Monthly Archives: October 2015

The New Apple TV Invigorates the Set-Top Box

I NEVER imagined I would get hooked on reading comic books on a TV screen. That changed last week after I picked up a new Apple TV.

The new device, which is similar to a set-top box and brings video and music from the Internet to a television, now has an app store. So I downloaded Madefire, one of the first apps available for the new device. Madefire adds a twist to digital comics with sound effects, music and motion, bringing the panels to life on the big screen. Within minutes, I was bingeing on a series about Superman turning into a corrupt dictator.

Playing with apps is just one new feature of the revamped Apple TV, which will ship this week. It’s that plethora of innovations and apps that leads me to conclude that the upgraded $149 box is now the best TV streaming device you can get for your money.

You can trust me because after testing hundreds of new devices for nearly a decade in this line of work, I’m usually blasé about products. My editor was concerned that body snatchers had taken me when I said I was positive about Apple TV. But I reserve excitement for products that I think will make a difference, this being one of them.

For Apple, this type of reaction to Apple TV is important. The box, which made its debut in 2007, was long labeled a “hobby” by the company, and it accounts for a single-digit percentage of its revenue. With the new device, Apple is aiming to push hard into consumers’ living rooms, where it faces competition from players including the Microsoft Xbox and Amazon’s Fire TV device.

“This is the foundation of the future of TV,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said recently at a conference about Apple TV. “What has to happen in the TV land, it has to be brought up and modernized.”

All the extra features have now put Apple TV in a position to become a powerful apps and games console, not just a box for streaming movies and TV shows.

Even for those more basic elements, the device is better at streaming video content than less expensive products from Amazon, Roku and Google, all of which I tested over the last month. While the new Apple box has flaws, it also has a cleaner interface for finding things to watch and a niftier remote control — not to mention more compelling apps and games.

Redesigned Remote

One of the biggest changes is a redesigned remote control, which has a touch pad and a few physical buttons. It is also thicker, which is actually an improvement because the previous version was so thin that it had a tendency to vanish between couch cushions. More important, the remote includes a microphone and a button to summon Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, for finding content.

Siri for Apple TV can search for movies or TV shows across multiple streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and HBO, along with Apple’s iTunes Store, and play them right away. Pressing the Siri button and speaking the command “Find ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ ” will find that the TV show can be streamed on Hulu and iTunes; selecting the streaming service will instantly show a list of episodes.

Siri has other tricks, too. If you’re watching something and missed what a character just said, you can ask Siri: “What did they just say?” and it will rewind the video about 15 seconds and replay that portion with subtitles turned on, before switching the subtitles off.

Apple still has some kinks to work out with Siri. When I asked it to look up Nicolas Cage movies, it failed to find any relevant titles because it misspelled his first name as Nicholas (and try as I might, I could not make a silent “h” even more silent). When I tried the “What did you just say?” command, Siri occasionally failed to display subtitles for content on Netflix and Hulu. Apple acknowledged both problems as known issues and said it was working to resolve them.

Gaming and Apps

Gaming on Apple TV is off to a promising start. The remote control includes motion sensors so it can double as a game controller. The game Beat Sports relied on the remote’s motion sensors — swinging the remote makes the on-screen character whack a ball with a bat; the object of the game is to swing and whack the ball to the beat of the music.

Some other games I tried, such as Rayman Adventures and Crossy Road, relied primarily on the touch pad to control the games. The game Transistor, a role-playing title, was awkward with the touch pad and would benefit from a physical game controller, which is a supported accessory.

Gaming graphics were also on par with Nintendo’s Wii U, and some of the casual games seemed to compete directly in Nintendo’s sweet spot: lightweight, family-friendly gaming. I still don’t see players of deep action games like Halo abandoning their PlayStation 4 or Xbox One to play on an Apple TV, at least not until we see some hard-core games on the Apple device.

Other than the Madefire comic book app, other early apps on the new device make clever use of an Internet-connected big screen. The Airbnb app offers immersive pictures of apartment rooms you can rent. The Periscope app is a fascinating glimpse into what people around the world are streaming live from their smartphones (beware: Many people like to point cameras at themselves and make comments about their uninteresting lives in front of an audience of strangers, but hey, that’s better than Chatroulette).

Screen Savers

The new device comes equipped with extremely customizable screen savers. Before you yawn from boredom, consider this: A screen saver can turn a TV into a living piece of art that is constantly changing, which is a great conversation starter at parties.

For my Apple TV, I set up an Internet recipe with the site If This Then That, so that whenever I upload a photo to Instagram or “Like” a photo that my friend took on Instagram, it shows up on my Apple TV screen saver. That way, rather than relentlessly bombarding guests with selfies of my partner and me on vacation in Hawaii, my wallpaper is a window into moments captured by all the interesting people I know, not just snapshots from my life.

If that setup is too complicated, Apple offers some neat screen savers, including high-definition videos of different locations shot from the sky, including the Great Wall of China.

Buying Advice

While the Apple TV is my favorite all-around streaming device, there are some weaknesses.

Setting it up can be tedious. When you install streaming apps like Hulu and Netflix from the App Store, you type in your login credentials by swiping left and right with the remote to select letters of the alphabet one at a time — you have no option to do this by speaking into the microphone or using a keyboard on a smartphone.

The Apple TV may also not be the best streaming device for everyone because of one missing feature: the ability to stream content available in Ultra HD 4K TV, the latest high-definition resolution supported by some of the newest TV sets.

For early adopters of 4K television sets, the Roku 4, priced at $130, is a better bet. The Roku is versatile, has a nice selection of apps and has a comfortable remote control. Amazon’s $100 Fire TV also supports 4K, but I recommend against it because of its cheap-feeling remote control and less polished user interface.

Another competing device is Google’s $35 Chromecast, a miniature dongle that pulls streaming content from a smartphone. It’s a good option for people on a tight budget, but I found it unreliable — sometimes videos failed to stream from my smartphone to the device.

There are two storage models for the Apple TV. For $149, you get 32 gigabytes; $199 buys 64 gigs. In my tests, apps and games were pretty slim in terms of data size, so 32 gigs should be enough for most people. Those who plan to do a lot of gaming will probably be safer with 64 gigs.

Apple TV is on the path to turning the television set into a smarter connected screen. And though it’s the most expensive of the bunch, it will accrue more value over time as software developers expand its capabilities with more apps and games.

Tagged , , ,

Apple partners with American Express to take Apple Pay global

Apple will expand its mobile payments system Apple Pay internationally by partnering with American Express

Apple will partner with American Express to bring Apple Pay to Spain, Australia and Canada among others in a global expansion.

Chief executive Tim Cook said the mobile payment platform would arrive in Australia and Canada before the end of 2015, with Hong Kong and Singapore following in the new year, joining the UK and US.

The company last night announced record-breaking fourth quarter financial results, revealing it had made $53.4bn (£35bn) in the last 12 months.

First announced last September alongside the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay was brought to the UK in July. It uses near-field communication (NFC) chips embedded in the iPhone 6 onwards in conjunction with its Touch ID fingerprint scanner to pay for goods and services as you would a contactless card in shops, or to make single touch purchases within apps and websites.

You can also use it to travel around London’s TfL networks, and register cards to an Apple Watch.

Using Apple Pay for TfL services? Make sure your device is charged

Payments administered via smartphone are a burgeoning financial sector. Cook said 1m credit cards were activated for Apple Pay use within 72 hours of its availability in the US last year, making it the largest mobile payment system to date.

In the wake of Apple Pay, both Samsung and Google have announced their respective rivals Samsung Pay and Android Pay, though neither have launched in the UK as of yet.

Apple Pay users are more satisfied than other contactless payment users, with over a third of shoppers who owned an Apple device using the service, a report from customer research firm eDigitalResearch suggested.

British consumers are increasingly turning to contactless payment methods, after more than £2.5bn was spent using contactless cards during the first six months of 2015, the UK Cards Association has said. Last month, the association raised the limit payable by contactless cards in single transactions from £20 to £30.

In the US, around 16.4m smartphone ‘proximity payments’ were made during 2014, according to research from market researcher eMarketer. The firm predicts that figure will more than double to reach 37.5bn by 2016.

Tagged , ,

WhatsApp and Facebook signals can be hacked to track your location

Hackers can monitor 4G mobile networks to detect users’ location using supposedly anonymised identifiers

Security researchers have revealed how simply contacting somebody via WhatsApp or Facebook messenger can reveal a smartphone owner’s location by exploiting a security flaw in 4G mobile networks.

A hacker could use the apps to discover the supposedly anonymised identifiers that are assigned to devices when they connect to a network, and use them to locate their owner, according to researchers in Finland and Germany.

When a smartphone connects to a mobile network, it is assigned a temporary number called a TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity). The network then uses this eight-digit number to identify a device, rather than a phone number, to make communication more private.

However, a hacker monitoring radio communications could tie this TMSI to an individual by sending them a Facebook message or WhatsApp chat, both of which trigger a special “paging request” from a network that contains specific location information about a particular TMSI number.

Anybody with a Facebook account can send another user a Facebook message. Unless the two users are friends, this message will end up inFacebook’s “Other” folder, a feature most users do not know about that is only accessible on the social network’s desktop version, but sending a user a message will still trigger a paging request.

Likewise, WhatsApp’s “typing notification” – a feature on the chat app that displays when a contact is composing a message – also triggers the connection. If a hacker has a victim’s phone number, they could send them a message on WhatsApp, and if the victim begins to type a response, the network issues a paging request.

Within these paging requests are location data, that on newer 4G networks can be used to track users’ locations to an area of 2km2.

Older 2G and 3G networks would place a particular smartphone within a given “tracking area” of around 100km2, representing less of a security issue, but modern 4G networks place them in smaller “cells” of around 2km2, making it much easier to pinpoint a smartphone.

This allows network issues to be better understood, but in this case, gives away more data about smartphone users.

Smartphone trackingCells are much more accurate than tracking areas  Photo: Aalto University

It is relatively easy to monitor these signals using easily-available network hardware, according to the researchers from Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, Technische Universitat Berlin and Telekom Innovation Laboratories.

Although TMSIs are supposed to refresh relatively often, in order to protect privacy, they can persist for up to three days, the researchers said.

More aggressive attackers can set up a fake network base station to accurately triangulate users. These stations can request reports from TMSI numbers, typically used in cases of network failure, which can accurately reveal a smartphone’s location. At least one device gave away its GPS co-ordinates after a failure request, the researchers said.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Mark Zuckerberg: net neutrality is a first-world problem

Facebook founder says some net neutrality advocates go too far when they criticise efforts to bring internet to developing countries

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has hit out at net neutrality advocates who claim that zero-rating – the practice of offering access to certain popular online services for free – should be prohibited.

Hosting a townhall Q&A session at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi earlier today, Mr Zuckerberg emphasised Facebook’s support for net neutrality – the principle that all websites should be equally accessible.

He said that Facebook supports regulation that prevents internet service providers from charging users for access to certain content, or from giving their own services an unfair advantage over rival services.

“That’s the kind of thing you can see hurts people, and you want net neutrality regulations in place that are going to prevent that,” he said.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addresses the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi

He also said that the company’s Internet.org initiative – which provides free access to a selection of web services including Facebook, Google Search, Wikipedia, AccuWeather and BBC News via a mobile app – is built on an open platform, with no throttling or filtering.

However, in the case of zero-rating, he said that some people take the principle of net neutrality too far.

“When you have a student who is getting free access to the internet to help do her homework, and she wouldn’t have had access otherwise, who’s getting hurt there? We want that. There should be more of that,” he said.

“If there’s a fisherman in a village who now has some free access to the internet to help sell some of his fish and provide for his family, no one gets hurt by that. And that’s good. We need to get everyone on the internet.”

He added that most of the people that are pushing for net neutrality have access to the internet already.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addresses the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi

“I see these petitions going around about net neutrality and that’s great, we need to mobilise on the internet on this stuff. But the people who are not yet on the internet cannot sign an online petition pushing for increased access to the internet,” he said.

“We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who do not have the internet and make sure that the rules that benefit us, and make sure that operators can’t do anything that hurts us, don’t get twisted to hurt people that don’t have a voice.”

Mr Zuckerberg’s comments come after the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal that aims to protect “net neutrality”.

As well as ensuring that internet providers offer a clear explanation of what download and upload speeds customers can expect, the legislation allows them to create “fast lanes” where websites can pay to have their content delivered more quickly.

It also allows zero-rating, which some legal experts and net neutrality advocates warn could allow companies like Facebook to become a monopoly, with other services eating up significantly more of mobile web users’ data allowances.

“Around the world, all the regulations that are put in place are basically honouring this principle – so good net neutrality provisions, blocking things that operators might do that hurt people, but also prioritising things like zero-rating that are necessary for making sure that we can connect everyone to the internet,” said Mr Zuckerberg.

“Just this week the EU released rules on net neutrality and zero rating where again they put in place some net neutrality rules, but were very clear that zero rating and things that provide some free access to the internet are clear to go. They’re going to be regulated separately and are not prohibited by any of the net neutrality regulations.”

Earlier this year, a group of Indian technology and internet companies pulled out of the Internet.org initiative, claiming that it threatened net neutrality.

Travel portal Cleartrip.com and media giant Times Group both announced that they would be withdrawing from the service, citing competition fears, and Times Group also called on other publishers to do the same.

The Internet.org app is currently available in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Colombia and parts of India. However, Facebook plans to expand the service, with Mr Zuckerberg promising to make it available wherever people need to be connected.

As well as the app, the Internet.org partnership is also looking at providing internet access in places that are currently unconnected using solar-powered drones, which can beam down laser-guided internet signals from the sky.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

M&S website temporarily suspended after leaking customers’ details

Updated: Around 800 Marks & Spencer customers had their personal details exposed online due to a technical glitch

British retailer Marks & Spencer temporarily suspended its website on Tuesday night, after some customers complained they could see each others’ details when they logged into their own accounts.

Posting on the company’s Facebook page, customers expressed alarm that they could see other people’s orders and payment details when registering for the new members club and card scheme called “Sparks.

“Interesting, I just created an M&S account to register my new Sparks card and out of a sudden I’m logged in to someone else’s account!” wrote Konstantinos Vlassis.

“M&S this is in breach of privacy and data security. I can see personal addresses, past orders and info of another account holder and I assume they can see mine? I can message you screen grabs if you want but this is not good security!”

Fellow customer Vanessa Frost wrote: “There seems to have been a data breach on your M&S website – if I log into my account on there it brings up another person’s details – this is happening to loads of people.”

M&S website

M&S said that the glitch was the result of an internal error rather than a third-party attack on the site, and said no financial data had been extracted. However, personal data, including names, dates of birth, contacts and previous orders were exposed.

The website was taken offline at about 6.30pm and was back on by 9pm.

“We can confirm that around 800 people were affected by a technical issue that led to us temporarily suspending our website yesterday evening,” a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said.

“We are now writing to every customer affected to apologise and to assure them that their financial details are safe.”

Commenting on the incident, Phil Barnett, VP Global at Good Technology, said that many companies are flying blind when it comes to security, because they don’t think it affects them.

“Marks and Spencer’s proves that customer data breaches are real threats and have serious consequences. Data is a company’s biggest asset, and as mobility becomes more ingrained across every enterprise, security must become a higher priority,” he said.

“When GDPR is implemented in 2016, companies experiencing a data breach could face a fine of two percent of worldwide revenue, so it’s not just going to be some painful interviews and a drop in share price, there’s the potential of big fines for every business.”

Last week British telecoms firm TalkTalk suffered a major cyber attack, which potentially compromised the data of more than four million customers. A 15-year-old schoolboy has been arrested in connection with the incident.

Tagged , , , , ,

PlayStation VR could be surprise leader in virtual reality wars

Analysts claim Sony’s PlayStation VR virtual reality headset will outstrip Oculus Rift and HTC Vive sales

Sony’s PlayStation VR virtual reality headset will outsell both Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive rival devices by the end of 2016, according to new research.

PlayStation VR, formerly known as Project Morpheus, has been in development for over four years, and is slated for consumer release within the first six months of next year.

The device will dominate the virtual reality headset marker over its competition due to an expected lower price tag and established PlayStation gaming network, shipping close to 1.5m headsets by the close of 2016, analyst IHS has forecast.

It predicts these sales to translate into more than $500m (£327m) in consumer spending, and around $300m (£196m) in Sony revenues, though the concrete price of the headset has yet to be announced.

Like PlayStation VR, Facebook-owned Rift and HTC Vive are also expected to go on full consumer sale within the first three months of 2016. Rift is expected to cost around $1,500 (£968), whilst the Vive’s price remains unknown.

Sony took the opportunity to showcase new games Tekken 7 and RIGS for the headset during Paris Games Week this week, but did not provide a specific release date.

Whilst PlayStation VR has been designed to immerse the wearer in a fully-realised artificial universe, arch rival Microsoft’s HoloLens headset deals in augmented reality, overlaying holograms into the user’s real-world environment.

Xbox Live has been opened up to developers for HoloLens use, pitting the two companies against each other in an ever-deadlier wrestle for dominance of the gaming industry.

Microsoft recently showcased the HoloLens’ gaming capabilities with a demo of its Project X-Ray platform, allowing the player to battle robot holograms within their own living room. HoloLens developer kits will be made available in the first quarter of 2016 priced at $3,000.

Piers Harding-Rolls, analyst at IHS, was confident about the rate of virtual reality adoption in the next 12 months.

“Overall we expect a slow ramp up of adoption and consumption of VR content,” he said. “While the market is more advanced than ever, there are still a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before we see broader consumer adoption.”

How Microsoft filmed Dave's HoloLens experience

Tagged ,

Visa uses bitcoin’s blockchain technology to cut paperwork out of car leasing

A new proof-of-concept lets you lease a car in a matter of minutes thanks to a combination of Visa, DocuSign and blockchain technology

Visa and DocuSign have unveiled a new proof-of-concept that uses bitcoin blockchain technology to revolutionise the car leasing process, allowing people to rent a car without having to plough through reams of paperwork.

The project aims to digitise the whole process, from configuring the lease, insurance and other expenses like parking and tolls, to digitally signing and paying for the car itself.

“Leasing a new sports car – or any car for that matter – should be fun, it should be exciting. The problem is, the paperwork and process involved often diminish that experience,” said Ron Hirson, head of product at DocuSign in a blog post.

“So we wanted to find a way to reimagine the experience and bring the magic back. To make the moment special again. To ensure someone can literally walk in and drive out in a matter of minutes.”

Turn off: Visa have ensured that there will be only eight cash dispensers at the Olympic Games

To begin the process, the car is given a unique digital identity, which is registered on the blockchain – the secure ledger database used to record transactions over broadly-distributed computer networks.

This is linked to the customer’s DocuSign’s eSignature and integrated with Visa’s payment technology, so that they can pay for the lease and insurance, as well as in-car payments like tolls, maintenance services and parking, on the fly.

“From the driver’s seat, the customer then chooses the lease options for the car – low, mid or high mileage, for example and DocuSigns the leasing contract right there and then. This is all in turn updated on the blockchain,” said Mr Hirson.

“They then choose their insurance options in the familiar way – evaluating by coverage, deductible and other factors. They would again DocuSign the agreements, and the blockchain would again be updated.”

With the lease and insurance contracts signed and the credit card details integrated, the customer is ready to drive away. From there, the car can do many things automatically, like pay tolls, download music of even order a take-away pizza.

“Much like Visa put its card into the (Apple) Watch (providing on-wrist Apple Pay capability) this is just putting your card into your car. The vehicle becomes a smart asset that offers two-way communication that can benefit consumers,” Mr Hirson told USA Today.

DocuSign said this is just one of the projects it is working on with Visa. The two companies have a long history of collaboration, and Visa is also a strategic investor in DocuSign.

They claim that the concept can be applied not only to car leasing but to anything from renting or buying a new home to setting up new services and utilities.

Earlier this year, Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock MP told the Telegraph that blockchain could also have a role to play in the digital state of the future.

“Blockchain is itself a way of verifying the accuracy of data, and has all sorts of applications that we are only beginning to understand,” he said.

“In some cases it replaces the need for a central verification. Just because that has been a role for the government in the past, doesn’t mean new technology can’t do it more efficiently.”

Tagged , , ,

Alphabet’s Wi-Fi beaming balloons prepare to lift off in Indonesia

Google’s parent company wants to connect remote regions to the Internet. Next stop: Southeast Asia.

Alphabet’s Project Loon is one step closer to taking flight.

The project uses high-flying balloons to beam Wi-Fi access to remote areas of the globe. Alphabet, the new parent company of Google, said Wednesday it will begin testing the balloons in Indonesia.

Alphabet is signing a preliminary agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding, with three Indonesian telecommunications companies — Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata — to bring the balloons to the country over the next year.

“While the physical distance between here and Indonesia is great, increasingly the emotional distance around the world is shrinking,” Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and Alphabet president, said at a press event here.

That’s because our world is connected, but we need to do more, he said. Brin stood next to a large inflated balloon on display in the courtyard of Google X offices, the secretive lab where the project was developed. The prop balloon, though, was only half the size of the actual ones that will take flight.

google-sergey-brin-project-loon-0005.jpg

Four billion people still don’t have access to the Web, according to Alphabet. Changing that could have staggering implications for emerging countries. The Internet could give rural villages video access to remote doctors and classrooms, for example. It could even help break the cycle of poverty, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, by allowing the rural poor to send and receive money right from their phones.

Facebook has a similar goal, but wants to use drones instead of balloons. Space X CEO Elon Muskplans to launch clusters of cheap, low-flying satellites to beam the Internet around the world. Sir Richard Branson wants to build the world’s largest satellite constellation to provide high-speed Internet to the billions who still don’t have it.

By using balloons, Alphabet can skirt the need to build a network of cell towers. Instead, “the cell towers we’re building are 60,000 feet up in the sky,” said Mike Cassidy, vice president of Project Loon.

Of course, spreading the Internet to remote locations is also good for Alphabet’s business. The more people connected to the Internet, the more people are likely to use the company’s services, including Gmail, search and its YouTube video site.

The solar- and battery-powered balloons will fly in the stratosphere, 8 to 30 miles above the ground. The team handling the project began tests two years ago in New Zealand and has since expanded into Brazil and California’s Central Valley. The team has also done preliminary testing in Sri Lanka.

Now Indonesia joins that small group.

Developing flying cell towers hasn’t always gone smoothly. Astro Teller, the head of Google X, said in March he’s had to send teams by boat and helicopter to the Arctic Circle and South Pacific to collect balloons that drifted where they shouldn’t have.

Alphabet said it hasn’t set a date for a full commercial launch. The Indonesian pilot will show how much work still needs to be done.

“This testing is going to be very revealing to us about how close we are to commercial launch,” said Cassidy.

Tagged , , ,

Samsung smartphone sales show signs of recovery

Samsung appears to be putting its smartphone sales woes behind it.

The last two years have been rough on Samsung, which makes some of the most popular smartphones in the world but hasn’t managed lately to scoop up the same profits as competitor Apple, whose iPhones remain the benchmark for the industry.

Part of Samsung’s problem is that it faces tougher competition than just Apple. That’s because Samsung devices run Google’s Android mobile operating system, which is available on devices made by a host of hardware makers.

The prevalence of Android handsets means Samsung is fighting on two fronts. HTC and LG, as well as low-cost handset makersHuawei, Xiaomi and Micromax, battle for the Android customers. That means there’s more competition for first-time buyers, who are drawn by lower price points.

Meanwhile, Apple is grabbing the high end of the market, as well as angling for customers who want the big-screen phones Samsung had used to differentiate itself. Last year, Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which it recently updated. Those phones are powering Apple’s profits.

Samsung is trying to address the problem. In April, It introduced the high-end and well-reviewed Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, flagship handsets made of premium materials, something consumers have requested for years.

On Thursday, Samsung showed the process is ongoing. Samsung reported an 82 percent rise in operating profit, snapping a streak of seven consecutive quarterly profit declines, even though revenue from its mobile division was largely flat.

Samsung reported third-quarter operating profit of 7.39 trillion won, or $6.45 billion, on revenue of 51.68 trillion won. Samsung, which doesn’t release smartphone shipment numbers, said it saw a “significant increase” in smartphone shipments but that revenue was hurt by price cuts for its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and shipments of low- to midrange smartphones.

The mobile division’s profit increased by about 33 percent, providing about a third of total operating profit in the quarter but sharply lower than the two-thirds it’s provided in the past. Meanwhile, profits doubled at the division housing Samsung’s chip and display businesses.

Still, Samsung indicated the good times were unlikely to last. It forecast profits would fall in the fourth quarter and initiated a share buyback.

To get a leg up on its competition, Samsung has reportedly moved up the launch date of its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S7, to January. The move would break Samsung’s tradition of introducing new flagship smartphones at major global tech conferences, such as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But it might also give it an opportunity to undercut sales of the iPhone 6S, which launched in August, by getting it into consumers’ hands sooner.

Samsung is also hoping to get a boost from Samsung Pay, its mobile payments service that went live last month in the US. The service lets customers pay for goods and services using their smartphones or Gear 2 smartwatch. As with Apple Pay, the competing service launched last year by Apple, the goal of the feature is to build customer loyalty amid the fierce fight for smartphone customers.

Tagged , , , ,

YouTube works toward ‘melt my brain’ virtual reality

In his first interview as the video empire’s engineering chief, Matthew Mengerink discusses virtual reality, making money and stepping into the role during trying times for YouTube’s engineers.

Soon after Matthew Mengerink became YouTube’s engineering chief a few weeks back, he got a taste of the virtual reality footage Google has been working on but hasn’t released to the public yet.

“I saw stuff that just melted my brain,” Mengerink said Tuesday in his first interview since joining the Google-owned video site.

Mengerink won’t go into detail about what he saw but gives general examples of the kinds of things VR can do, like taking you cycling through the Alps while you’re really just on your exercise bike. Or letting you stomp around the city pretending to be Godzilla. The world’s top tech companies, from Facebook to Samsung, have become enamored with virtual reality. Once mostly the dream of video game makers, Silicon Valley has expanded the vision for the technology.

“That’s the future technology of YouTube,” said Mengerink. “Those are the table stakes: How do you change the way people look at things?” That’s probably not exactly what the site’s 1 billion monthly visitors expect of YouTube. The juggernaut video service, which Google acquired in 2006, is known for its massive haul of cat videos, sports rants and makeup tutorials. But all of that is evolving as the site expands and becomes more ambitious.

On Wednesday, Google is launching YouTube Red, a subscription version of the service that nixes the ads and gives you access to original shows and movies from top YouTube talent for $10 a month. In August, Google launched YouTube Gaming, a hub dedicated to video game-related content. Google, which formed Alphabet as a new holding company for all its properties earlier this month, also plans to place the streaming media site at the heart of its virtual reality efforts. YouTube remained under Google in the reorganization.

Tagged ,