Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Google tightens privacy to gain business customers

Jieming Zhu, CEO of cloud sharing service AlephCloud, says Google's experimentation with encrypting its Drive cloud storage service may go beyond appeasing consumers concerned about the government's PRISM surveillance program.
Google is trying to gain business customers for Google Apps, and faces an uphill battle to unseat Microsoft Office, especially with the Redmond giant pushing its hybrid cloud-and-client Office 365 suite, coupled with Microsoft's Skydrive cloud storage.
"Companies expect stronger security than consumers," says Zhu. "Offering a more secure solution to consumers will likely help attract business customers to the service."
While basic encryption is not technically difficult, several pitfalls lay in waiting for the search giant.
What would happen, Zhu wonders, if there's a lawsuit and the consumer claims they forgot the password needed to decrypt potentially relevant data? Or if a consumer stores data owned by their employer in the cloud and the employer finds out about it? Or if a person dies and their property, including their data, is supposed to pass to their heirs?
"It is unlikely that such issues will be addressed quickly, especially with a free service," says Zhu.
Security pros have long known that there is little privacy protection proffered in broadly distributed free consumer services like Drive and SkyDrive.
"Ironically it's taken the NSA PRISM scandal to raise the issue of privacy protection to the point where Google is implementing storage encryption, but this is just one in a series of steps," Zhu says. "Consumers have a cavalier, lackadaisical attitude towards security. Improvements in privacy protections mostly happen as a knee-jerk reaction to highly publicized negative events."

Motorola unveils fresh lineup of Droid smartphones

Motorola Mobility and Verizon Wireless refreshed the Droid lineup Tuesday with three new models headlined by the Droid Maxx. That's the Android handset that the companies claim can last two full days (under "normal" use). The previous Droid Razr Maxx HD, which was also 9% thicker than the latest 8.5 mm Droid model, had enough stamina for 32 hours. Droid Maxx will costs $299 with the customary two-year contract.
The new Droid trio is rounded out by the 7.18-mm thin Droid Ultra model for $199, said to be the thinnest 4G LTE phone on the market, and the compact $99 Droid Mini.
The Mini has a 4.3-inch high definition (720p) display; the other two new Droids have 5-inch HD screens.

Verizon is taking preorders today; the Ultra and Maxx launch August 20, while the Mini makes its debut August 29.
Among the features are a Droid Command Center home screen widget which shows notifications for texts, missed calls, battery level and weather. It is also a gateway to a Wireless Display mirroring feature that lets you display what's on the phone screen on a compatible HDTV.
The phones also can take advantage of touchless voice commands for, among other things, making calls, playing music and, if you misplace it under a couch say, you can summon Google Now to make it ring. You say, "OK Google Now, Call my Droid." You have to be near enough to the phone, of course, to have it hear you.
Another trick: you can summon the camera app from the lock screen, just by shaking your wrist.
The timing of the Verizon-Motorola announcement is interesting given that Motorola and Google will be unveiling the Moto X smartphone on August 1, the first new handset of note since Google acquired Motorola.

Electronics sales flat, but tablet and smartphones soar


Consumers are expected to spend about the same this year on smart phones, tablets and other gadgets as in 2012. And that's not all bad.

It seems counterintuitive, but the nation's continuing economic recovery may result in total consumer spending on electronics being flat this year.
The reason: Upbeat buyers have their sights set on bigger-ticket items, including vehicles and homes.
Still, electronics makers have plenty of highlights, with double-digit revenue increases for smartphones, tablets and smart TVs expected this year, according to economic forecasts out today from the Consumer Electronics Association.
Total wholesale sales of smartphones, tablets, TVs and other gadgets will generate an estimated $202.6 billion in 2013, a 0.2% increase over $202.3 billion last year, the CEA forecasts. But a wave of new gee-whiz TVs and the expected arrival of new video game consoles is expected to boost revenue 4.5% in 2014, to $211.7 billion.

"The brakes have been applied to growth for the time being," says Steve Koenig, CEA's director of industry analysis. "As we look ahead to next year, we anticipate the next wave of growth to manifest."
Among the factors that may lead to flat sales are the effects of the government sequestration and lower-than-expected growth in U.S. gross domestic product. More tangible, Koenig says, is the possibility of the tentative labor market calming and consumers spending on more expensive durable goods, including vehicles and homes.
"The car market is doing well, and the housing market continues to impress with housing starts up," Koenig says. "We think there's some pent-up demand for other durables at work here."
Driving this year's electronics sales — and last year's 3.7% rise — has been consumer interest in mobility and constant connectivity. "The industry is really dominated by smartphones and tablets, these mobile connected devices," he says.
Smartphones remain the largest revenue generator, up 14% to $37.9 billion, with unit sales also up 14%. Meanwhile, tablet revenues and unit sales are rising even faster: up 18% to $27.3 billion (unit sales up 45%). Household penetration of tablets is expected to rise from about 22% of homes having at least one tablet to 44% of homes, the CEA says.
New car sales are expected to drive revenue from automotive installed electronics — such as in-vehicle entertainment systems and security and remote-start systems — to $9.2 billion in 2013, up 17% from 2012.
While overall TV and video sales remain flat, there's expected growth in smart TVs — up 34% to $12.4 billion — as well as bigger TVs and new Ultra HDTVs. "They say 60 (inches) is the new 50," Koenig says. "We see even more momentum through Ultra-high-definition and OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) technology; 2014 will be the first year where we really have a full year of of sales for these next-generation technologies."
Headphones, soundbars and portable speakers also are all showing growth in audio. Headphone sales are expected to rise 13% to $1.4 billion in 2013; meanwhile, soundbars will generate $493 million (up 43%), and portable speakers, $302 million (up 35%).
The video game segment is projected to be down 2% in 2013, with spending on home and portable systems at about $2.7 billion. But the category should nearly double in 2014 to $5.3 billion, with Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 expected to have a full year in stores.
"In 2014 is when we also start to see other categories resurgent," Koenig says. "We have a lot of optimism there."

5 things to know Wednesday

Could door-to-door Postal Service delivery end soon?
First, it was doing away with Saturday delivery. Now, door-to-door service could be coming to an end. In an effort designed to cut costs at the cash-strapped agency by up to $4.5 billion a year, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-CA., is proposing the U.S Postal Service phase out door-to-door delivery and shift service curbside and to neighborhood cluster boxes. The proposal — due for vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — would affect about 37 million residences and businesses.

Don't speed on I-80
A stern warning for travelers on Interstate 80 from California to New Jersey: Don't speed. Troopers in 11 states along I-80 are stepping up enforcement beginning today and lasting through July 31. — which is annually one of the deadliest periods for crashes on that highway.
Marketers want piece of royal baby
If the royal baby could collect royalties from all the marketers welcoming him to the world, he'd be royally rich. Even as British marketers have been going gaga over the royal baby for months, with his birth, a flood of U.S. marketers are suddenly latching on, too, including Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Pizza Hut, Craftsman Tools and Pampers.
Meanwhile, we are still waiting to hear what the royal baby's name will be.
Apple earnings spotlight growth slowdown
The other shoe has dropped at Apple: Growth is cooling. Apple's second quarter ended a decade-long year-over-year profit run, capping an end to an era of dominance with ongoing price pressures. Now, the Silicon Valley gadget maker's third quarter shows a growth slowdown, leaving the company's once-runaway leadership deeply in question. "The longer they go without anything of consequence that is new, the more the pressure is on them to really hit a home run," says Gartner analyst Van Baker.

Pope Francis to visit shrine where he called for change

RIO DE JANEIRO – Pope Francis' visit Wednesday to Aparecida, a small Brazilian city that is home to the country's most important Roman Catholic shrine, is meant as a message to the world.
It was there in 2007 that Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, authored a document with fellow bishops calling for Catholics in Latin America to become missionaries and combat societal ills such as inequality, corruption and violence.
"The language that the bishops used in Aparecida is the language that the church is using now," says Robert Coogan, an American priest in Mexico and an observer of the Latin American church.
"Instead of thinking, 'The priests have to do something,' it's for each person to think: 'I have to do something. I have to make a difference.' "
The trip to Aparecida marks Francis' first event during World Youth Day, a gathering of more than 300,000 Catholics from the world over. He arrived Monday to throngs of well-wishers who excitedly closed in on his convoy in Rio's streets and prevented the pontiff from reaching his reception ceremony on time.
Many pilgrims and Catholics in Brazil – the world's most populous Catholic country – also have expressed hopes that Francis' visit and participation in World Youth Day can bring about renewal in a region with a receding congregation.
"We see some of the same energy (with young Catholics) that we haven't seen since Pope John Paul II, says Andrew Chesnut, religion studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "But whether it translates into numbers or real growth, especially in Latin America, where the church is most concerned, remains to be seen."
The gathering has proved popular since John Paul started it in 1987 as an encounter between young people and the pontiff – although attendance is slightly lower here in comparison to past years. Others in the church say the event serves a practical purpose: keeping youngsters committed to the Catholic faith and involved in church life.
"Any organization that doesn't look after its young people doesn't have much of a future. The Catholic Church is no different," Mexican Bishop Raúl Vera says.
Francis has spoken of his concern for young people, especially those growing up poor and without opportunities in tough economic times.
"Young people are an important part of society and should not been seen as apart from it," papal spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rio.
The week's World Youth Day agenda includes morning catechism classes, religious celebrations and a final celebration of Mass with the pope that is expected to attract more than 1 million attendees.
Francis expanded his own agenda to include themes important to his papacy such as simplicity and solidarity with the poor. He's scheduled to inaugurate an addiction treatment center in a Catholic Hospital on Wednesday and visit with residents of a shanty the next day.
Pope Francis spent Tuesday resting.
His arrival animated tens of thousands of young Catholics cramming the Rio city center, as they waved flags, chanted slogans and swarmed the four-door Fiat he was riding in.
"He's great, his style is simple and easy going," says David Bispo, who operates a popular bar in a shantytown known here as a favela. "I think that the pope will help bring young people back to the Catholic Church."

Royal baby: Fresh prince still has no name

The Prince of Cambridge has spent his first night at his new home at Kensington Palace with mom and dad, and was introduced to his great-grandmother the queen after she paid a visit there Wednesday, but his name is still a work in progress.
For the time being, what we know about the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is that he will be HRH Prince (insert name here) of Cambridge. But that's it.
When the Duke left St. Mary's Hospital on Tuesday with his new family he said they would have a name "as soon as we can."
And Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall told the assembled media and well-wishers outside the hospital that they had no idea what the child's name was.

A source with knowledge of the matter told London's Evening Standard newspaper that the happy couple have "a number of names in mind, but they wanted to see his little face and get to know him first."
NAME HIM IN ONE!: Create your own royal name
A number of names have emerged as likely contenders at bookmakers, including George and James, but it's not clear whether the royal couple will opt for a traditional-sounding name or break with protocol and go for something more unusual.
According to the BBC, it took a week for Prince William's parents — Diana and Charles — to announce their newborn's name in 1982, while the Prince of Wales' name was not revealed for a whole month when he was born in 1948. However, Prince Harry's name was made public when he left the hospital in 1984.
Reporters stationed outside the gates of Kensington Place said Wednesday over social media that the queen was seen entering the palace to visit her great-grandson after making the trip from Buckingham Palace in a green Bentley.
She stayed for approximately 30 minutes.
Earlier, there was speculation that Britain's monarch may not have had the opportunity to see the new baby before her traditional summer vacation at Balmoral, where she is headed on Friday

Could door-to-door Postal Service delivery end soon?


Congressional effort to cut Postal Service losses proposing an end to door-to-door mail delivery

First, it was doing away with Saturday delivery. Now, door-to-door service could be coming to an end.
In an effort designed to cut costs at the cash-strapped agency by up to $4.5 billion a year, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is proposing the U.S Postal Service phase out door-to-door delivery and shift service curbside and to neighborhood cluster boxes.
The proposal — due for vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday — would affect about 37 million residences and businesses.

The Postal Service spends about $30 billion annually on mail delivery, losing $15.9 billion last year alone. It does not receive federal assistance, getting revenue from postage sales, delivery services and other products. But mail service has dropped nearly 25% from 215 billion pieces delivered in 2006 to a current volume of 160 billion, says Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan.
The Postmaster General's office estimates labor-intensive door-to-door delivery costs an average $353 a year. Curbside delivery averages $224; cluster boxes, just $160. The Postal Service, currently making 54 million curbside deliveries and 40 million to cluster boxes and central locations, has been moving toward collective deliveries at shopping malls, business parks and newer residential developments.
"A balanced approach to saving the Postal Service means allowing USPS to adapt to America's changing use of mail,'' Issa said in a statement. "Done right, these reforms can improve the customer experience through a more efficient Postal Service."
Postmaster General Patrick Donahue has been seeking flexibility in the way the Postal Service delivers mail, such as cutting Saturday delivery — which drew strong public and Congressional criticism when it was proposed last year. In April, the Postal Service said it was scuttling plans to end Saturday service this summer, although ending six-day service is still eventual possible, says Ali Ahmad, communications adviser to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs.
The National Letter Carriers Union, which opposes ending six-day delivery, is also against ending door-to-door delivery, which is says would hurt jobs and harm elderly and shut-ins who would have difficulty receiving mail.
Issa's proposal would allow for free hardship exemptions and door-to-door deliveries for small, unspecified fees, Ahmad says.