Saturday, February 28, 2015

IKEA to sell furniture that can wirelessly charge your phone

BARCELONA--IKEA wants to make wireless charging a reality in your home.

ikeavert.jpg IKEA will start carrying wireless-charging-capable furniture in April. Roger Cheng/CNET

The world's largest furniture maker said on Sunday that it would begin selling tables, work desks, nightstands and other pieces of furniture with capable of wirelessly charging your smartphone when placed in contact. The new line of furniture will hit stores on April 15 in North America and Europe, with plans to expand to other regions.

It's a rare move forward in technology for IKEA, known best for its massive showroom stores, affordable assemble-it-yourself furniture and its Swedish meatballs. For consumers with compatible smartphones and cases, it's an added convenience and extra incentive to go with IKEA.

"We're making life easier, more convenient," said Bjorn Block, a range manager of the business area lighting division at IKEA

It's an even bigger deal for the Wireless Power Consortium, which gains a powerful ally with IKEA embracing its Qi technology. The WPC is seen as the party left out of the mix when the other two major groups in wireless charging, the Alliance for Wireless Power, backed by Samsung and Qualcomm, agreed to merge with the Power Matters Alliance, championed by Duracell Powermat.

Check out CNET's hands-on with wireless charging fields

The dilemma has been that the Qi wireless charging technology is available in more mobile devices like smartphones, while the PMA technology is available in stores like select Starbucks and McDonald's -- yet they can't work with each other. The third standard from A4WP is backed by industry heavy hitters like Samsung, Qualcomm and Intel, but it hasn't yet released any commercially compatible products.

PMA and A4WP are expected to merge by the middle of the year.

With so many heavy hitters on the other side, why did IKEA go with WPC? The volume of smartphones in the market, which includes select Lumia, LG and Samsung handsets, swayed the furniture giant.

"This was at the present point of time the only and most suitable standard for IKEA," Block said.

While IKEA represents a powerful ally, the WPC still stands as an underdog. It has worked on getting its wireless charging technology in more products, including inside vehicles and, with IKEA, in the home.

"We're delighted to have IKEA as part of the group," said John Perzow, vice president of market development.

The WPC's four principles of safe, efficient, cost effective and being interoperable and backward compatibility conflicts with the other groups, which is why there hasn't been much progress with consolidation, Perzow said.

IKEA's products include bedside tables, desks and lamps, which will all contain a charging spot for phones. Block added that IKEA will sell a kit that will allow people to customize existing furniture with a wireless charging spot.

IKEA will initially have one to two collections a year with the technology with a long-term goal of moving to 10 collections.

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from CNET

Falls in Autumn

Dispersing fog and a moment of sunshine bring the falls and foliage of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park into view on an early autumn morning. The country’s oldest and largest national park, Plitvice boasts more than plunging waterfalls: Its 16 terraced lakes, formed by natural travertine dams, change color throughout the day, and its abundant wildlife includes 261 species of birds.

Vedrana Tafra’s image was recently featured in Your Shot’s Daily Dozen.

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from National Geographic

The Dress: America is split at the seams, says survey

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

dress7.jpg Surely everyone sees white and a dirty gold, no? BBC; YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We live in divisive times.

Republicans and Democrats show just what is achieved when you disagree on principle. By that I mean, of course, that your principle is to disagree with everything the other side says.

I had hoped, though, that there might be a consensus as to what color that dress was. Or rather #TheDress.

You can only have been arrested by rodents and charged with infiltrating your home town's sewer system if you haven't heard of this item of clothing.

A hashtag appeared. It was #whatcoloristhisdress. To many it seemed white and a dirty gold color. It turned out to be black and blue. Science weighed in to explain how our brains trick us into seeing colors that aren't the true colors at all.

Since when, though, has science ever delivered us truth? However, now I have before my eyes a survey that shows America's eyes are as deeply divided as its souls.

The survey, performed by Survata, asked a simple question: What are the colors of this dress? The results provide only distress.

42 percent saw black and blue. 40 percent saw white and gold. An astounding, confounding 18 percent said they saw neither color combination.

I fear that the Supreme Court may have to get involved.

Survata's CEO, Chris Kelly, told me: "This question truly has America split right down the middle, with neither color combination being a clear winner. The only clear winner seems to be British retailer Roman Originals, the maker of the infamous dress."

Oh, those writing about it have done all right by it too.

Survata surveyed 430 Americans yesterday across all ages. This is the sort of thing the company regularly does. The results, I am promised, are within the margin of error. My own margin of error was vast, as all I saw was white and dirty gold.

I delved deeper into the statistics, though.

The age groups that saw more black and blue were 13-17, 18-24 and 45-54. White and gold was dominant in the 25-34, 35-44 and 55-64 groups. "Neither" was the dominant choice for the 65 and overs. Perhaps they just couldn't stop guffawing at being asked such a ridiculous question.

I fear, though, that too many will be judged -- and, worse, will judge themselves -- on their response to this controversy of global significance.

I am currently wearing a blue and gold Golden State Warriors shirt. At least I think I am.

from CNET

HTC One M9 phone is star of supposedly leaked hands-on video

Ohh: gold. But is this supposedly leaked video of HTC's flagship phone the real deal? Ohh: gold. But is this supposedly leaked video of HTC's flagship phone the real deal? Screenshot by CNET

If an apparently leaked video is indeed the real thing, HTC's flagship smartphone has added a little gold to its wardrobe.

The video, entitled "HTC One M9 Hands on (Before MWC 2015)," showed up on YouTube today -- a day before HTC unofficially kicks off Barcelona's Mobile World Congress confab with a press event. (The company plans to use the trade show as a coming out party for the new HTC. CNET will be live-blogging tomorrow's happening.)

The video appears to be a clip shot under embargo (meaning HTC granted a media outlet access to the phone in exchange for the promise that footage wouldn't be published till an agreed-on time). It also appears the embargo somehow got broken (again: if the clip is legit).

The footage shows a supposed One M9 that looks very similar to predecessors the One M7 and One M8.

Like the M8, the purported M9 has an all-metal frame, but this time it has a "dual-finish," with the back being silver and the edges gold. (No word yet on whether some viewers see the phone as not silver and gold but as black and blue.)

Some buttons have been repositioned on the purported M9, and a big difference is that the M8's back-mounted dual-camera has allegedly been replaced with a single, 20-megapixel camera on the back, and a single, 4-megapixel "ultrapixel" camera on the front. (That gibes with an earlier rumor, though still another rumor had it that HTC was going to ditch its proprietary ultrapixel technology this time out. You can check out our rumor roundup here.)

The video's narrator says that with the bigger, 20-megapixel camera on the back, HTC couldn't fit a second camera there, and that the smaller camera on the front should be good for shooting low-light, indoor selfies.

So, is this actually an HTC One M9? We'll find out Sunday. Join us for our live blog. And check out all our Mobile World Congress coverage.

[embedded content]

from CNET

Pianist to perform musical duet with slime mold

miranda.jpg Eduardo Miranda, a professor at the UK's Plymouth University, has figured out how fungus can make music. Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

There's a fungus among us -- and it's quite talented.

The organism, physarum polycephalum , will perform Sunday as half of a musical duo appearing at the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival sponsored by the UK's Plymouth University. The other half, on a grand piano fitted with small electromagnets, will be professor and composer Eduardo Miranda, head of the school's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research. Miranda has found a way to use fungus cultures to drive an interactive "biocomputer" that picks up and responds to sound signals.

Biocomputers combine silicon processors with processors made from microbiological organisms. In this case, that organism is a yellow slime mold that inhabits moist, shady forests and woodlands. Its body can conduct electricity, so it's been recruited to form a living component of an analog circuit that can change its state according to what it "hears."

circuit.jpg Slime mold forms part of an analog circuit in the musical biocomputer. (Click to enlarge.) Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

To write his composition, titled "Biocomputer Music," Miranda and team designed iPad software that communicates with the musical biocomputer and allows the pianist to employ specific clusters of electromagnets. A microphone picks up the notes Miranda plays and delivers them to the musical biocomputer.

Depending on how the single-cell organism reacts, "this triggers a set of notes, or an accompaniment, that is then sent to the electromagnets and they play the strings of the piano," Ed Braund, a doctoral student at the Centre for Computer Music Research, explains in the video below. Specifically, they hover just above the metal strings, causing them to vibrate and produce distinctive sounds that alternate between eerie and ethereal.

Miranda stresses that the slime mold can be programmed to play any kind of music. "At the end of the day this is just a new musical instrument; musicians can play whatever they like on a piano, guitar or sampler," he told the site Noisey.

Next up, Miranda and his team hope to conduct further experiment, with the aim of creating more sophisticated machines with the fungus. "My goal is to make this technology more widely available, so other musicians can have a go as well," Miranda added.

Who knows? Before long, slime mold could be sweeping the Grammys.

from CNET

CNET's Twitter team for Mobile World Congress 2015

Wondering what hashtag to use for your Mobile World Congress 2015 tweets? Answer: #MWC15. Stephen Shankland/CNET

CNET editors from around the globe are on the ground in Barcelona, getting ready to bring you everything new and interesting from Mobile World Congress 2015. Some of the top mobile companies in the world are gathering to reveal the future of smartphones, and we'll be there to bring you all the latest.

Here are the accounts to follow for all the best at MWC.

CNET - The best of everything at MWC.

Follow @rogerwcheng Roger Cheng, Executive Editor, News

Jason Jenkins, Director of Content

Follow @gabosama Gabriel Sama, Managing editor, CNET en Español

Follow @jdolcourt Jessica Dolcourt, Senior Editor, Phones

Follow @onegarzon Juan Garzon, Senior Editor, CNET en Español

Follow @Batteryhq Andrew Hoyle, Senior Editor

Follow @lynnlaaa Lynn La, Associate Editor, Phones

Follow @longadin Aloysius Low, Senior Writer, Mobile

Follow @miblogestublog Laura Martinez, Senior Editor, CNET en Español

Follow @vanehand Vanessa Hand Orellana, Senior Editor, CNET en Español

Follow @sharonprofis Sharon Profis, Senior Editor

Follow @benfoxrubin Ben Fox Rubin, Staff Writer, News

Follow @stshank Stephen Shankland, Senior Writer, News

Follow @jetscott Scott Stein, Senior Editor, Wearable Tech

Rich Trenholm, Senior Editor

Luke Westaway, Senior Editor

Follow @marmotilla Marta Franco, Associate Producer, CNET en Español

Marc Ganley, Video Producer

Follow @sallyneiman Sally Neiman, Video Producer, CNET en Español

You can also follow all our Mobile World Congress editors at once by following this CNET Twitter list: CNET at MWC

If Twitter isn't your thing, you can also catch the best MWC highlights on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+.

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from CNET

Tim Cook to governments: Lay off our privacy

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

cook789.jpg "My government wants to watch me, and I don't like that." Les Grossman; YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Governments must think it terribly seductive, if not downright clever, when they encourage us to let them peek at everything we do.

It is, as many a parent chooses to argue, only for our own good.

It's as if they don't see the misgivings that come along with unlimited access to our lives. Apple CEO Tim Cook thinks such sales patter is misguided.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he said: "Terrorism is horrible and must be stopped. All of us must do everything we can do to stop this craziness."

It's unlikely the craziness can be entirely stopped. But Cook believes that "these people shouldn't exist. They should be eliminated."

But what of our role in their elimination?

Cook was very clear that our role is (and should be) limited. He said: "None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn't give it up. We shouldn't give in to scaremongering or to people who fundamentally don't understand the details."

There's an unmistakable suggestion that he thinks those in government who suggest blanket surveillance have no idea what's really going on.

Cook explained that terrorists have their own encryption systems. If governments forced companies like Apple not to encrypt data, then the only people affected would be the good people.

Apple's CEO also reiterated some of the basics of the company's business: that its product is its product, and its customer isn't. The implication is that Google and Facebook are selling you.

He said people don't realize just how much such companies want to piece together your data from many different sources in order to have a complete picture of your behavior and, indeed, your inner self.

Apple, he said, believes in doing the right thing. Now, that's a seductive argument, also used by some parents to explain how wrong their children are.

Cook said: "We don't have access to your messages. We don't think you want us to know the intimate details of your business and personal communication. I don't have a right to know that. We don't keep any of that. We don't scan it for the things you say about your Hawaii trip so that we can then sell you targeted advertising. Could we make money from it? Of course. But it's not in our values system."

It's quaint to think companies still maintain values. Some might sniff, as have executives from Google and Motorola, that Apple's values include gouging the maximum (and unreasonable) amount of cash from every consumer.

Moreover, it is we who so gleefully give up our privacy in exchange for flimsy conveniences like posting our vacation Speedo shots for all to see.

Cook, though, seems to believe that his company's governance ought to be an example for his country's government.

He said: "It is a cop-out to say: choose between privacy or security. There is no reason why customers should have to select one. There is no reason not to have both."

This sounds like an argument couched in purely business terms. However, it's surely an encouragement to governments all over the world to consider whether its citizens' private lives do have a value.

Isn't part of protecting your country protecting the private selves of the people who live in it?

from CNET

Barcelona braces for Mobile World Congress 2015 (pictures)

Mobile World Congress attendees grumbled in 2013 when the show moved away from its earlier location closer to central Barcelona to an industrial area west in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, but the latter's city government is trying to make attendees feel better about the new digs. The more remote location means a lot more transit woes, especially for those traveling to off-site events at hotels in Barcelona.

from CNET

Astronaut Salutes Nimoy From Orbit

Oh my glob! 'Adventure Time' headed to big screen, report says

adventure-time-cartoon-network.jpg Jake the Dog and Finn the Human from Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time."Cartoon Network

"Adventure Time" could be moving from the TV screen to the big screen. According to a report in Deadline, Cartoon Network's hit animated series has inked a movie deal with Warner Bros. that could get it into theaters before you can say oh my glob.

For those who somehow haven't seen "Adventure Time," the series started with a short that went viral in 2007, and now is one of the top animated series on the Cartoon Network.

It follows the whimsical adventures of Finn, the last human, and Jake the magical dog, as they try to save the mythical land of Ooo from the likes of The Ice King and The Lich. The series has become so popular that it's attracted guest appearances from the likes of George Takei, Mark Hamill and Neil Patrick Harris.

The "Adventure Time" movie will be produced by a powerhouse team of Chris McKay and Roy Lee, the according to the Deadline report. McKay was a producer on 2014's hit animated movie "The Lego Movie," and has signed on to direct the upcoming "The Lego Batman Movie." Lee was also a producer on "The Lego Movie" as well as the popular "How to Train your Dragon" movies.

While Warner Bros. is said to head up the movie's production, Cartoon Network and Pendleton Ward, the creator of the series, will also be involved. We don't yet know when "Adventure Time" will make its way to theaters, but with a production crew this good, the movie will likely be worth the wait no matter how long it takes Finn, Jake, Princess Bubblegum and the rest of the crew to hit the big screen.

from CNET

Finding psychological insights through social media

Can money buy happiness? The relationship between money and well-being

For Samsung, Galaxy S6 needs to hit with a big bang

Samsung will soon introduce the Galaxy S6, which follows the release of the Note 4 (pictured here) last fall. Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung, set to debut new models of its top-of-the-line smartphone, needs to offer a design that convinces people to do something they didn't do the last time the Galaxy was updated: buy them.

After leading the smartphone market for the past four years, Samsung has seen its profit slide as customers have defected to rival Xiaomi in China, Micromax in India and Apple nearly everywhere else. In the global smartphone market, Samsung tied with Apple as the No. 1 vendor in the fourth quarter of 2014 -- a competitor it had crushed not too long ago.

With the new Galaxy S6, set to debut on Sunday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung is expected to deliver two versions of the smartphone that incorporate sleeker materials, like metal, versus its previous plastic designs. And at least one model is believed to sport a curved display that wraps around the sides of the device. The South Korean electronics maker may also unveil a mobile payments service that rivals the Apple Pay service introduced last year along with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Overall, the smartphones are expected to be a drastic upgrade from its current Galaxy S5, which was snubbed by reviewers -- and consumers -- for being too similar to the S4. For Samsung to reclaim its position, or at least stop its freefall, it needs to offer something different. And even more than that, Samsung has to prove it's listening to what consumers want -- sleeker designs, less bloatware and software features people actually use.

"This new device is absolutely critical in terms of getting momentum going again, turning things around and proving Samsung has still got it and can deliver a killer device," said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research.

Samsung's rise

Even before Samsung launched its popular Galaxy S3 in early 2012, the company was already riding high in the mobile phone market. The Galaxy S2, released the year before, helped Samsung take the crown from Nokia as the world's biggest cellphone vendor in the first quarter of 2012.

With the Galaxy S3, its market share skyrocketed. The device was available at all US carriers at the same time -- something very rare at the time. Rather than rely on wireless providers to promote its products in return for exclusive agreements, Samsung persuaded the major carriers to sell the S3 even though they knew rivals would get the phone as well.

It didn't show the carriers the device in advance but shared its marketing plans, helping the carriers feel like they were part of the S3 rollout while Samsung shouldered most of the burden for pushing its device. Ultimately, having the same smartphone at all carriers at once helped Samsung create a focused marketing campaign around a single product -- yes, the way Apple does -- and it's a model now emulated by HTC and LG.

While the Galaxy S4 in 2013 looked similar to its predecessor, it sported more bells and whistles, including a TV control app and a built-in translation tool. There was also software that tracks users' eye movement to control the device, such as pausing a video when the user looks away from the screen. Samsung is believed to have sold about 40 million units of the device in the first six months on the market, a slightly slower pace than Galaxy S3 sales.

At the same time, Samsung pioneered so-called phablets -- large-screen devices serving as phone-tablet hybrids. Though 2011's 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, was initially mocked for an almost comically large display, the bigger-screen phone appealed to consumers, especially in Asian markets. There was a begrudging acceptance of the Note 2 in the market in 2012 and eager anticipation for the Note 3 in 2013 and the Note 4 last year. The Note led to similar big-screen devices from rival handset vendors including HTC and LG. Even Apple, after dismissing phablets, followed suit last September with the 6-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

Samsung's Galaxy S3 became one of the company's best selling phones of all time. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Note line appealed to buyers in many markets, but the Galaxy S remained Samsung's most important device. Anticipation for the Galaxy S5 was high heading into the launch a year ago, but the device didn't live up to the hype -- or at least sales didn't.

Samsung doesn't disclose device shipments, but reports have said Samsung sold about 40 percent fewer of the Galaxy S5 than the Galaxy S4 in their first few months of availability. And research firm Strategy Analytics estimates Samsung's smartphone market share fell to 25 percent in 2014 from 32 percent the previous year. In the fourth quarter, Samsung's slide and Apple's gain resulted in the two companies sharing the No. 1 spot for the first time since late 2011, with each holding a 20 percent share of the market after selling 74.5 million phones.

"Right now [Samsung is] consistently on a downward trend, and that's not healthy," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said. "This is extremely important."

Samsung's struggles

Samsung made a tactical error when it decided not to change the design of its flagship Galaxy S phone much over the past three generations. The Galaxy S5 looks nearly identical to 2013's Galaxy S4 and 2012's Galaxy S3. Consumers shopping for a phone opted for an older, cheaper model instead of buying the newest and most expensive Samsung smartphone.

The result: Samsung is hurting. The company has posted five consecutive year-over-year declines in quarterly operating profit. In the fourth quarter, the IT and mobile communications division (which includes smartphones) recorded a 64 percent drop in operating profit from the year-earlier period, to 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion). Only 37 percent of Samsung's operating profits came from its IT and mobile communications business in the December quarter, compared with two-thirds a year earlier.

Apple and the iPhone pose the biggest threats, with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus on their way to being two of the best-selling smartphones of all time. And last quarter, they helped Apple deliver the highest quarterly profit of any company -- ever. The tally: $18.04 billion for its fiscal first quarter ended in December.

Apple's success comes as Samsung faces stronger competition in emerging markets. Smartphone makers Xiaomi, Micromax and Huawei introduced devices with high-end features at low prices. In comparison, Samsung's strategy has been to to dump older smartphones on the market at low prices. But consumers in emerging markets didn't want old, inferior technology -- especially when Xiaomi and others were offering more compelling devices at the same price.

"Samsung continues to face intense competition from Apple at the higher end of the smartphone market, from Huawei in the middle tiers,and from Xiaomi and others at the entry level," said Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics.

Because Samsung's hardware features like bigger screens and NFC technology, which allows users to share data or pay for items by tapping their phones, are no longer unique, the company has looked to software to help it stand out. But it hasn't offered features users covet. The Galaxy S4 included apps that were considered gimmicks, and Samsung minimized or killed off many of the items with the Galaxy S5. This year's model is expected to go a step further, with Samsung preloading less bloatware -- the name given to the software features -- on its devices. Instead, buyers will be able to choose whether to download Samsung's apps or not.

And Samsung plans to be more thoughtful with the software and services it includes on its devices. That likely will include a mobile payments service. In mid-February, the company acquired LoopPay, a startup whose technology turns existing card magnetic strip readers into contactless payment receivers. That makes it easy for retailers to accept mobile payments without changing their existing point-of-sale terminals, and the LoopPay setup "has the potential to work" in about 90 percent of existing POS terminals, according to Samsung.

By comparison, Apple Pay requires POS terminals to be equipped with NFC (near field communications) chip technology, which allows information to be shared when two devices are held close together. Retailers have to upgrade their systems to take advantage of Apple Pay, Google Wallet and other NFC-based systems.

Samsung expects device sales to improve as it introduces new devices with slimmer designs and flexible displays that allow the screen to wrap around the side of the device. It also expects the expansion of faster 4G LTE wireless networks across the globe and increased interest in emerging markets to help boost sales and profit, Jin-Young Park, vice president of Samsung's mobile business, said during the company's earnings report last month. "We are preparing differentiated and innovative products with specialized features," he said.

And that sets the stage for the Galaxy S6, which like all of Samsung's other phones in the line is powered by Google's Android mobile operating system software. Strategy Analytics' Mawston estimates Samsung will sell more Galaxy S6 units than Galaxy S5 devices in the first year on the market -- about 10 percent more, to be precise.

It all comes down to how well the devices look and how well they work with new apps and features, like the anticipated mobile payments service. If the Galaxy S6 doesn't excite consumers, Samsung risks becoming the next BlackBerry, a once-dominant and innovative phone maker now struggling to survive. That's a fate no one envies.

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from CNET