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Tech Times

Published:Monday | November 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Written and compiled by: Kareem LaTouche and Stephanie Lyew

Here comes the first Lumia carrying the Microsoft name

SEATTLE (MCT):

Microsoft officially entered the post-Nokia smartphone era with the release last Monday of a budget-priced Lumia device.

The
Microsoft Lumia 535 will sell for about €110 (about US$137), a figure
Microsoft said would vary by market. Microsoft's previous Lumia
smartphone devices - which carried the 'Nokia Lumia' name - were
released in September and cost between US$259 and US$430.

Last
month, Microsoft said it would start phasing out the Nokia brand for its
smartphones, the latest step in integrating Nokia's phone-manufacturing
business. Microsoft's US$7.5 billion deal to buy the Finnish company's
handset group closed in April.

As part of the deal, Microsoft
licensed the rights to use the Nokia name for 10 years on basic
cellphones that lack the processing power and Internet connectivity of
more advanced smartphones. Microsoft obtained more limited rights to use
of the Nokia name on smartphones.

With last Monday's announcement
- along with a coordinated rebranding of Microsoft's Nokia-branded
social-media and Internet sites with the 'Lumia' name - Microsoft is
pushing ahead with a brand it owns in its entirety.

"The Nokia
brand is very strong," particularly internationally, Will Stofega,
research firm IDC's programme director for mobile technology, said in an
interview before the announcement. "The game is going to be for
[Microsoft] to make sure people understand what they have: This is an
extension of Nokia. And, hopefully, carry on the same things that people
found compelling in those devices."

Microsoft's news release on
the launch didn't specify in which countries Lumia 535 would be sold. A
spokesman said the phone would be rolled out this month in some markets,
but declined to elaborate.

In 2013, Nokia was the world's No. 2
phone manufacturer behind Samsung when including basic mobile phones. In
smartphones alone, however, Nokia stood at No. 8.

SPECS

The
Microsoft Lumia 535 will run the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system,
and features a 5" display and 5MP front-facing camera. A separate model
will feature dual SIM card capability.

The phone comes in green,
orange, white, gray, cyan and black, and will be preinstalled with
Microsoft software, including Skype, the Office suite and Outlook.

Windows
Phone, the operating system that runs on Lumia devices, powered just
2.5 per cent of the smartphones shipped worldwide from April through the
end of June, according to the most recent IDC data.

Google's Android dominated the market, with a share of 85 per cent, and Apple's iOS ran second with 12 per cent.

"They
do have some distance to make up," Stofega said of Microsoft. "They are
going to clearly look at (rising demand) in some of the emerging
markets and see what they can do to bundle both their services and their
devices" to draw customers there, he said.

Major international
companies have been eager to tap the fast-growing Chinese market in
particular, but have struggled to compete with local manufacturers who
offer cheaper hardware.

Domestic manufacturers accounted for four
of the five biggest sellers of smartphones in China during the third
quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

South Korean giant Samsung was No. 2.

Amazon Web business jumps 40%

LAS VEGAS (MCT):

Amazon Web
Services (AWS), which sells computing services to companies over the
Internet, grew more than 40 per cent in revenue last year, the business'
top executive told a Las Vegas conference this month.

Andy Jassy,
the Amazon.com senior vice-president who runs AWS, didn't disclose
total revenue of the unit, though some analysts expect it to top US$5
billion this year. But he did say AWS now has more than one million
customers.

Jassy's comments came during his keynote address at
re:Invent, AWS's annual conference in Las Vegas, which drew 13,500
attendees this year.

The nine-year-old division has been a pioneer
of renting computing storage and services to businesses. Jassy pressed
the point that so-called cloud computing is now the standard for
business, listing company after company - big and small - using AWS.

"Every
imaginable business segment is using AWS in a meaningful way," Jassy
said. "Cloud has become the new normal. Companies of every size are
deploying cloud applications by default."

Though deeply geeky, the
business is one of the fastest growing units at Amazon, a company
better known for its consumer offerings. AWS has become the leader in a
business with such potential that it competes against corporate
computing behemoths such as Microsoft and IBM, as well as Web giants
such as Google.


YouTube makes changes

The music industry's move toward paid-subscription services, and away from discs and downloads, has been under way for several years.

Last Wednesday, YouTube joined the party - bringing with it the world's largest audience for popular music and the financial clout of its parent company, Google Inc.

The video-streaming company announced plans to launch a service dubbed YouTube Music Key that will give users access to tens of millions of songs for about US$10 a month.

The move underlined the shift towards streamed services as the music industry's future. Also Wednesday, concert promoter Live Nation announced a partnership with Vice Media to launch a music-themed video service for mobile phones, TV and Internet.

There is already fierce competition in this space from streaming services, including Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora. Still, YouTube's reach with consumers makes it a powerful contender out of the gate.

- MCT

For Google's

SELF-DRIVING CARS,

Learning to deal with the bizarre is essential

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (MCT):

In 700,000 miles of navigating roads, Google's self-driving cars have encountered just about everything - including an elderly woman in a motorised wheelchair flailing a broom at a duck she was chasing around the street.

Apparently perplexed and taking no chances, the vehicle stopped and refused to go any further.

Through extensive testing covering nearly every street in Mountain View, the company's 20 or so autonomous vehicles have developed an abiding sense of caution. But Google researchers concede it will take more experience on the roads before the autos can learn to cope with every situation without becoming bewildered and shutting down, stranding passengers. When that happens now, researchers have to take the wheel and step on the gas.

One of the most surprising lessons: While hoping to make cars that are safer than those driven by people, Google has discovered its smart machines need to act a little human, especially when dealing with pushy motorists.

"We found that we actually need to be - not aggressive - but assertive" with the vehicles, said Nathaniel Fairfield, technical leader of a team that writes software fixes for problems uncovered during the driving tests. "If you're always yielding and conservative, basically everybody will just stomp on you all day."

As a result, he said, Google's cars on freeways tend to leave a shorter distance between themselves and the vehicles they follow than some driver-training manuals recommend, to discourage other motorists from darting dangerously into the space. And when it's their turn to proceed at a four-way-stop, Fairfield added, Google's cars will inch forward decisively so other drivers don't try to beat them through the intersection.