafes.

10. Count the Cards
Gift cards are the most requested holiday gift every year, and this year will be no exception. Stick to the source when you buy one; scammers like to auction off gift cards on sites like eBay with little or no funds on them.

11. Know What's Too Good to Be True
Once again, McAfee has compiled a Twelve Scams of Christmas list, all things to be aware of while shopping. The "coupon scam" offers of a free product with purchase, in particular an iPad (a very coveted gadget at any holiday) or even holiday job offers. Many of these "offers" will come in via social media. Beware even of your friends, who might innocently forward such a thing. Be very wary even if you get a message from friend claiming he or she has been robbed, especially a friend overseas looking for money to be wire transferred, unless you absolutely can confirm it by talking to him or her personally. Skepticism in most cases can go a long way toward saving you from a stolen card number.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

RIMs new smartphones to get Android compatibility, says report

In what may come as a surprise for you, RIM is reportedly planning to incorporate applications especially designed for Android operating system in its new smartphones. According to a Bloomberg report, RIM's new QNX software will be compatible with Android. The QNX-based phones will be introduced as early as 2012. Citing people privy to the development, the report says that RIM will also bring a PlayBook upgrade for Android later this year.

RIM's new QNX software is aimed at revamping the “aging” BlackBerry portfolio and its “narrowing” selection of apps. It's notable that there are nearly 250,000 apps in Google's Android Market, which is about six times more than RIM's App World. The abundance of apps played a key role in making Android the world's top smartphone platform.

“Being able to run Android apps, that’s a big plus,” Bloomberg quotes Steven Li, a Raymond James Ltd. analyst in Toronto. “If you get the tonnage of Android apps and the top 50 apps through BlackBerry’s App World, that addresses many of the concerns people have about RIM’s ecosystem.”

RIM is rapidly losing ground in the market against Apple's iPhone and Google's Android software. The company's global smartphone market share fell to 12 percent in the second quarter from 19 percent a year earlier. And in the same period, Apple's market jumped to 18 percent from 14 percent, while Android witnessed a whopping 43 percent growth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Docomo's 3G Wi-Fi hub

Why buy a personal 3G SIM card when you can buy one of Tata Docomo's new 3G Wi-Fi hubs? It allows you to connect upto 5 wireless devices at 3G speeds!

What is it?
Your very own gateway to freedom. Freedom from wires and freedom from buffering. If you have tried to view a YouTube video of the baby getting scared of his sneezing mom, you'll know what we mean. This pocket device will work as a portable router for up to five devices and can connect using either a CDMA Tata Photon Plus SIM card or a 3G SIM as well. Either way, you will get enough bandwidth to watch your favorite videos without cooking dinner while they load!

So what's new?

We have had internet USB sticks for a while now and more recently, even 3G versions of them. But the 3G Wi-Fi Hub flexes its muscles by being able to shoulder the load of multiple devices connected to it. Any sort of Wi-Fi enabled device can be connected in a jiffy and while speeds may be compromised depending on number of devices.

Can I use 3G yet?
Sure you can, but not in some parts of the country ye. But sweat not, since this device is ready for both CDMA and 3G. If you live in a city that is still off the map for Tat Docomo3G, just use the Photon Plus SIM card and still get greater than normal speed for surfing and maintaining your virtual farm.

How long until it runs out of juice?
The claimed battery life is of four hours. It can be charged via USB or a traditional power outlet without any interruption in the signal strength. Very nifty.

So, you're making me buy one?
You could get faster speeds via LAN-based Wi-Fi but for travel and portability, this is ace.

Easy to connect, simple to use and with tariff plans that won't make you bankrupt, it's hard not to recommend this pocket-friendly Wi-Fi hub.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Google Docs offline: Coming this summer

Somewhat later than had been planned last year, Google is addressing a significant weaknesses of Google Docs and Google Apps: the inability to use the services while not connected to the Net.

"We will make them [Google Docs offline apps] available this summer," said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, in an interview here last week at at the Google I/O conference. "We've all been using it internally. It's imminent. We want to make sure they're good."

It's not clear just how high the demand for the feature is. Although we find offline Google Docs' absence a critical weakness, Google cited low interest in the idea as one justification for why it had removed an earlier attempt at the technology in 2008.

One thing is very different from three years ago, though: Chrome OS, which in June will move from prototype to product with Chromebook models from Acer and Samsung.

With Chrome OS, Google is betting that the world is ready for a browser-based operating system. For office workers using a Chrome OS machine to enter customer data into a Web form, offline access is no big deal, but for Chromebooks to reach their full potential, they have to be able to handle a bit more of what even the lowest-end PC can do. That includes being useful when you're on a subway, on an airplane, or heaven forbid, in some primitive backwater that's not saturated with reliable 3G.

Google reassures people that offline Web apps are now possible to program thanks to a number of interfaces such as AppCache and IndexedDB arriving in browsers. But actually taking advantage of those interfaces isn't necessarily easy.

Google Docs was supposed to get offline abilities in early 2011, for example.

Offline Docs hasn't been easy, in part because of years of shifts in the plumbing used to let browsers look for data on a local computer rather than a remote server on the other side of the Internet.

Initially, Google Docs had some incomplete offline support through a Google technology called Gears. Google removed that support when it discontinued Gears in favor of open Web standards that accomplished similar goals. The technology in Gears for offline storage was a SQL database interface that was closely related to the Web SQL Database standard for browsers. However, Mozilla and Microsoft didn't like its approach, and Web SQL's standardization was derailed.

A final challenge for Google might be its own vision. The company is betting heavily on a future in which the Internet is built into the fabric of our lives. Indeed, with lobbying and investments in networking technology, it's trying to hasten the arrival of that future.

Google has perhaps a better idea of what that future looks like. Its campuses are bathed in Wi-Fi and peppered with Ethernet ports. Employees have home broadband, Net-connected shuttle buses, and for those moments in between, wireless data modems.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Pichai said he must consciously remember to unplug from the Net if he wants to try offline features of Google Docs.

But for those of us not in the Google bubble, with spotty 3G and capped data for our smartphone and home broadband, offline support is essential.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Initial Thoughts On The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook

Google has finally made good on their promise to deliver Chrome OS to the world this summer. Or they will, on June 15 when the first Chromebooks are available. Following the formal unveiling on day two of Google I/O, Samsung and Google held a joint event to further show off the hardware to a group of journalists.

First of all, the Samsung device seems far faster than the Cr-48. That’s a bit surprising since the specs are not all that different except for the fact that the Series 5 has a dual-core Intel Atom chip as opposed to the single-core one that the Cr-48 has. The RAM, SSD, etc, are the same. So apparently the chip does make the big difference.
Flash playback had also been a big problem with the Cr-48. On Series 5, Flash seems to work pretty well — even in HD on sites like YouTube and Hulu. Well, 720p anyway. 1080p produced quite a bit of lag, and yes, some serious undercarriage heat.

As for the trackpad, it’s also much improved. It’s not nice as nice as the glass MacBook trackpad, but it is able to track where you finger is moving in realtime (which the Cr-48 could not always do). It still feels a little cheap, but it works more or less as expected.

But the initial thing you will notice about the Samsung Series 5 is what a good first impression it makes. That’s because the thing starts up nearly instantaneously. Google is claiming an 8-second boot, we think it might be ever faster. Compare that to a Mac or PC which often takes several times as long (though the Macs with new SSDs are very fast as well).

Even better is that when you hit the login screen and enter your Google credentials (assuming you have them, of course), everything in synced within seconds. That means your bookmarks, passwords, and even extensions/apps hop over to the new machine seamlessly through the air. This experience was actually one of the cooler things we have seen in a while. Such integration will probably give a regular user that “magical” type feeling.

And let’s talk about the price, because that will be very important. While the Samsung models (and the even cheaper Acer model) easily beat any Mac laptop in price, they are in line with several PC notebooks already on the market. And because these Chromebooks are stripped of many of the features people typically look for when PC shopping, it will be interesting to see how these stack up on and (where they will initially be sold).

Getting below the $500 threshold was crucial, but they may need models half that price if they really want them to move against cheap PC notebooks.

The sub-$500 price was also critical to get below the iPad. At least at first, consumers are likely going to look at Chromebooks as cheap, secondary machines, and not full-on computer replacements. Fair or not, that will run head-first into the iPad market as well. So again, the cheaper Google can make these things, the better.

The truth is that, based on our initial impression, Chromebooks are likely to be good enough to replace a full-on computer for many users. There will be reluctance at first to accept this idea simply because change is hard. But if Google can break the Windows mindset — something that will be much easier said than done — you should see users start to move over.

Make no mistake, Chromebooks are a direct attack on Microsoft. Thanks to Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, etc, Google has all the data they need to know that people spend the vast majority of their time on computers these days in the web browser. So why not just cut out the middle man? Microsoft.

These initial Chromebooks are just act one of this melodrama. But it looks to be a pretty good act one.