Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

Power

Tesla Will Sell Solar Panels, Powerwalls At Home Depot (bloomberg.com) 86

Tesla is bringing photovaltaic panels and Powerwall batteries to U.S. retail giant Home Depot. According to Bloomberg, "The tech pioneer is beginning to roll out Tesla-branded selling spaces at 800 of the retailer's locations. The areas, which will be outfitted during the first half of this year, are staffed by Tesla employees and can demonstrate its solar panels and Powerwall battery." From the report: Lowe's -- the second-largest U.S. home-improvement chain, after Home Depot -- has also been in discussions with Tesla about selling its solar products, said people familiar with the situation. At some point, Home Depot may also offer Tesla's much-anticipated solar roof, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. [The products] will be highlighted in high-profile displays, which are 12 feet tall and 7 feet wide. Some locations will be fitted with visual demonstrations that show how the products work.
Windows

Microsoft Is Now Selling a Surface Laptop With An Intel Core m3 Processor For $799 (windowscentral.com) 108

Microsoft has begun offering a lower specced Surface laptop running Windows 10 S and an Intel Core m3 processor. It's priced at $799, compared to the standard model's $999 price, and is only available in the platinum color configuration. Windows Central reports: The Intel Core m3 spec is paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB Storage. This is definitely not a high-end model of the Surface Laptop, but it's still a premium one, with the same Alcantara fabric and high-quality display found on other Surface Laptop SKUs. Microsoft offers an Intel Core m3 model of the Surface Pro priced at $799 also, however that SKU doesn't come bundled with a keyboard or pen. At least with the Surface Laptop, you're getting a keyboard and trackpad in the box, so perhaps the Intel Core m3 Laptop is going to be the better choice for many. If you're looking for a straight laptop by Microsoft, that is. Some other specs include a 2256 x 1504 resolution display, Intel HD graphics 615, 720p webcam with Windows Hello face-authentication, Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium, one full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack and Surface Connect port. The device measures in a 12.13 inches x 8.79 inches x 0.57 inches and weighs 2.76 pounds.
Microsoft

Surface Pro 4 Owners Are Putting Their Tablets in Freezers To Fix Screen Flickering Issues (theverge.com) 87

Hundreds of Surface Pro 4 owners have been complaining about screen flickering issues on their tablets, and many are putting it in freezers to "fix" it. From a report: A thread over at Microsoft's support forums shows that the problems have been occurring for more than a year, and most devices affected are out of warranty. Dubbed "Flickergate," a website to report the issues claims at least 1,600 Surface Pro 4 owners have experienced the screen flickering problems. The flickering appears to be a hardware issue, which occurs after the device heats up during use. Some owners have even started freezing their tablets to stop the screen flickering temporarily. "I get about half an hour's use out of it after ten minutes in the freezer," says one owner. Another user posted a video showing how the flickering stops as soon as the Surface Pro 4 is placed in a freezer.
Android

LG Settles Bootloop Lawsuit With $425 Cash Or a $700 Rebate Toward a New LG Phone (androidpolice.com) 38

Early last year, a class-action lawsuit was filed against LG over bootloop issues affecting their G4 and V10 smartphones. Now, according to a settlement website set up by the law firm Girard Gibbs, members of the lawsuit have received a settlement offer. The only catch is that the settlement is only for plaintiffs of the initial case. Android Police reports: LG is offering plaintiffs either $425 as a cash settlement or a $700 rebate toward the purchase of a new LG phone. That's pretty generous, and it's clear that's going to help offset some of the anger LG's created with this whole incident. If you're one of the plaintiffs, you don't have to mail in your broken phone or anything, you just get the settlement offer, straight up. Members of the class will be contacted shortly with instructions on how to take advantage of the settlement. Payments will be distributed beginning in March.
Iphone

Apple Begins Selling Refurbished iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Models (macrumors.com) 75

Apple today has added refurbished iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models to its online store for the first time in the United States. MacRumors reports: iPhone 7 models are available in all three storage capacities, including 32GB for $499, 128GB for $589, and 256GB for $679, reflecting savings of 10 percent off Apple's current prices for brand new models. All five colors are currently in stock, including Black, Jet Black, Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold. iPhone 7 Plus models with 32GB or 128GB of storage are available for $599 and $689 respectively, which is also 10 percent off. There are no 256GB models in stock. Available colors include Black, Gold, and Rose Gold. Apple says all refurbished iPhone models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged with a new white box and all manuals and accessories. Apple also installs a new battery and replaces the outer shell, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between a refurbished and brand new iPhone. Any refurbished iPhone model comes with Apple's standard one-year warranty effective on the date the device is delivered. The warranty can be extended to up to two years from the original purchase date with AppleCare+, at a cost of $129 for the iPhone 7 and $149 for the iPhone 7 Plus in the United States.
Patents

Amazon Patents Wristbands Designed To Track and Steer Employees' Movements (nydailynews.com) 96

New submitter hyperclocker shares a report from NY Daily News: Amazon workplace employees may soon be guided by their wrists. The tech company this week received two patents for a wristband designed to guide warehouse workers' movements with the use of vibrations. The concept relies on ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions to detect the position of an employee's hand in relation to a series of inventory bins, GeekWire reported. Upon receiving product orders, warehouse workers are required to retrieve the requested item from such bins or shelves and pack it in a delivery box before moving on to the next order. If a worker's hands begin to move toward the wrong direction, the proposed "haptic feedback system" would cause the wristband to buzz and direct their hand in the correct direction. The wristbands, according to the patent documents, were designed as a means to keep track of products within Amazon warehouses as well as up day-to-day productivity. The proposed tech, however, could also provide Amazon management with a new means of workplace surveillance that would alert them to staffers who are wasting time or breaking for too long.
Data Storage

Backblaze Hard Drive Stats for 2017 (backblaze.com) 93

BackBlaze is back with its hard drive reliability report. From the blog post: Beginning in April 2013, Backblaze has recorded and saved daily hard drive statistics from the drives in our data centers. Each entry consists of the date, manufacturer, model, serial number, status (operational or failed), and all of the SMART attributes reported by that drive. As of the end of 2017, there are about 88 million entries totaling 23 GB of data. At the end of 2017 we had 93,240 spinning hard drives. Of that number, there were 1,935 boot drives and 91,305 data drives. This post looks at the hard drive statistics of the data drives we monitor. We'll review the stats for Q4 2017, all of 2017, and the lifetime statistics for all of the drives Backblaze has used in our cloud storage data centers since we started keeping track.
Cloud

Microsoft's Cloud Bet Continues To Pay Off In Latest Earnings (theverge.com) 63

In its 2018 financial results, Microsoft reported revenue of $28.9 billion and net income of $7.5 billion. "Revenue has jumped 12 percent year-over-year during the holiday quarter, and the trend of Microsoft's success with the cloud has continued," reports The Verge. "This time around, Azure revenue has increased by a massive 98 percent." From the report: Overall server and cloud services revenue grew 18 percent year-over-year, alongside the massive 98 percent jump in Azure revenue. It's clear Microsoft's future growth and revenue opportunities are with the cloud, so it's no surprise to see the company continually investing there to be competitive with Amazon. Microsoft's Office 365 subscription bet for consumers is also paying off. 29.2 million people are now using Office 365 on the consumer side, with revenue increasing 12 percent year-over-year for Office consumer and cloud. On the commercial side, Office revenue is also up at a 10 percent increase since the same period last year.
Government

White House Seeks 72 Percent Cut To Clean Energy Research (engadget.com) 390

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is pro fossil fuels and has little interest in pushing programs the promote renewable energy. Now, the Washington Post reports that the president's proposed 2019 budget slashes funds for Energy Department programs focused on energy efficiency. While the proposal is just a jumping off point, the fact that it seeks to cut such funding by 72 percent underscores where the administration's interests lie and in which direction its policies will continue to go. The draft budget documents viewed by Washington Post staff showed that the president is looking to cut the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) budget to $575.5 million, down from the current $2.04 billion level. Included in the budget cuts are funds for programs researching fuel efficient vehicles, bioenergy technologies, solar energy technology and electric car technologies. Additionally, the draft budget proposal seeks to cut jobs, dropping staff levels from 680 down to 450. One EERE employee told the Washington Post, "It shows that we've made no inroads in terms of convincing the administration of our value, and if anything, our value based on these numbers has dropped." The report notes that the Energy Department had requested less extreme spending cuts, but the Office of Management and Budget pushed for the more substantial ones found in the draft proposal. It's also worth noting that the proposal could still be changed before being released in February.
Businesses

Big Backing For 'Universal Stylus' Campaign (bbc.com) 87

Google has backed an effort to standardise touch-screen styluses so they can be used on many devices. From a report: The Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) was launched, in 2015, to encourage companies to produce styluses that work on rivals' products Dell, Intel, Lenovo, LG and graphics tablet-maker Wacom have all backed the project. However, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung have not. One expert suggested the big brands would keep their proprietary pens. Styluses designed to work with modern touch-screen devices and graphics tablets usually contain sensors to detect pressure, movement and orientation of the pen.
Software

Pocket-Sized DNA Reader Used To Scan Entire Human Genome Sequence (arstechnica.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A few years back, a company called Oxford Nanopore announced it was developing a radically different way of sequencing DNA. Its approach involved taking single strands of the double helix and stuffing them through a protein pore. With a small bit of current flowing across the pore, the four bases of DNA each created a distinct (if tiny) change in the voltage as it passed through. These could be used to read the DNA one base at a time as it wiggled through the pore. After several years of slow progress, Oxford Nanopore announced that its sequencing hardware would be as distinctive as its wetware: a USB device that could fit comfortably in a person's hand. As the first devices went out to users, it became clear that the device had some pros and cons. On the plus side, the device was quick and could be used without requiring a large facility to support it. It could also read very long stretches of DNA at once. But the downside was significant: it made lots of mistakes.

With a few years of experience, people are now starting to learn to make the most of the devices, as demonstrated by a new paper in which researchers use it to help sequence a human genome. By using the machine's long reads -- in one case, nearly 900,000 bases from one DNA molecule -- the authors were able to get data out of areas of the human genome that resisted characterization before. And they were able to distinguish between the two sets of chromosomes (one from mom, one from dad) and locate areas of epigenetic control in many areas of the genome. In light of all the distinct information it can provide, the machine's error rate is seeming like less of a problem.

Businesses

T-Mobile Commits To 100 Percent Renewable Electricity By 2021 (cnbc.com) 64

T-Mobile said on Monday that it will move to 100 percent renewable electricity by the year 2021. It had also "finalized a contract for wind power from the Solomon Forks Wind Project in Kansas," reports CNBC. "Power generation there is due to begin at the beginning of 2019, and will supplement the energy T-Mobile receives from the Red Dirt Wind Power Project in Oklahoma." From the report: John Legere, T-Mobile's president and CEO, said moving to renewable energy was the right thing to do and smart business. "We expect to cut T-Mobile's energy costs by around $100 million in the next 15 years thanks to this move," he added. T-Mobile has also joined the RE100, a group of global businesses committed to renewable power. Other members of the RE100 include Apple, Facebook and Google.
Iphone

US Government Investigates Apple Over iPhone Battery Slowdowns (phonedog.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PhoneDog: The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Apple about its updates that slowed performance on iPhones with older batteries. Sources speaking to Bloomberg say that the agencies are looking into whether Apple violated securities laws regarding disclosures about its updates that throttled older iPhones. So far, the DOJ and SEC have requested information from Apple. Because the investigation is still early, it's unclear if the agencies will actually take an action against Apple. Apple apologized for not being more clear about its actions after the news of its performance-throttling updates came out, but we've still seen class action lawsuits and now this investigation come out. The good news is that Apple will be more transparent about iPhone battery health and performance in the future, but for now, it'll have to deal with the DOJ and SEC.
Robotics

Robot Delivery Vans Are Arriving Before Self-Driving Cars (bloomberg.com) 116

The future of driverless driving looks like a giant toaster with a funny hat. From a report: That's an approximation of a new autonomous vehicle unveiled Tuesday by Nuro, a Silicon Valley startup that's been cryptic about its business plan since it launched about 18 months ago. Nuro's shiny, minimalist appliance on wheels doesn't have doors or windows to speak of, because it will be carrying packages -- not people. As every major automaker and dozens of tech companies race to replace drivers in Uber cars and taxi fleets, Nuro is ignoring humans altogether and steering for Amazon.com, United Parcel Service and any retailer looking to build its e-commerce business.
Robotics

The Next Time You Order Room Service, It May Come by Robot (nytimes.com) 93

Hotels across the country are rushing to introduce robots with the promise of enhancing the guest experience and increasing efficiency. From a report: The automated companions can do everything from make and pick up deliveries to help guests find their way around. Aloft Cupertino in the Silicon Valley (rates from $150) was the first hotel in the United States to debut Savioke's Relay robot in 2014. The three foot tall autonomous robot, nicknamed Botlr, weighs 90 pounds and makes deliveries throughout the hotel using multiple sensors, 3D cameras and Wi-Fi to operate the elevators. Marriott has since begun mobile robot service at four other Aloft properties. Other hotels are following suit. H Hotel Los Angeles's Relay robot, named Hannah, made 610 front desk deliveries and 42 room service deliveries, traveling a total of 50 miles, in the first three months since the hotel opened last October (rates from $249).
United States

Americans Are Saving Energy Because Fewer People Go Outside (theverge.com) 202

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Americans are saving energy because they don't go outside as much anymore, researchers say. It's a plus for the environment, though in another light (no pun intended), it's just sad. In 2012, Americans spent an extra eight days at home compared to 2003, according to the American Time Use Surveys. Being at home means using more energy by keeping the lights on and watching TV. But it also means less travel, and it means that fewer people are outside operating offices and stores. So overall in 2012, we saved 1,700 trillion British thermal units (BTU) of heat, or 1.8 percent of the national total, according to an analysis published today in the journal Joule. That's about how much energy Kentucky produced in all of 2015. Specifically in 2012, Americans spent one day less traveling and one week less in buildings other than their homes when compared to a decade earlier. The trend of staying indoors is especially strong for those ages 18 to 24: the youths spent 70 percent more time at home than the general population. At the other end of the age spectrum, those 65 and older were the only group that spent more time outside the home compared to 2003. Next, the researchers want to look at energy consumption changes in other countries as a result of lifestyle changes.
IOS

There May Not Be An iPhone SE 2 After All (theverge.com) 58

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo issued a research note today that casts doubt on rumors about a second-generation iPhone SE launching in the second quarter of 2018. If there is a successor, customers can expect a minor update that amounts to a run-of-the-mill spec boost and no new features like wireless charging or Face ID. The Verge reports: According to Kuo, between the three phones Apple released last year (iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X) and the three phones rumored to be released this fall, the company may not have enough development resources for an SE follow up as a fourth phone for 2018. That said, Kuo also does acknowledge that a basic processor update could still happen, but it seems that SE fans should keep expectations low. The iPhone SE still fills an interesting place in Apple's lineup. It uses the same design as the iPhone 5, which was released in 2012, with the 2015 internals of an iPhone 6s. This means the current model would get a boost in processor speed -- something that will likely continue to get worse with the presumed release of iOS 12 this fall. But SE is still popular for its low price and smaller size among consumers. Compared to the giant 6-inch-plus phones Apple is rumored to be releasing this year, it could make sense to keep an updated version of the smaller SE around.
Power

Giant Tesla Battery In Australia Earns A Million Bucks In a Few Days (electrek.co) 222

Long-time Slashdot reader drinkypoo writes: Last week, Neoen's and Tesla's massive battery was paid up to $1000/MWh to charge itself and now it could have earned up to 1 million AUD in the last few days by selling the power back to the grid to cover a coal plant outage. Unlike other forms of power storage, battery systems can be switched between states (charging, discharging, or idle) effectively instantly, which permits a stabilizing effect on the grid.
"What we are seeing here," writes Fred Lambert at Electrek.co, "is the Powerpack system enabling Neoen to sell electricity at up to $14,000 AUD per MWh and charging itself at almost no cost during overproduction."
Power

Tesla Employees Say Gigafactory Problems Are Worse Than Known (cnbc.com) 184

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Tesla's problems with battery production at the company's Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, are worse than the company has acknowledged and could cause further delays and quality issues for the new Model 3, according to a number of current and former Tesla employees. These problems include Tesla needing to make some of the batteries by hand and borrowing scores of employees from one of its suppliers to help with this manual assembly, said these people. Tesla's future as a mass-market carmaker hinges on automated production of the Model 3, which more than 400,000 people have already reserved, paying $1,000 refundable fees to do so. The company has already delayed production, citing problems at the Gigafactory. On Nov. 1, 2017, CEO Elon Musk assured investors in an earnings call that Tesla was making strides to correct its manufacturing issues and get the Model 3 out. But more than a month later, in mid-December, Tesla was still making its Model 3 batteries partly by hand, according to current engineers and ex-Tesla employees who worked at the Gigafactory in recent months. They say Tesla had to "borrow" scores of employees from Panasonic, which is a partner in the Gigafactory and supplies lithium-ion battery cells, to help with this manual assembly. Tesla is still not close to mass producing batteries for the basic $35,000 model of this electric sedan, sources say.

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