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Samsung Galaxy S4 beats Nokia Q2 Lumia sales in just one month

18 Jul 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE-AIt was revealed today that Nokia only managed to shift 7.4 million Lumia smartphones in the second quarter of 2013. While this is in some ways positive as it's a marked increase on the modest 5.6 million the Finnish firm shifted in Q1, it's still a massive issue when you consider how well other smartphone makers are doing. Take Samsung, with its seemingly unstoppable wave of Galaxy devices. The Galaxy S4 flagship managed to beat Nokia's quarterly Lumia sales in just one month, storming past the 10 million sales milestone a mere four weeks after launch.

What makes this particularly sad is that – like HTC and its stellar One smartphone – Nokia is making decent, revolutionary smartphones. Take, for example, the Lumia 925: the phone is absolutely full of custom Nokia services and technology that really makes the most of Windows Phone 8. These include an amazingly good rear camera, with a custom Carl Zeiss lens and a sixth glass camera element that make it the current top smartphone when it comes to imaging prowess. The 925 also has a slew of impressive Here location services.

Nokia Lumia 925 has an 8.7MP Pureview camera

Sure the Galaxy S4 has its own share of custom features, running Samsung's Touchwiz user interface, but most of these are superfluous, or simply don't work. Take, for example, Eye Scroll and Air Gesture. Both services sound cool on paper, with Eye Scroll making the phone automatically scroll down when you've finished reading a section of text, and Air Gesture letting you interact with the S4 without actually touching the display using Minority Report-style gestures. However, actually using them is a downright chore, with Eye Scroll taking forever to actually realise you've stopped reading and Air Gesture requiring your hand to be so close to the screen, it's all but pointless.

This, combined with the S4's pretty much untouched Galaxy S3-style design, makes the Samsung phone feel a little dull, especially when compared with Nokia's colourful wave of Lumia devices. Because of this, while the sales speak volumes in the world of business and we can't deny Samsung has done an amazing job creating Apple-level buzz around its devices, the low Lumia sales are slightly disheartening. Here's hoping Elop's optimistic promise rings true and the soon to arrive Nokia Lumia 1020 does something to change this.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Google brings Street View service to Venice and Eiffel Tower

16 Jul 2013

Google's Trekker backpack allows for the exploration of places unreachable by vehicle

Google is doing its hardest to make sure you never have to leave your chair and thus never cease using its lucrative web-based products. In its latest war against the holiday, Google has added Venice and the Eiffel Tower to its roster of places to virtually visit.

Silliness aside, the technical feat of mapping Venice is actually something to behold, and something Google has been unable to do until relatively recently. As is rather obvious if you know anything about Venice, roads are relatively hard to come by in a city made up of more than one hundred islands. You have two realistic choices: Walking or gondola...ing. Google has chosen to do the former, by attaching a camera to a four-foot pole and mounting it to a backpack (see above).

Known as the Trekker, this piece of tech is operated by an Android device, with pictures snapped through 15 lenses every 2.5 seconds. The specially designed gear has already been to the Grand Canyon, so Venice should be a comparative walk in the park. The images collected should be up by the end of the year.

It's not the oddest piece of Street View tech out in the wild, however; the tie is currently between the Street View Trolley and the Street View Snowmobile, used for museums and mountains respectively.

Google's StreetView trolley roams museums of the world

Elsewhere, Google's lesser-known Cultural Institute has put together a rather excellent interactive exhibition for the Eiffel Tower. Complete with archive images and informative slideshows, the collection also features a Street View version of the Iron Lady which allows users to explore each of the three accessible levels of the tower. It's fantastic.

With Google now covering so much of the Earth's best tourist spots, it almost has the holiday experience covered through vertical integration; Earth for the flight, Street View for the destination and the Play Store for dreadful in-flight movies. Bliss.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who's in need of a holiday

Oracle drops support for Sun virtualisation platforms

16 Jul 2013

Oracle has shut down support for Sun's virtualisation product lines in another move that sees the IT giant integrate the historic platform into its own offerings.

The company said that it would no longer be supporting various Sun software lines in an effort to further integrate Sun products into its own software lines.

Oracle said when it announced the move: “In an effort to more tightly align Oracle's future desktop virtualisation portfolio investments with Oracle Corporation's overall core business strategy, we have ended new feature development for Oracle Sun Ray Software (SRS), Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software, Oracle Virtual Desktop Client (OVDC) software, and Oracle Sun Ray Client hardware (3, 3i, and 3 Plus)."

The company said that it will continue to support both products though their lifecycle despite the decision to shut down support. The platforms were among the brands Oracle acquired when it purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009.

Oracle added that it would continue to support the Sun products and transition users to the new offerings.

“Going forward, Oracle's desktop portfolio investments will be focused on continued development and new enhancements to both Oracle Secure Global Desktop and Oracle VM VirtualBox software,” the company said.

The dash for cashless mobile payments

16 Jul 2013

It's surprising to think that something as widespread as chip and PIN hadn't really made any tentative steps outside the safe haven of brick-and-mortar stores until very recently. Up until last year, customers were still paying tradesmen, small stores and market stallholders exclusively by cash or cheque.

The world of chip-and-PIN machines is certainly a costly one, and for good reason. Dealing with encrypted financial transactions is hardly a walk in the park, and it requires a certain amount of processing and data muscle to work. Smaller businesses have been priced out of the market for many years, which is why you so often see minimum spends on card transactions.

But with the continued expansion of the smartphone market, many people are now carrying half of the ingredients required for a portable and affordable remote card payment system, namely the brain and the data connection.

The market is now looking rather crowded, with plenty of companies including iZettle, WorldPay and soon even PayPal offering similar devices, all of which include a one-off fee for the purchase of the hardware and then scrape off 2.75 percent of every transaction taken after that.

Payleven is another business making its way into the hands of smaller enterprises; the Berlin-based company began operating last year and received a large investment boost that is rumoured to be in the "tens of millions of euros", and can now be found in Apple Stores across Europe.

UK chief executive of Payleven, Ian Marsh, says that this new style of device certainly appeals to the 1.3 million small and medium businesses in the UK that don't have card readers due to the prohibitive costs of up to £600 per year, but there's also the cool factor.

"Who wants this cool little device rather than this big clunky box?" he said. And that's where his company is making headway, with a small and light device that integrates with industry-standard retail systems such as Micros, and has an open API that allows the IT staff of larger companies to tailor the device to their own needs. Payleven machines can now be found in tens of thousands of businesses worldwide.

Chip and PIN machines are going mobile and can be used anywhere when connected to a smartphone

But it is the small businesses that will see the most benefit; electricians, mobile hairdressers and everyone in between can avoid awkward moments resulting from clients not having enough cash, or a lack of change. But how do normal consumers feel when their plumber produces what looks like a toy chip-and-PIN machine from their jacket pocket?

A look at an electricians' forum reveals that some tradespeople aren't quite there yet. "It's very tempting to try these modern chip-and-PIN systems out, but I do wonder how much customers would trust swiping their credit card on my phone," one user wrote. "I think I'll just stick to cash cheque and the Pingit idea for now."

This user has stumbled upon the other potential rival to traditional chip-and-PIN machines. Payments which take place on smartphones using the internet, such as Barclays PingIt are making serious progress themselves. Indeed, just last month Barclays announced £10bn transferred through its mobile app roster.

In the end, however, it's not about one system being better than another. As is always the way, it is about whatever is more practical and trustworthy for the most important person in the chain: the consumer.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who loves chips

Dell war of words with Icahn heats up as vote nears

13 Jul 2013

A Dell logoDell shareholders are nearing the vote on the company's proposed buyout plan, and opponent Carl Icahn is upping his offer hoping to halt a deal at the last minute.

The investor activist said he would up his bid to acquire outstanding shares in the company with the addition of warrants, which could increase the per-share price stakeholders would collect in the sale and offer them the chance to re-purchase their shares at a later date.

The bid comes in the wake of announcements from Dell that three outside appraisal firms brought in to review the offers have accepted the company's original plan. That offer, backed by founder Michael Dell and an investment group, would purchase all outstanding Dell shares and effectively take the company private.

Icahn has long opposed the bid, claiming that the company's $13.65 per-share offer undervalues the company and rips off shareholders. He has since formed his own group, but the viability of the offer has been called into question by the company's special committee.

Now, as the vote nears, the company is trying to quell talk of an Icahn buyout once and for all. Additionally, it has spoken out against a call from Icahn to have Dell stock appraised.

“The Special Committee cautions Dell stockholders that Carl Icahn’s latest entreaties that they pursue appraisal with respect to the Dell acquisition misrepresent the risks and costs involved in this course of action,” the company said in a statement.

“Mr Icahn’s letters claim that seeking appraisal is a 'no-brainer' involving 'no risk' and that stockholders 'might get lucky' if they follow his advice.”

Russian security agency buys typewriters to avoid spies’ prying eyes

12 Jul 2013

girl-on-typewriter

In the wake of the PRISM scandal that rocked the technology and political spheres, many organisations and government departments will no doubt have reviewed their security policies and network protocols to see if they can better protect themselves from those spying on their secrets.

Such concerns around spying and bugging are reminiscent of the Cold War when nations were deeply untrusting of one another. And the Russians, historically the ‘bad guys’ in any Cold War drama, have taken an old-school approach to protecting themselves by using ancient tech to avoid any network intrusions.

As reported on numerous outlets with access to Russian translators, the security agency FSO has purchased around £10,000 worth of typewriters so that it can type up documents without fearing spying eyes, as the devices won’t have WiFi, Ethernet ports or USB ports where data can be compromised.

Of course this is one way of avoiding such spying eyes, but it does mean those in the Kremlin will have to get a lot better at spelling again in order to avoid the need for huge vats of Tippex to correct their mistakes, and there will be an awful lot of ink ribbons stockpiled around the Kremlin’s corridors, one suspects.

By V3’s Dan Worth, whose knowledge of typewriters comes primarily from Resident Evil

China said to be mulling lift on game console ban

12 Jul 2013

china-flag-webFor more than a decade, one of the largest untapped electronics markets in the world has been sealed off from game console developers.

Now, however, China could be opening itself up to console vendors, bringing a massive new crowd of potential customers. A government plan would allow for a limited lift of a ban that had forbidden console sales.

According to a report form the South China Morning Post, authorities would allow for sales of consoles within the Shanghai free trade zone. Vendors who would meet with country's “cultural” standard requirements would be allowed to sell consoles within the limited zone.

The move comes at a particularly advantageous time for hardware vendors. With a new generation of expensive consoles on the way from both Sony and Microsoft, expanding into China can help boost what is already expected to be higher margins on more expensive consoles.

The opening of the Chinese market could also help to boost what vendors hope will be a growing usage case for the consoles. Microsoft has already expressed hope that its Xbox One will be able to leverage its video-conferencing features to serve as a unified communications device in the enterprise sector.

Between the prospect of a move into China and the possibility of an expansion into the business market, the new-gen consoles could see a much smoother and more successful launch than their predecessors.

The retail app-ocalypse: Majority of shopping apps never make it to consumers

10 Jul 2013

Apple's App Store celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday. That's five years of annoyed avians, sliced strawberries and deprived developers, it seems.

Statistics from an eBay study appear to show that 64 percent of the one million mobile applications on multiple platforms [Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Nokia Ovi] that went into development in 2012 never materialised, either due to rejection by app store gatekeepers or simply never being finished. This equates to roughly £3bn of wasted development time.

An even more surprising nugget of information revealed by the survey showed that a mere 42 percent of retail apps made it to consumers. That's a failure rate of 58 percent from companies whose aim is to sell products by all means possible.

That's not to say that they abandoned their plans altogether, the mobile web is certainly a more efficient means of creating cross-platform retail experiences.

V3 has covered a number of m-commerce stories in recent weeks, with all signs pointing towards a younger generation aspiring to buy their flared jeans and miniskirts (that's what the kids are buying these days, right?) via mobile apps. And yet it would seem that it's proving rather difficult to get right if these statistics are anything close to representative of the industry as a whole.

Olivier Ropars, the senior director of Mobile Commerce at eBay Europe, which most certainly has a vested interest in this area of the market, said of the statistics: "Many brands and retailers have created apps, but driving regular traffic to the app is another matter.

"EBay offers consumers access to the world's largest marketplace from just one app, which is why smart retailers and brands are using eBay as part of their mobile strategy."

Vested interests aside, Ropars does make an interesting point about retail apps. There must be a certain point at which consumers start to grow tired of having twenty apps that all do pretty much the same thing. Perhaps it's time for retail groups to team up and form an app that encompasses a broad selection of stores.

Elsewhere, the BBC took a different angle on yesterday's anniversary, getting hold of statistics which appeared to reveal that a large proportion of the apps in Apple's App Store are ‘zombies'. It showed that a little over 500,000 of the 800,000 apps in the store never make it into the ‘top 300,000', receiving negligible download numbers as a result. It's hardly a huge surprise, but certainly a headline grabber nonetheless.

There are plenty of reasons for this, including poor marketing strategies and simply poor quality. Paolo Pescatore from analyst firm CCS Insight said that it's a tough world out there for app developers who want to get noticed. "This is a common problem and not unique to Apple," he said. "If you're a new developer, it's hard to get visibility for your apps in any app store.

"We track the top apps being downloaded from all the major app stores and it's always the same names. We very rarely see new players breaking through. They face a monumental challenge."

Apple revolutionised an entire industry when the App Store came into being five years ago, but after the celebration must come the realisation that being a little fish in what is now a gigantic, multi-billion dollar pond makes making abreakthrough harder than it has ever been.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who avoids shopping at all costs

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