Google takes on Siri with voice search app for iOS

31 Oct 2012

Google has added new features to its search app for iOS. The updated app now offers voice search which aims to recognize a user's context and intent. Google's enhanced app looks to take on Siri and try to convert some iPhone users over to Android.

"Fast and accurate voice recognition technology enables Google to understand exactly what you're saying," wrote Google Search engineer Kenneth Bongort in a blog post.

Getting an answer is as simple as tapping on the microphone icon and asking a question like, 'Is United Airlines flight 318 on time?' Your words appear as you speak, you get your answer immediately, and, if it's short and quick like the status and departure time of your flight, Google tells you the answer aloud."

Google's enhanced search app will be able to do handle search results in much the same way that Siri can. Users can ask a question and the app will verbalize an answer.

The move to bring voice search to a Google app on iOS could be seen as an attempt to steal iPhone users. Perhaps Google is hoping the new app will show iPhone users that iOS and Android both offer similar features. Of course, whether that tactic can work is anybodies guess.

Apple did get a few groans when it failed to offer a viable alternative to Google Maps earlier this year. However, iPhone 5 sales didn't seem to be hit by the failed Apple app as the smartphone quickly sold out.

The Android OS has been talked up quite a bit recently. Google recently announced that Android's app marketplace offers 675,000 apps. While quite impressive, it still falls short of Apple's mark of 700,000 available apps on iOS.

More than half of consumers haven't heard of Windows 8

29 Oct 2012

the windows 8 start screen with apps and live tiles

The Associated Press (AP) recently performed a 1,200 respondent telephone survey on the popularity of Windows 8. Survey results showed that 52 percent of those surveyed never heard of Windows 8. Furthermore, of those that have heard of Microsoft's new operating system, 61 percent said that they had little interest in Windows 8.

According to the survey, only 35 percent of respondents said they thought Windows 8 would be an improvement over previous incarnations of Microsoft's OS. The general consensus from respondents was that Windows 8 was a radical change to Windows, and that change was a bad thing.

Some respondents specifically pointed to the new OS being overly complex for what they want to do on their computer. Comments on the new active tile display seemed to suggest that Windows radically new design may have a learning curve that some consumers are uninterested in understanding.

While the AP's survey only focused on a relatively small sample size it does point to some of the issues Microsoft may face with its new OS.

As the leader in the operating system market Microsoft has to appeal to a large consumer group. Many of those consumers could be uninterested in learning a new OS. While early adopters may be quite fond of the new OS, many may feel left out by the new modern design.

Microsoft bet big on Windows 8. It even made its own tablet to prove its commitment to the new user interface and looks to be preparing itself for the a post-PC world. But only time will tell if users adapt to Microsoft's adapting business model.

Philips brings iPad control to home lighting with Hue lightbulbs

29 Oct 2012

Philips Hue iPad controlled lighting

Reggae legend Bob Marley once crooned about the romantic possibilities of turning your lights down low. Now, thanks to electronics giant Philips, modern lovers have the chance to go one step further, not just changing how brightly a room is lit, but the colour of the light. What's more, they can do it from their iPhone or iPad.

For a mere £180, homeowners will get a special three-bulb pack of Philips' energy-saving Hue LED bulbs, along with a bridge that can be connected to a home router. They can then control those bulbs using an app downloaded from Apple's App Store. 

The Hue system comes with four pre-programmed settings, which adjust the shade and brightness of white light and is intended to complement the biological effects that lighting has on the body. For example, in the morning, homeowners might like to wake to a bright, pure white light; or relax in to the evening with a warm candle-like light.

Users will also be able to programme the bulbs, to suit their routines, all from their smartphone or tablet. That means they can even control their home's lighting when they're not there – handy if you've gone on holiday without setting timer switches. 

“Philips Hue is a game-changer in lighting – a completely new way to experience and interact with light,” said Jeroen de Waal, head of marketing and strategy at Philips Lighting.

Ultimately, Philips plans to integrate Hue with other media, including sound and video. It is also working on geo-location services, so it could turn the lights on when the homeowner is close to their own front door.

Online prices may depend on users' browsing habits

26 Oct 2012

Woman shopping on smartphone

It's long been known that who you appear to be on the web can influence what companies try to charge you. Most famously, travel agency Orbitz was found to be offering Mac users more costly hotels than their Windows-using counterparts. But how widespread is such price tinkering?

A group of researchers from the mobile operator Telefonica and a colleague at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona set out to investigate, studying 200 online retailers, including the likes of Amazon, and

The researchers reasoned that retailers were likely to consider two forms of discrimination: search discrimination, where users were pointed to different ranges of products, depending on how they had been categorised; and price discrimination, where users were offered the same products at different prices.

“Detecting price or search discrimination online is not trivial. First, we need to decide which information vectors are relevant and can cause or trigger discrimination, if it exists,” they wrote in their research paper.

Their study of the 200 different vendors, conducted over a 20-day period in July 2012, showed that Orbitz was unusual – none of the retailers it studied segmented customers on the basis of their operating system or browser.

But users in different locations, or apparently affluent ones were treated very differently.

Checking how location affected retailers' offers was relatively easy: the team used proxy servers at six locations across the globe, using six separate, identical virtual machines that did not accept cookies and blocked tracking. With this configuration, the team were able to ensure that the only way for websites to distinguish between the 'bot buyers' was through IP address.

Separately, they collected price comparisons for a group of bot buyers that could accept tracking cookies. They then created personas by visiting different sites. An affluent persona was created by visiting luxury brand websites; visiting sites associated with budget-conscious buyers was used to create an opposite persona.

The team found numerous examples of both price and search discrimination. For example, a simple Google search for headphones resulted in suggestions for the affluent persona which were four times as costly as those presented to the budget persona. Similarly, a search for hotels on produced more expensive options for the affluent buyer.

Also, the team discovered that mostly, Amazon doesn't distinguish between where a buyer originates, when it comes to its prices – except in the case of e-books. Here, at its most extreme, prices differences could be as big as 166 percent. 

They didn't, however, find any evidence of websites discriminating on the basis of operating system or browser.

The team are cautious about the implications of their study. “Our measurements suggest that both price and search discrimination might be taking place in today’s internet,” they concluded.

But the results will no doubt be seized upon by supporters of systems such as Do Not Track, as it appears, the websites you visit might affect the prices you're offered elsewhere.

The team's work is being presented at the HotNets Workshop in Redmond on 29-30 October.

Tim Cook calls the Surface tablet a 'confusing product'

26 Oct 2012

Microsoft Surface

Tim Cook doesn't like Microsoft's latest tablet. During his fourth quarter earnings call with investors Apple's chief executive dismissed Microsoft's new Surface RT tablet as "compromised and confusing".

"I haven't personally played with the Surface yet, but what we're reading about it, it's a fairly compromised and confusing product. One of the toughest things you do when deciding to make a product is make hard trade-offs in deciding what a product should be," Cook said.

"We've done that with the iPad. I suppose you could design a car that flies and floats, but I don't think it would do all of those things very well. I think people, when they look at the iPad, they'll conclude they really want an iPad."

Considering Cook admitted to never actually using the Surface, he sure seems to have a harsh impression of it. Comparing it to a spotty nonexistent aquatic/flying car seems a little ruff if you ask us.

Don't get us wrong, the reception for the Surface has been decidedly mixed. But for Cook to completely dismiss it seems like nothing more than another bit of corporate smack talk.

Considering Cook learned from the best corporate smack talker ever I guess you can't really blame him for having a go at Microsoft. But maybe the Apple executive should ease up a bit? With all the corporate in-fighting going on does Apple really need any more enemies?

Dyson goes to court over stolen trade secrets

25 Oct 2012

Dyson bladeless fan

Research and development and intellectually property are the lifeblood of any industry, and none more so than technology - whether that's enterprise software, tablets and smartphones or cleaning products.

Protecting these assets is vital, as many firms are proving with endless patent cases currently taking place in markets around the world.

The latest tech spat, albeit a slightly different set of firms to the ones V3 usually covers, has seen Dyson, the maker of premium-priced vacuum cleaners, speedy hand driers and bladeless fans (above), head to the High Court to ask for industrial secrets it believes was stolen by its rival Bosch to be returned.

The case involves the apparent theft of trade secrets related to its digital motors – the supercharged machines that lie at the heart of its best-selling products.

Dyson believes Bosch paid a company worker at its top secret digital motors facility to hand over its secrets and wants the courts to force its German rival to hand back the information.

According to multiple reports, Dyson claimed to have confronted Bosch with evidence of wrongdoing, but had been stonewalled, forcing it to take legal action.

Dyson is notoriously secretive about its technology, and has often taken action against firms that copy its patented technology.

But the latest case seems more like a throwback to a bygone era, where industrial espionage took place through the exchange of brown envelopes in greasy spoons, rather than via sophisticated pilfering via computer networks. Still, as all good security consultants point out: it's always staff that are the weakest link.

Bosch hit back, claiming Dyson had invited trouble into its own house by employing a consultant who already had a pre-existing consultancy agreement with Bosch, but on its Lawn and Garden Limited division, nothing to do with vacuum cleaners or hand dryers.

"Bosch has sought to establish the full details of what occurred, including attempting to establish from Dyson what, if any, confidential information supposedly passed between Bosch and Dyson," it said.

Whatever the outcome it underlines that whatever industry you are in, trade secrets and patent protection are vital, and you can never rest on your laurels.

Facebook shares score record high single-day gains

24 Oct 2012

Shares in Facebook closed at $23.23 on Tuesday, a 19 percent single-day jump in price. Wall Street looked impressed following a Mark Zuckerberg investor's call which focused on monetising the Facebook brand.

Zuckerberg spoke with investors Monday. The key take away from his pep talk was that Facebook was getting serious about making money from mobile. It also didn't hurt that Facebook finally had the numbers to back up their claims.

Facebook reported that 14 percent of its third quarter advertising revenue came from the mobile side of its operations. That number came along with the news that 604 million of Facebook's monthly active users were on a mobile device. Following statistics like that you'd expect investors to be interested.

If Facebook fails it will be one of the biggest blunders to ever hit Wall Street. The company's stock opened on the market at $38 a share. That price quickly fell when investors discovered that Facebook had a hard time monetising its mobile operations.

For the company to succeed on Wall Street it will need to prove to investors that it can continue to grow and make meaningful revenue. Third quarter numbers were a good start but to truly get back investor support it will have to have a few more mobile tricks up its sleeve.

Apple iPad Mini's 7.9in screen goes against Steve Jobs’ “dead on arrival” jibes

24 Oct 2012

Apple iPad Mini tablet with FaceTime and A5 processor

As was widely expected Apple unveiled its new iPad Mini device on Tuesday with chief executive Tim Cook appearing on stage in San Jose to discuss the firm's huge success in the tablet market and unveil the new 7.9in device.

The device - set to compete with offerings from the likes of Google and Amazon - won't be as cheap as some would have liked, starting from £329 for a 16GB version, but given Apple's huge popularity in the market, it will no doubt be snapped up by eager punters once again.

However, what's interesting about the device is that it marks another example of Apple's, and Cook's, willingness to move on from Steve Jobs' legacy on the company.

Jobs famously declared that 7in tablets would be "dead on arrival" in the market when rivals such as Samsung and Research in Motion (RIM) first brought devices out, immediately dismissing the form factor when compared to the firm's own 9.7in offering with the iPad.

Cook, though, seems to disagree and has pushed the development of the 7.9in device - admittedly the top end of 7in - through so it can compete with Google's Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire from Amazon.

Of course Cook is operating in a different market to the one Jobs knew, with competition stronger now than those first offerings from RIM and Samsung and the financial importance of content download sales on tablets increasing all the time, forcing Apple's hand to some degree.

Nevertheless, with the launch of the device, coming so soon after the iPhone 5 with its 4in screen - again ignoring a Jobs' edict that a phone screen should be 3.5in - and the fulsome apology from Cook over Apple Maps, the firm appears to have moved on from Jobs' legacy.

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