Category Archives: technology

Intel reportedly prepping 10-core Broadwell-E processors with 25MB L3 cache

In August 2014, Intel released the first Haswell-E processor, the Core i7-5960X. Unlike its predecessors, the Core i7-5960X jumped to eight cores and 16 threads — but the lower clock speeds that this required paradoxically made the chip a less-than-great alternative for gamers. In many titles, the 4.4GHz clock speed on the Core i7-4790K was a better gaming option than the eight cores but lower top-end clock speed (3GHz base, 3.5GHz Turbo) that the 5960X offered.

Intel is now working on the successor to Haswell-E, and if recent rumors are true, the company is going to address this discrepancy with the upcoming Broadwell-E. The upcoming family will launch with multiple SKUs that should address the needs of both gamers and other high-end users who have more use for threads and less for clock speed. According to Chinese site XFastest, the Core i7-6950X will be a 10-core, 20-thread CPU with a base clock of 3GHz, an unknown Turbo frequency, and 25MB of L3 cache. That’s two more cores than the current Core i7-5960X, with an equivalent clock speed and the same cache allocation on a per-core basis.

Xfastest

Data from XFastest

Haswell-E had three SKUs — the 5960X at 3GHz base / 3.5GHz Turbo with 8 cores, the 5930K at 3.5GHz base – 3.7GHz Turbo with six cores, and the 5820K at 3.3GHz base – 3.6GHz Turbo, with six cores. The 5960X had 20MB of L3, while the other two chips had 15MB each. This chart implies that Intel will subdivide the market further, with an eight-core, 20MB chip at 3.3GHz, and a brace of six-core chips at 3.6GHz and 3.4GHz respectively, each with 15MB of L3 cache. The implications, if true, suggest that Intel wants to target enthusiasts hunting for more clock speed as well as those who may benefit from having more threads.

When Intel first announced that Haswell-E would move to an eight-core top-end configuration, there was some speculation that Intel might bring six-core chips to the conventional desktop line. So far, that hasn’t happened, and it’s not clear if it will, given the current realities of CPU design and the overall state of multi-threading in desktop applications. The four-core / eight-thread configuration that Intel has preferred since it launched Nehalem back in 2008 continues to offer an excellent overall balance of clock speed and performance, even if performance gains have materialized more slowly than we like. There’s little point, however, in pushing end-users towards higher core-counts for their own sake.

DirectX 12 could offer additional support for multi-threaded CPU cores. But given that laptops outnumber desktops and laptops are still almost entirely dual-core + Hyper-Threading, we don’t see developers falling over themselves to make games that take advantage of 10-12 cores.

Broadwell-E is expected to be compatible with Haswell-E motherboards, though we will likely see a chipset refresh and renewed push from the regular suspects. Broadwell-E should be a drop-in replacement for Haswell-E, but Skylake-E, when it eventually appears, will likely require a new motherboard.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

It’s nice to be nice, but it’s better to be Steve Jobs.

Who cares if the Apple co-founder was a volatile man who was difficult to deal with? Sometimes that’s the price of genius

Michael Fassbender, playing Steve Jobs, stares into the foreground, an iPhone interface reflected in his round, frameless glasses

Can a great man be a good man? This is the question posed by the trailer for Steve Jobs, a biopic of the late co-founder of the world’s most valuable company (and, the film suggests, not always a good man).

The film is (extremely) loosely based on Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs, written over two years with the cooperation of Jobs himself and hurriedly published in the wake of his death. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, likened the worldwide outpouring of grief in the wake of his death to that following John Lennon’s murder.

The plot revolves around the minutes before three major product launches in 1984, 1988 and 1998, but its driving force is an unflinching examination of Jobs’ relationship with his first daughter Lisa, whom he denied the paternity of for many years.

“I’m not your father,” he tells her, before stalking off to bully and threaten his staff into adhering to his exacting high standards, from quite literally taking the shirt of an unsuspecting man’s back so that Jobs could pull a floppy disc from its breast pocket, to snarling at former fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak, ”You’re gonna have a stroke, little buddy.”

None of this, unless you’ve been living under a rock, is exactly new information. The notoriously secretive Apple, which is extremely protective of Jobs’ legacy, has rallied against Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s biopic for years, with chief executive Tim Cook describing it as “opportunistic”and chief design officer Jony Ive saying he didn’t “recognise that man at all. It’s heartbreaking”.

But it’s not just the company’s top brass who have turned their backs on the project. Steve Jobs made a paltry $7.3 million (£4.8m) during its US opening weekend, ahead of its UK release on November 13, and has only taken around $16 million since the end of October, despite costing around $30 million to make.

Michael Fassbender, who plays the titular role, by his own admission doesn’t “look anything like him”, with Apple observers criticising the plot’s many factual inaccuracies and how some characters,particularly in the case of Wozniak, have undergone full personality overhauls.

Jobs was, by all accounts, one of the rarest kind of people insofar as he was uncompromising in his obsessions, ruthless to the point of cruelty when it came to getting his own way, which the film wrongly attributes to the lack of control he felt at being put up for adoption as a child (Jobs himself said knowing he was adopted meant he “always felt special”). A people-pleaser he was not.

The question in my mind is not so much whether it’s possible to be decent and gifted at the same time, as Wozniak tersely tells Jobs it is, but rather, who cares? Jobs was a gifted leader and marketer, and his tenacity and dedication to his work should be praised, rather than vilified. It should also be noted that he reconciled with Lisa and apologised many times for his behaviour, which is more than many other children of absent fathers get.

The most rewarding teachers are often the ones who are hardest on you, as this year’s academy award-winning Whiplash demonstrated so beautifully. Jobs, volatile though he may have been, knew how to get results, whether that was through cajoling, manipulating or outright insulting. He once told Ive he was “really vain…You just want people to like you.” “I was terribly cross,” recalled Ive, “Because I knew he was right.”

The desperate desire for acceptance many of us feel so acutely is exactly that, a vanity. Jobs’ complete disregard for the opinions, and on occasion, feelings of others freed him from the crushing weight of expectation and consequent risk of disappointment to focus with a laser-like precision on exactly what he wanted, in his own words, “to make a ding in the universe”.

Yet there is no doubt Jobs was admired, revered and deeply loved, as the glowing testimonials of those who knew him best show. It is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice, or so the saying goes. Maybe it’s more important to recognise that not being a people-pleaser is nothing to be ashamed of.

Tagged , ,

London tech community launches pro-EU working group

Leaving the EU would render tech unicorns HQs rarities in London, says Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates

A referendum on British membership of the European Union will take place by the end of 2017

London’s tech community is virtually unanimous: EU membership is good for digital business. A Tech London Advocates’ survey released this week found that 87 pc of London’s technology community thinks that the UK should remain part of the European Union.

This resounding ‘Yes’ to EU membership should come as no surprise: technology companies are geared to drive efficiency and innovation in global communities. Sharing ideas, experience and skills is fundamental to the digital community. For us, ‘Brexit’ flirts with a situation of economic uncertainty that is entirely avoidable, bad for the digital economy and bad for the country as a whole.

Over the past decade, London’s technology sector has become one of the world’s centres of digital innovation because of the key benefits that EU membership provides: talent, trade and power. I fear that these three keys to success will be damaged if the UK were to leave the EU.

The EU’s free movement of labour has enabled London’s tech sector to grow exponentially over the last several years. With no need for visas and work permits, London’s start-ups and scale-ups can welcome the best and brightest from across the EU at short notice and often at no extra cost. This gives British technology companies access to a population of more than 500 million – larger than the US. This is a unique talent pool that we cannot allow to slip from our grasp.

EU membership provides London’s tech community, and the British economy at large, with an unrestricted trade flow. In 2014, nearly half of all UK exports of goods and services were destined for the EU. It is this trade flow that has been, and will continue to be, a key economic driver of UK growth and prosperity. Imagine London’s start-ups and scale-ups having to pay export tariffs on 50 per cent of all their outgoing services. The financial impact would be crippling.

As an established or emerging economy, nations need trading partners that have the capacity to drive growth and sustain natural setbacks. EU membership boosts Britain’s global profile and often reassures investors from across the globe. Brexit could plant dangerous uncertainty in the minds of these global investors by bringing a high degree of uncertainty if Brexit were to occur. Membership also enables Britain’s businesses to benefit from the bargaining power that comes with belonging to a significant trading bloc. It would be incredibly shortsighted to walk away from the economic security and international clout that this bargaining power provides.

London is the shining star of Europe’s tech constellation: according to research conducted by GP Bullhound, 13 of the continent’s 40 ‘unicorns’ (billion dollar tech companies) were founded in the capital. Global companies want to operate in London to have access to our growing technology sector, but also because the UK is seen as the gateway into Europe. Brexit would render unicorns and global HQs rarities in the capital.

We hope that representatives from other industries will follow the lead of the tech sector and speak out about the benefits associated with EU membership. For now, we are proud to launch the ‘TLA EU-Yes’ group, and we look forward to highlighting how EU membership helps London’s tech community, achieves excellence and continues to be the fastest growing sector of the economy. Let’s embrace our membership of the Union and continue to reap the benefits, which will provide significant economic growth for all to benefit.

Russ Shaw is founder of Tech London Advocates

Tagged , , ,

Forget secretive headquarters, co-working spaces will foster the next Google

Tomorrow’s most successful companies will emerge from co-working spaces like Moorgate’s WeWork, where people can collaborate, brainstorm and scale quickly, says Monty Munford

A shared WeWork co-working space in New York

The WeWork offices in London’s Moorgate don’t seem to have a door policy; they let anybody in. As long as visitors look like budding entrepreneurs and have minimal hipster credentials, two unbelievably jolly receptionists usher them into what resembles a spacious and very lively university common room.

Excited conversations abound, the space feels as creative as any working environment can be. It is also remarkably similar to Google and Facebook. It’s the place to work, to have meetings and, if necessary, take a free beer from the communal fridge.

WeWork is a phenomenon. Founded in New York in 2011, it is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the world. With almost one billion dollars in funding, it is valued at $10 billion and is now present in most major American cities. Aside from opening in London last October, it has also expanded internationally to Amsterdam and Tel Aviv.

It is not just a place for startups, large corporations also rent space on its premises, and the company is looking to diversify into living accommodation under its WeWork brand. With more than 30,000 clients, the opportunities for continued growth are extensive and its valuation of $10bn seem reasonable, even in this current age of bloated unicorns.

Central Working, the City of London

One of the first successes that has come out of WeWork Moorgate is the three-month growth-hacking scheme Distro Dojo, part of 500 Startups’ accelerator program. For post-seed startups that are selected, they receive an investment from 500 Startups and concomitant mentorship from its growth marketing team, 500 Distro.

Its first companies have now passed through their initial three-month scheme and the four selected startups cover a broad church of businesses and territories.

One is Tamatem, a Jordanian-based mobile games publisher for the Arabic market that 18 months after launch has published more than 40 games with more than 10 million downloads and 1.4 million monthly active users. During its time at WeWork, Tamatem signed a huge publishing deal with mobile games Tapinator to localise their games for the MENA (Middle-East, North African) market.

Another is TRData, a ‘Bloomberg for emerging markets’ that provides valuation, trading and risk analysis to investment companies of any size and there is also Oree, which crafts a collection of technology tools from natural materials to offer a radical alternative to mainstream tech gadgets.

The final Distro Dojo company is Truly Experiences, a marketplace for ‘unique, extraordinary experiences’ including truffle-hunting in Alba, near-space flights and even spy training with ex-MI6 agents. According to the company, this is a $610 billion market and its founder and CEO Jack Huang doesn’t mince his words when describing his experience at Distro Dojo.

“The 500 Startups mentors and guest speakers actually know their shit and roll up their sleeves to get dirty, unlike the thousands of fake advisors and consultants out there,” he said.

WiFi security

One of these knowledgeable mentors is Colorado-born and London-based Distro Dojo partner Matt Lerner who says that 500 Startups has now invested in 1,500 startups worldwide, including 20 UK-based companies and has plans to expand across the UK to become the ‘Number One innovation hub in Europe’.

“My ‘Distro Dojo’ program is basically a growth-hacking studio for post-seed, pre-Series-A companies who have launched their product and are ready to scale their growth. The first month is in-residence at WeWork Moorgate, where we focus on scaling customer acquisition.

“The first batch has been a great success. One of our four companies, Truly Experiences has cut their cost per acquisition by 75pc. Another, TRData, was able to grow their signups by 20pc week-on-week,” he said.

Distro Dojo is currently sourcing Europe for companies with a finished product and good pre Series-A funding customer traction. It takes applications on a referral-only basis, but says its European founder and mentor network is more than 2,000 people strong. Once selected, this next tranche of companies will join the program in Q1 2016.

While this accelerator appears to be proving the 500 Startups business model works, it is only by being located at co-working spaces such as WeWork Moorgate that this success proves possible.

Co-working, co-succeeding, maybe both companies should ‘co-share’ one of those craft beers in the WeWork Moorgate fridge.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Digital detox: Could this jewellery give you your life back?

If you obsessively check your phone, there’s a fashionable new way to screen your calls, texts and emails. Jessica Salter reports

Vinaya: The jewellery that could be the cure to digital overload

We all know that we use our phones too much. The average person spends nearly nine hours a day on electronic devices according to one recent study, which also found that we spend more time checking emails in the morning than eating breakfast.

And last month, TED talk star Sherry Turkle argued in her bestselling book,Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, that being on our phones all the time is reducing our empathy. But unplugging totally is unrealistic – there are some calls you simply need to take and texts you must answer. So how can you digitally detox, while remaining partially connected?

Kate Unsworth believes she has the answer. Aged 27, she is a ‘digital native’ – Facebook was founded when she was 16 – and she admits that she used to check social media up to 20 times a day, and her emails at least 50 times a day.

‘I started to realise that my happiness depended on curbing my bad phone-checking habits. But I needed help doing it. There wasn’t anything on the market, so I had to build it,’ she says when we meet at her east London office.

Stylishly dressed in a black oversized shirt and skinny jeans with headphones around her neck, she has a large rose-gold ring with a black stone on her middle finger. It’s a piece from her line of hi-tech jewellery – that women will actually want to wear.

The stone in the ring, necklace or bracelet buzzes only when the most important calls, texts and emails (according to your preset list) come through, so that you can put your phone in your bag and forget about it. ‘I wanted to design something that would help people be more present and live in the moment,’ she says.

It’s an amazing device. The stone, called Altruis, is central to the design; it is packed with software that communicates via Bluetooth with a smartphone. ‘I’ve got my mum, my boyfriend and my two business partners programmed in, so when they email me, I know about it.’

The device has another feature where you can set a code word so that if anyone emails you with it in the subject line, you get an alert. ‘Mine is “bananas”. If my team or friends really need to get hold of me, they just text me that word,’ says Unsworth.

L-r: Kate Unsworth; Altruis rose-gold bracelet, £250, available from Vinaya

The Altruis has been 18 months in the making; a prototype has been tested by users for a year. But now it is finally available to buy in selected boutiques around the world, and on Unsworth’s website, Vinaya. From next spring, it will also be available at Net-a-Porter.

Unsworth’s journey to digital detoxing started three years ago, when she was working for a management consultancy company. ‘I was totally passionate about my job,’ she says. ‘I was giving it my all and that meant I was totally connected. If I was at dinner and an email came in, I’d reply under the table, and I’d step outside to take calls.

‘I’d even do it in the middle of the night and start again as soon as I woke up at 6am. It got to a point where my boss and my client both said they didn’t expect me to be online all the time, but I couldn’t help it. I was always “on”.’

One evening in February 2013, Kate was waiting in a restaurant when her friend called to say she would be two hours late.

‘I thought I would just catch up on work while I waited. Then my battery died and I remember feeling so angry. But I ended up having a glass of wine, relaxing, and thinking, “This is what I should have been doing in the first place.” By the time my friend got there, I felt like my whole perspective had changed. I realised I needed to switch off more.’

She banned herself from her phone completely, from the internet outside of office hours and started leaving work at 5pm. ‘From 5pm to 9am I wasn’t online. It didn’t affect my work at all. In fact, I found that it made me more focused and productive.’

She started noticing things happening around her. ‘I vividly remember sitting on a bus on my way to work behind a couple in their 70s. She leant over to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he turned to her and smiled. I burst into tears. I felt like for the first time in ages I was present enough to witness these small things that happen around us all the time.’

But after a strict two-week detox, Unsworth found herself slipping back into bad habits. ‘You get to the end of the day, you’re tired, and you think, “Sod it, I’ll check Facebook.” I assumed there was a product out there to help, but there wasn’t.’

Clockwise from top left: Altruis gold pendant, £275; Altruis rose-gold ring, ring, £220; Altruis gold and black ring, £220, all available from Vinaya

Kate had grown up tinkering around with electronic equipment. As a teenage wannabe DJ growing up in Cheshire she couldn’t afford brand-new kit, so her dad taught her to fix broken speakers. ‘I wasn’t a tech enthusiast at first, but I realised that actually technology allows you to be really creative.’

Then throughout her mathematics and statistics degree at Edinburgh, and a postgraduate in economics and econometrics, during which she learnt coding, she set up a business with her younger brother selling reconditioned ex-rental laptops to students.

She also knew the wearable-techmarket inside out. Although in 2013 it was a year before the term would become mainstream, she had been consulting on the industry and writing internal reports. Before and after work she started setting up meetings and Skype calls with anyone she thought could help, and began researching how and what she could create. ‘At some point I just realised that this was actually achievable. So I left my job.’

She found two partners: Dan Müller, an engineer who was working for a jewellery company, and Fabio Pania, an electronics engineer. Together they launched Vinaya, which has just secured funding from investors includingCarmen Busquets, founding investor of Net-a-Porter. The company now has 30 salaried staff.

But this isn’t just about creating a product that will sell. Unsworth is really committed to the idea that it will improve people’s lives. She has travelled in Asia and the company’s name, Vinaya, is a Buddhist term meaning ‘discipline’.

Kate incorporates spirituality into her office life – the team have daily yoga in the morning and meditation at 4pm, and her office is filled with candles and books on happiness. ‘I highlight bits in them and pass them round.’ But, she acknowledges,

‘There are definitely some members of the team who are less interested in the philosophical side of it, and more interested in the technical solutions.’ (The second floor is full of soldering irons; not a candle in sight.)

While half the company is focused on product development, the other half is an ‘innovation lab’. As a trained statistician, Kate was frustrated by the current studies on happiness, which she felt weren’t scientific enough. She employs a neuroscientist and conducts experiments, such as a recent one where they measured brain activity in CEOs partaking in a digital detox in the Moroccan desert.

Vinaya’s blog is filled with posts on research in the field, such as a report that shows empathy in young adults has been decaying since the turn of the century, or that children and adults are losing the ability to talk to one another. ‘There’s so much interesting research out there,’ Kate says. ‘Let’s bring it to light and look to create products out of it.’

She does practice what she preaches. If you email her, you get an automated message – extraordinarily for a young tech CEO – that she is only checking her email occasionally, and giving other contacts in the company to try.

This, she says, has reduced her emails by 70 per cent. She has removed all social media apps from her phone ‘so I don’t check them mindlessly’ and has a programme installed on her computer that only allows her on those sites for five minutes a day. ‘It’s enough time to check a contact detail or reply to a message, but that’s it,’ she says.

She is not, she insists, anti-technology. For her, it’s about working out how to live with it. ‘Technology’s going to be here indefinitely, in a much bigger way than it is today,’ she says. ‘So it’s about saying, “Let’s be smart about this. Let’s think about how we can integrate technology into our lives in a way that is beneficial to us.”

‘Because that’s what life is about; we should be on a path that helps us be more human and not less. It’s so we don’t morph into robots.’

Tagged , , , ,

Can Facebook Messenger kill off apps?

Messenger’s head David Marcus tells Madhumita Murgia why conversations could replace apps, and be the future of Facebook’s business

Amid the chaos of Europe’s largest technology conference, the Dublin Web Summit, David Marcus looks perfectly unruffled.

In an immaculate white shirt and blazer, and coiffed salt-and-pepper hair, the soft-spoken French-born head of Facebook Messenger has the air of a man in control. And so he should: since the former president of PayPal joined Facebook in 2014, the app has more than doubled its number of users from 300m to 700m monthly active users. It is now the second most-used messaging app in the world, trailing only its sister-app, Whatsapp, which had 900m users at last count.

Facebook’s boss Mark Zuckerberg has publicly acknowledged the importance of Messenger to the future of Facebook. “One of the fastest-growing and most important members of our family is Messenger. We think this service has the potential to…connect hundreds of millions of new people, and to become a really important communication tool for the world,” he told the audience at the company’s F8 conference in March.

David Marcus’ job is to turn Messenger into a gateway to the mobile web. His plan: to replace apps with chats.

“The only thing people do more than social networking is messaging,” Marcus told me, as we chatted in a Facebook-branded booth, eating from chef-prepared lunch boxes with dozens of Facebook, Instagram and Oculus Rift employees milling around us. “I always like to rewind to what people did before technology. Before the web era, we just had conversations.”

There’s little doubt about it: messengers are some of the most successful apps today. Together, the five biggest ones – Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WeChat and Line – account for more than 3 billion accounts.

The start of the messaging wars has been openly declared: upstarts who are vying for our thumbs globally range from the South Korean KakaoTalk to Japan’s Line and Canadian Kik.

Mobile phone messaging apps will be used by more than 1.4 billion consumers in 2015, up nearly 32pc on the previous year, according to eMarketer’s first ever worldwide forecast for these services.

That’s roughly 75pc of all smartphone users in the world. By 2018, that number will reach 2 billion and represent 80pc of smartphone users. Within five years, it could reach total saturation.

In order to grow its user base at an exponential rate, Messenger has expanded its reach beyond that of the 1.5bn-strong Facebook network. “We’ve enabled people who don’t have a Facebook account to get Messenger, using their phone number,” Marcus says, echoing the strategy that Facebook-owned Whatsapp uses.

But Facebook isn’t just trying to expand your friends-and-family network. Next, Marcus wants you to conduct all your business transactions – with retail assistants, airline ticketing agents, telecoms call centres, robotic PAs – using Messenger.

“On Facebook, we already have 45m active businesses on Pages, and 700m active people on Messenger so the two sides of the network already existed, but there was no bridge between those two worlds to communicate,” he explains.

In August last year, around the time that Mr Marcus joined the company, Facebook spun out Messenger into a standalone app that could be your portal of communication with everyone. As part of this strategy, it announced an entirely new layer called ‘Businesses on Messenger’, which allows users to communicate with businesses and brands within the app.

If you use Marcus’ trick of recalling a pre-digital era, that would be like going over to your local seamstress and chatting with her about buying another dress like the one you bought last week.

If the idea seems far-fetched in our web-first world, there are eerily-similar precedents to look to. In 2011, Chinese tech giant Tencent launched a simple messaging app called Weixin. Now rebranded as WeChat for an international audience, it boasts 600m monthly active users who use the app as a filter for the mobile web: you can hail taxis, book doctor’s appointments, do your grocery shopping or pay your utility bill, all through WeChat.

WeChat allows any developer to build third-party apps into the chat ecosystem, leading to the growth of entirely new companies that exist solely inside WeChat. In September, a WeChat-based butler app called Laiye raised $4m in seed funding just two months after launch; similarly food delivery app Call a Chicken has raised $1.6m.

Neither company has its own app.

But Marcus says Asian app models won’t necessarily work for Messenger, which has a mostly Western market.

North America and Europe already have successful services for apps that exist within WeChat. “When it launched in China, you didn’t have a way to hail a cab other than the integration inside WeChat. Here we have Hailo and Uber and all kinds of apps,” Marcus explained.

Messenger’s proposition is that you won’t have to build or use new apps within their app – you can get rid of apps completely.

Instead, you can talk to businesses via a chat thread, so it feels more like a conversation than a transaction. “A thread of conversation is a much better form of app,” Marcus says. A Messenger chat retains your identity, the context of your previous conversations and always follows on logically from your last message.

Trying to kill apps is a bold ambition, at a time when the mobile app economy is ostensibly booming. With 2.6 million apps available on iOS and Google Play, and 140 billion app downloads in 2014, predictions for the size of the mobile app marketplace by 2017 range from $77bn to $150bn.

But in March this year, technology research firm Gartner published a report saying that app usage is going to plateau, as many smartphone users said they were fatigued – they don’t want to increase their current app usage levels.

“After eight years of searching for, downloading, and using smartphone apps, users are maturing in their usage behaviours,” said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.“It’s not that smartphone users have lost interest in apps. However, users need to be convinced about the value of the app.”

This is exactly Marcus’ point: apps work great if you are a frequent user, but why would you clutter up your phone with the app of a business you buy from once or twice a year at most? Instead, you can just talk to them via Messenger.

Messenger has already trialled its chat service with six US retailers like online clothing company, Everlane. The plan now is to roll out this out to a range of retailers and airlines, with a Q1 2016 launch date for UK businesses.

“If I had previously bought a t-shirt, I can just say ‘can I have another one in black?’ I don’t even have to say t-shirt,” Marcus says. “The person on the other side knows what I mean, where to ship it, and what my size is.”

They are also testing the system with Dutch carrier KLM. Once you have booked your flight, your confirmation details will be sent to you in a conversation bubble on Messenger. You can just text back to change or cancel and get live notifications when you need to check in, or board your flight. “You can do things in a tenth of the time that you can over email or other platforms,” Marcus says.

In August, Messenger announced the next step in its plan to kill off mobile apps, and maybe even search engines – ‘M’, its artificially intelligent virtual assistant.

Built into Messenger like a friend, it can help you out with administrative tasks like speaking to Amazon customer service or making a restaurant reservation. “Unlike other digital assistants on the market, it enables you to complete tasks versus just giving you information,” Marcus says.

Using a combination of human helpers and machine learning, it is constantly improving its responses. “We have a lot of data sources on Facebook pages, so we could leverage what your friends recommend or like to automate M over time.”

So will the artificially-intelligent Messenger of the future still be text-based, or will it evolve into a world of virtual reality avatars, powered by Facebook-owned headset Oculus Rift?

“When you look at the evolution of Facebook, the new generation of business is definitely messaging, followed by virtual reality, so it will be interesting to see how messaging in the world of VR plays out,” Marcus smiles.

“The beauty of VR is that you can share experiences. If we can get people to connect better in the virtual world, then why not? That’s our mission.”

Tagged , ,

Smartphones and tablets need ‘bedtime mode’ to improve children’s sleep

Phones, tablets and e-readers currently cause sleep disruptions, and need to shift to ‘bed’ mode at night, says children’s sleep medicine expert

More devices like the iPhone, iPad and Kindle emit a blue light that causes our sleep to be restless and disrupted, according to a new study.

Led by Dr Paul Gringras at the Department of Children’s Sleep Medicine, Evelina London, the study found that manufacturers have started making bigger, brighter, bluer screens in an effort to increase the efficiency of our screens during daytime. As an unwanted byproduct, this light is affecting our sleep and productivity.

Kindle, for instance, didn’t backlight its screen in older models, but the new version tested – the Kindle Paperwhite first generation – does.

The study, reported first by the BBC, said that this type of light is likely to cause the most disruption to sleep, as it most effectively suppresses melatonin, a hormone that reminds us to sleep every night; the light also increases alertness.

In fact, using our devices before bedtime could even affect our performance during the day, because exposure to this blue light changes our body’s natural rhythms.

“The development of light-emitting devices means that for many people, a ‘book at bedtime’ is now often an ‘e-book,'” the paper pointed out.

Reading a traditional paper book by the light of your bedside lamp doesn’t affect your sleep, because bulbs emit a yellow-red light. “In comparison, the same book read in electronic format will provide a very different light signal with biological effects,” the researchers said.

Both adults and children can avoid these negative effects by keeping our digital devices outside of the bedroom, which is easier said than done. For Android devices, apps like F.lux can adjust a computer display’s colour according to its location and time of day, which may be more helpful on a daily basis.

Ultimately, though, the push to adjust screen lighting has to come from manufacturers. “All hardware devices [should have] an automatic “bedtime mode” that shifts blue and green light emissions to yellow and red as well as reduces backlight/light intensity,” Gringras and the team write.

“We hope that as technology improves, ‘brighter’ will not always be synonymous with ‘better’.”

Tagged , , , ,

Five big tests that driverless cars will have to pass

Self-driving cars developed by Google and others are likely to be technically superior before long, but their road to the mainstream will not be simple

Google unveils first 'fully functional' driverless car. The internet giant posted a picture online of the white, bubble-shaped car, the most complete self-driving vehicle it has yet put together

It would be easy to believe that robot cars are powering inevitably onto our roads. Google’s self-driving vehicles have totted up more than 1.2 million miles – 90 years worth of driving experience – on California’s streets since 2009. Various countries and US states are bending over backwards to accommodate driverless car research. And the car industry isputting billions of pounds into research in an attempt to keep up with Silicon Valley’s deep-pocketed entrants.

This optimism is well grounded. Driverless cars promise enormous benefits: a revolution in productivity, a near-zero level of road fatalities, faster travel and a seismic improvement in energy efficiency.

And cars, when you step back as much as possible to think about them, are pretty terrible: they kill 1.2 million people a year; they are expensive – the biggest investment many people make after a house; and they are horribly inefficient, sitting idle 96pc of the time.

Driverless car disciples have a near-Utopian vision of personal transport. Instead of owning our cars, we’ll rent. A constantly-moving swarm of autonomous vehicles will roam the streets, picking up one passenger soon after dropping off the last and ending parking forever. We’ll spend the time that we now waste on driving doing something worthy.

A lot of this picture, if not all of it, is very possible. Driverless cars are inevitable – the amount of money being thrown at them, along with the potential benefits, add up to a powerful argument. The technology, though it hasn’t been tested in a lot of environments, has improved rapidly, and should be ready to graduate from tests in controlled locations and suburbia to more challenging urban scenarios soon.

It is very possible that before long, we will have a fully-capable autonomous vehicle. But for driverless cars to become a reality, that will only be the beginning. There are several tests that they will have to pass before we’re ready to get rid of our steering wheels.

Handling the first driverless death

The first will be how society reacts to the first major accident. Public opinion on driverless cars at the moment can be described as “healthily sceptical”.According to a recent study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, two thirds of Americans would be “very concerned” to “moderately concerned” about riding in a fully-autonomous vehicle, and 96pc would want a steering wheel and pedals as a back-up.

This would be likely to change as self-driving cars become more visible, but it shows a level of initial unease. Even if the mood begins to change, and autonomous vehicles start to appear on our roads, at some point, one is inevitably going to be involved in a fatality. It probably won’t be the driverless car’s fault – in the more than a dozen accidents involving Google’s cars, human drivers have been responsible for all of them – but the association may be hard to shake off, even if statistics show driverless cars are significantly safer than human-driven ones.

Ethical choices

Speaking of accidents, the ethical decisions made by driverless cars in life-or-death scenarios are going to draw immense scrutiny. In the event of an unavoidable crash, software may have to choose between saving a passenger’s life and a pedestrian’s.

Whatever choice a car makes will be a matter of constant debate. Should car manufacturers be allowed to sell models that give higher priority to passengers – they would surely be more popular among buyers? If not, who should decide a driverless car’s ethical programming?

How secure is a driverless car?

The third major issue will be hacking. As basic levels of automation– auto-braking, self-parking technology and electronic immobilisers – come to today’s cars, vehicles are becoming bigger targets for attackers. Fully driverless cars would give successful hackers significantly more control, potentially allowing them to use the vehicle as a weapon of kidnapping or murder.

For years, car manufacturers put no piece of connected technology more complicated than a radio in their products. As they race to bring driverless abilities to the market, we have to hope that security is given its proper attention.

Regulating cars off the road

A fourth test, and one of the more unknown quantities, is regulation. Governments have been keen to welcome research into driverless cars, and the economic activity it brings, but actually allowing them on the road could be something else entirely.

Huge parts of driving law will have to be rewritten for a driverless future. Who will pay in the event of an accident? The driver can’t be responsible, given that they were not controlling the car. If you point to the owner, then they are likely to blame the manufacturer. In this case, how is insurance going to be worked out?

A lot of powerful entrenched industries are also going to be shaken up by self-driving vehicles. Look at how London’s taxi drivers have responded to the arrival of Uber and imagine what would happen if they were undercut many times more by taking away the cost of a driver. Add public transport unions, truck drivers and logistics networks and there will be a powerful opposition.

Changing habits

And finally, but not insignificant, are our habits. The mass car ownership model is more than a century old. Cars are a status symbol and something to be proud of for many people. And drivers like to be in control, even if it is unsafe and time-consuming.

Even if the technology behind driverless cars is practically perfect, its road to the mainstream is likely to be far from smooth.

Tagged , , ,

UK ‘snoopers’ charter’ is a horrible idea, says Dell chief

A back door into customers’ data will create more problems than it solves, claims Michael Dell

Michael Dell, the chief executive of American PC maker Dell, has condemned the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill – better known as “the snoopers’ charter” – claiming that forcing technology companies to provide access to their customers’ unencrypted data is a “horrible idea”.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Dell said his company would follow the laws of any given country, but he insisted that breaking the encryption that ensures messages cannot be read as they are sent between devices will cause more problems than it solves.

“Our position on creating a back door inside our products so that the government can get in is that it’s a horrible idea,” he said.

“The reason it’s a horrible idea is if you have a back door it’s not just the people you want to get in that are going to get in, it’s also the people you don’t want to get in. All of the technical experts pretty much agree on this.”

However, he acknowledged that the technology industry has a role to play in helping to educate politicians and the broader government about the risks of the proposed legislation.

“We have an active dialogue with governments around the world, and certainly will engage with the UK government to explain our views from a technical perspective on why things may or may not work,” he said.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill, published earlier this month, requires tech firms and service providers to help decrypt communications if requested through a warrant.

Today, communications services such as Apple’s iMessage and the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging service apply end-to-end encryption, which means providers could not read the contents even if they wanted to.

The draft Bill also requires web and phone companies to store internet histories of every citizen for 12 months.

Tagged , ,

Facebook to use Safety Check feature more often in wake of criticism

The social network’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the status tool will be used more often during human disasters, following outcry over the company not activating it during the bombings in Beirut.

Following criticism that Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for the Paris terrorist attacks but not the bombings in Beirut, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to use the status tool more often during human-made disasters.

Facebook activated the tool Friday after a series of shootings and bombings around France’s capital killed more than 100 people and injured more than 350 others. The tool automatically sends users in the affected area a note asking if they’re safe. When a user clicks “Yes, let my friends know,” the tool then notifies their Facebook friends.

More than 4 million people have used the tool to mark themselves safe following the Paris attacks. But after enacting another feature that allows users to alter their profile pictures to express solidarity for the people of Paris, the Mountain View, California-based social network came under fire for not extending the same attention to twin suicide bombings in a Beirut suburb that killed more than 40 people and injured 200 a day earlier. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for both the attacks in both cities.

“You are right that there are many other important conflicts in the world,” Zuckerberg wrote Saturday in a comment on Facebook.“We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”

Facebook said it began working on Safety Check after an earthquake caused a devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. The status tool has been activated a handful of times since its official launch in October 2014, including after the recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal, Facebook said.

While noting that “communication is critical in moments of crisis,” Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of growth, conceded that the tool isn’t perfect for all disaster situations.

“In the case of natural disasters, we apply a set of criteria that includes the scope, scale and impact,” Schultz wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “During an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.'”

Schultz said Facebook learned from the feedback it received following the Paris activation of Safety Check and will change its policy regarding when to activate the tool. He also said Facebook will “continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles.”

Facebook wasn’t the only social media outlet people turned to let people know they were safe during the Paris attacks. Parisians also took to Twitter to get information and express solidarity, as well as to help those seeking safety from the attacks. Under the hashtag #PorteOuverte (“open door”), Twitter users in Paris posted their address to offer shelter.

Tagged , , ,