Another Tech blog

Another Tech blog

Month: February, 2013

Apple smart watch efforts confirmed by US patent

Apple patent

Apple describes a device which wraps itself around the user’s wrist

 

Fresh evidence that Apple has been working on a smart watch concept since at least 2011 has emerged in a patent filing.

The document describes a flexible touchscreen display which would communicate with a smartphone or other electronic device.

It coincides with a report from a tech consultancy suggesting there is huge pent up demand for such a gadget.

But ABI Research warns that battery life issues still need to be addressed.

It says assuming such problems can be resolved, about 485 million wearable computing devices might ship by 2018, providing a significant growth opportunity for Apple and the wider consumer electronics industry.

Not all published patents lead to actual products, but Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have all published reports this month saying sources had confirmed Apple was experimenting with a watch-like device.

The iPhone-maker declined to comment when contacted by the BBC.

Slap wraps

The US Patent Office only revealed Apple’s filing on Thursday, but the document dates back to August 2011.

The mooted device is likened to a “slap wrap” – a thin strip of metal covered in fabric which snapped around the user’s wrist to form a bracelet.

The toy was popular with teenagers in the late-1980s, but fell out of favour after complaints that it lost its ability to retain its shape over time,. There were also complaints that some users had experienced injuries after the fabric wore away to reveal a sharp metal edge.

Apple patent drawing

Apple suggests components would harvest kinetic energy and provide wireless connectivity

Apple puts a hi-tech spin on the idea proposing a “slap bracelet” featuring a flexible circuit board and display, a touch sensitive user interface and a two-way communication chip, which would curl around the user’s skin.

It suggests the gadget could detect which part of its surface was covered so that its readout would be limited to the exposed screen, with information flowing over the join.

Apple suggests lights along the device’s edge could be programmed to blink when the user receives an alert, before displaying the details on its screen.

It says the user could then provide a brief response or use the bracelet to command a wirelessly connected smartphone, tablet or laptop to carry out another function such as adjusting the order of a song playlist or reviewing what recent calls had been made.

Apple acknowledges that the relatively thin nature of a wrist band would limit its uses, but suggests a wider armband could also be developed.

“At the width of a few inches the display can function to temporarily view and manipulate the screen of the portable device it is in communication with,” says the paper.

“This might be desirable when the portable electronic device is stored in an inconvenient location such as a cargo pocket, or the bottom of a backpack.

Martian Victory watch

 Martian’s voice-controlled smart watches are about to join the market

“A larger display is also more desirable for map viewing… as a traveller or explorer can easily reference the information with a flick of the wrist while exploring.”

Recharge worries

ABI Research notes that several companies already sell smart watches – such as Fossil, Pebble and Sony – while others (including Samsung and Martian) are known to be working on such products,

For the time being, however, it says the sector is dominated instead by activity trackers – such as Nike’s Fuelband and the Garmin Forerunner – which account for an estimated 61% of the wearable tech market.

Some of these devices do tell the time, but they only offer limited functionality beyond monitoring exercise or the owner’s sleep pattern.

The consultants instead suggest a much wider range of uses giving the example of linking the watch to a home automation system so that “a quick shake of your wrist can turn off/on room lights”.

The idea of a smartwatch has been around for years – but the firm says technology only recently caught up with our imagination.

“Moore’s law has driven silicon to the point where it’s small enough and powerful enough to drive applications that mean things to consumers,” ABI’s chief research officer, Stuart Carlaw, told the BBC.

Nike Fuelband

 Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, sits on the board of Fuelband-maker Nike

“Bluetooth Smart has also brought us high-bandwidth, low-energy connectivity at a less than a dollar a chip and takes up little space while offering robust performance.

“But one note of caution is that when we look at wearable technologies the use of power becomes an issue. You don’t want to have to be plugging in four or five products a night to recharge – energy harvesting or wireless recharging technologies are going to become incredibly important.”

Apple’s patent confirms the company is aware of the problem.

It suggests harvesting energy from the movement of the user’s arms and only coming out of standby mode when a sensor detects the device has been rotated to face a certain way.

It adds that the use of an AMOLED (active matrix light emitting diode) display would also help since it can allow individual pixels to be turned off, allowing the watch to only activate the parts which are facing the owner’s eyes.

 

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Smart device games outsell portable console titles

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo’s games sales are more influenced by the season than those for Android or iOS

Spending on video games for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms has eclipsed that for Sony and Nintendo’s handhelds, according to a study.

The data covers global sales between October and December 2012 and comes despite the fact that games for the PlayStation Vita and 3DS typically cost more than their smartphone equivalents.

In-game ad revenues were excluded.

Despite the findings, the researchers said they believed the Japanese firms would release further handhelds.

The Portable Gaming Report by IDC and App Annie is the first of its kind produced by the companies.

It helps build on NPD’s influential monthly study of US games sales which does not include smartphone and tablet games.

One more Vita?

Looking at the final three months of the year should have favoured the handheld consoles since spending on their packaged games and downloads is typically much higher than normal in the weeks before Christmas.

Oct-Dec best-selling games

iOS: Clash of Clans by Supercell

Android: Puzzle & Dragons by GungHo Online

Dedicated handhelds: Pokemon Black/White Version 2 by NDS/Game Freak

Even so, the study suggests they were narrowly beaten by combined sales of iOS and Android game apps over 2012’s final quarter.

A breakdown of the data also indicates that iOS games made three-and-a-half times more money than Android ones over the period.

But Android games were growing at a faster rate. And in South Korea – Samsung’s home – video games from the Google Play store did outsell those from Apple’s App Store.

“If you rewind the clock a year you will find the dedicated handhelds were clearly ahead, and this year they are more or less tied with an edge going to Android and iOS games,” IDC’s Lewis Ward told the BBC.

“If we fast forward to the end of 2013 we should see a decisive edge for smartphone and tablet gaming.

“I think a further version of the Vita could be the last dedicated handheld from Sony, but I suspect Nintendo will continue for a while. They are three to four times as large as Sony in this business and I think they have a much more defensible niche.”

The research firms did not collect data for Windows, Symbian or Blackberry games.

 

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National Audit Office warns UK needs more skilled cyber-crime fighters

Montage of types of computer threats
The spending watchdog said cyber threats were continually evolving

A lack of skilled workers is hampering the UK’s fight against cyber crime, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The spending watchdog had heard from experts who believe it could take “up to 20 years to address the skills gap”, it said in a report.

But progress has been made in tackling cyber fraud, with more police resources and prosecutions aimed at catching cyber criminals, the NAO added.

The government said it was “investing heavily” in research and education.

The number of IT and cyber security professionals in the UK has not increased in line with the growth of the internet, the watchdog said.

Labour said the report highlighted the lack of support for “the next generation of British cyber security experts”.

In 2011, ministers announced funding of £650m to implement the UK’s Cyber Security Strategy, which set out the risks of the UK’s growing reliance on cyber space.

The strategy identified criminals, terrorists, foreign intelligence services, foreign militaries and politically motivated “hacktivists” as potential enemies who might choose to attack vulnerabilities in British cyber-defences.

In a review of the strategy, the NAO said there had been an number of developments to help tackle cyber crime.

The internet economy in the UK accounts for more than £120bn – a higher proportion of GDP than any other G20 country, the NAO said.

But it warned that the cost of cyber crime is estimated to be between £18bn and £27bn a year.

‘Constantly alert’

Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, received 46,000 reports of cyber-enabled crime, amounting to £292m of attempted fraud, the report said.

And the Serious Organised Crime Agency had captured more than 2.3m compromised debit or credit cards since 2011, preventing a potential economic loss of over £500m.

New regional police cyber crime centres and a trebling of the size of the Police Central e-crime Unit had also helped boost the UK’s capability to combat attacks, the watchdog said.

But the NAO warned that the UK faced a current and future cyber security skills gap, with “the current pipeline of graduates and practitioners” unable to meet demand.

Education officials interviewed by the NAO said it could take “up to 20 years to address the skills gap at all levels of education”.

“Start Quote

The use of the internet for commerce and communication is a force for good, but it also poses new and growing threats”

Maragret Hodge Chair, Public Accounts Committee

They raised concerns about a lack of promotion of science and technology subjects at school, leading to a low uptake of computer science and technology courses by university students.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The threat to cyber security is persistent and continually evolving. Business, government and the public must constantly be alert to the level of risk if they are to succeed in detecting and resisting the threat of cyber attack.”

The NAO also raised concerns that the government had yet to say how it would demonstrate value for money for the multi-million pound cyber security fund.

“It is good that the government has articulated what success would look like at the end of the programme. It is crucial, in addition, that progress towards that point is in some form capable of being measured and value for money assessed,” Mr Morse said.

The report identified other challenges faced by the government in implementing its strategy, including influencing industry to protect itself, increasing awareness amongst individuals and getting the government to be more agile and joined-up.

‘Room for improvement’

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, welcomed the report, saying it showed the government needed to “work hand-in-glove” with businesses and individuals to build awareness about the threats of cyber crime.

“The use of the internet for commerce and communication is a force for good, but it also poses new and growing threats that government, businesses and individuals cannot ignore,” she said.

“With around 80% of the internet in private hands, crossing international boundaries and spanning different jurisdictions, the government cannot approach internet security in isolation. Having a robust and well thought-through strategy is crucial if the government is to respond effectively to cyber threats.”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the UK was “on a stronger footing” in tackling the challenges of cyber crime than a year ago.

She said: “We agree that skills are crucial to cyber security which is why we are investing heavily in research and education through establishing new centres for excellence in cyber security research, cyber security skills among the police forces, centres of doctoral training in cyber security and supporting initiatives such as the cyber security challenge which uses innovative approaches to recruiting new talent into the cyber security sector.”

For Labour, Chi Onwurah said: “There is some welcome progress in this report, but as the NAO make clear, there is significant room for improvement in leadership and coordination.

“Cyber security is a significant opportunity as well as a threat to our future defence and economic prosperity, and ministers need to ensure that we have the skills we will need 10 years down the line.”

 

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Copyright law scuppers fan film

A copyright row means that one of the most ambitious fan films ever made may never be shown before an audience.

Four years in the planning Damnatus, made by German fans of the Warhammer 40,000 game, cost more than 10,000 euros, took months to film, employs 11 principal actors, dozens of extras and sophisticated post-production special effects. Now finished the film runs to 110 minutes.

But Huan Vu, director and producer of the movie, said Damnatus’ creators have now given up trying to get the film in front of an audience.

Nottingham-based Games Workshop created Warhammer 40,000 – a science fiction wargame which revolves around battles fought between factions and races that populate the universe in the 41st century. It is an outgrowth of the Warhammer tabletop game created by Games Workshop in 1983.

Mr Vu said that, despite lengthy negotiations with Games Workshop, the company has refused to give permission for the film to be shown.

“It’s really horrible for an artist not being able to show off their own work,” Mr Vu told the BBC News website.

Owner occupier

German copyright law lies at the heart of the dispute between Games Workshop and the Damnatus creators.

 

…in the final analysis we simply have no choice but to say ‘no’
Andy Jones, Games Workshop

Andy Jones, legal and licensing head for Games Workshop, said this law confers rights on the creators of works that cannot be given away.

This means that the creators of Damnatus cannot assign their rights to Games Workshop even if they wanted to.

But by sanctioning the release of the film without this “assignment” Games Workshop would essentially be giving up the title to the Warhammer 40,000 intellectual property.

In a lengthy response explaining the ban on Damnatus Mr Jones wrote: “To lose control of Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 is simply unthinkable.

“So we must be vigilant, and perhaps sometimes seemingly heartless in our decisions to safeguard the IP for the future success of the business and the hobby.”

A misunderstanding meant that filming on Damnatus continued after Games Workshop had asked Mr Vu and his colleagues to stop.

 

Pack shot from Warhammer game, THQ

The Warhammer universe has also spawned PC games

Mr Vu said the Damnatus team was “shocked” when it learned of the ban but even when they found out about it thought that an amicable solution could be reached.

“I imagined that in the end I would be forced to sign some more or less ‘fair’ contract in which I’d have to give them all rights bar the unalienable ones, but to get this film out I’d underwritten everything,” he said.

Copy control

Dr Guido Westkamp, a lecturer on intellectual property law at the University of London, said copyright cases were always tricky to resolve.

“It’s very much a question of looking in total at the work in question and then perhaps to look at the technical features in that work,” he said.

But, he added, a question like the dispute between the Damnatus creators and Games Workshop was unprecedented.

“It’s not come before German courts before at all,” he said.

“But,” he added, “it’s one that really affects new technology.”

This also meant that it would be unclear what would happen if the case did come before the courts.

 

Screengrab of Games Workshop homepage, Games Workshop

Warhammer revolves around tabletop battles fought with figures

“We have little guidance,” he said, “It’s just case law.”

Mr Vu said the Damnatus creators have tried everything to reach a deal with Games Workshop including setting up online petitions and asking other Warhammer players to let the game maker know how they feel at the fan events it runs around the world.

The Damnatus team have also explored releasing the film in a different format or changing it to see if this would escape the copyright problems.

“But,” said Mr Vu, “we do not really want to get away from the 40k universe – the film is meant as a dedication to it after all.”

Mr Jones said despite Games Workshop’s “admiration” for Damnatus it could not change its policy and allow the film to be shown.

He said Games Workshop was not acting “malevolently” but that this was a case where an agreement has “failed to be reached”.

Said Mr Jones: “This is perhaps to be regretted, nonetheless in the final analysis we simply have no choice but to say ‘no’.”

Apple sued by David Einhorn over cash pile

Apple logo  

Apple has seen increasing competition and a falling share price

 

An activist shareholder is suing computer giant Apple, demanding that it share out more of its $137bn (£87bn) cash pile to its investors.

Apple’s cash pile has grown to that size from $98bn last March.

US hedge fund manager, David Einhorn, who is behind the unusual move, told the television channel CNBC that Apple had a “Depression-era” mentality, which gave it a tendency to hoard cash and play safe.

Apple called the move “misguided”.

The complaint was filed at a court in New York.

Apple has a number of fights on its hands already. Although it is strong in both smartphones and tablet computers, competition is hotting up and its share price is falling.

The firm’s shares are now 35% below the record high they reached in September 2012.

Mr Einhorn, who owns Green Light Capital, told CNBC: “It has sort of a mentality of a depression. In other words, people who have gone through traumas… and Apple has gone through a couple of traumas in its history, they sometimes feel like they can never have enough cash.”

History

He has also been speaking to the Reuters news agency, which he told he had had meetings with Apple’s senior management on the subject of sharing out the cash pile.

Mr Einhorn said he had recently contacted Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook after failing to interest the company’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, in the matter.

Mr Einhorn’s proposals for releasing funds to shareholders involve “preferred” stock – which pays a fixed dividend over time.

Apple is planning to eliminate these at its shareholder meeting later this month.

Preferred shares rank higher than ordinary shares when it comes to paying out a company’s assets.

Mr Einhorn has a history of activism.

In 2011, he urged Microsoft Corp to get rid of its chief executive Steve Ballmer, accusing him of being “stuck in the past”. 

 

 

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Hacker exposes ex-US President George H W Bush emails

Former US President H W Bush. Photo: 29 March 2012  
George H W Bush was president from 1989-93

 

A computer hacker has stolen personal emails and photographs belonging to former US President George H W Bush and his family, US media report.

One photograph posted on the internet showed the 88-year-old Republican politician in bed in hospital, where he was recently treated for bronchitis.

The stolen emails are reported to include addresses and personal details of several members of the Bush family.

A spokesman for Mr Bush confirmed that an investigation was under way.

“We do not comment on matters under criminal investigation,” Jim McGrath told the Houston Chronicle.

The hacker broke into email accounts of several members of the Bush family, news website the Smoking Gun reported.

The hacked emails are reported to include messages expressing serious concern about the health of the former president, including a personal note sent by President Barack Obama through an aide.

‘Interesting mails’

Mr Bush was discharged from hospital on 14 January after a seven-week stay, during which he was treated for a bronchitis-related cough.

The purloined photos include pictures of his son, former President George W Bush.

One shows the younger Mr Bush posing beside a life-size cardboard cutout of himself with a moustache drawn on it; others are said to show paintings by him, including self-portraits.

The Smoking Gun said it had been in contact with the hacker, who goes by the alias Guccifer.

He said he had taken “a lot of stuff” including “interesting mails” about the former president’s time in hospital, the website reported.

George H W Bush was the 41st US President, serving one term from 1989-93. He was defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton when he stood for re-election.

Before becoming president he was Ronald Reagan’s vice-president from 1981-89. He also served as vice-president, CIA director, US ambassador to China and congressman from Texas.

His son George W Bush served as 43rd president from 2001-09.

 

 

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Row blows up over ownership of ‘space marine’ term

Warhammer Necron figures
Games Workshop is best known for its tabletop wargames

UK toymaker Games Workshop has been criticised for asserting a trademark claim to the phrase ‘space marines’.

The claim emerged when it was used to get an American ebook about the futuristic soldiers taken off Amazon.

Science fiction writers have called the firm “absurd” for saying it has a trademark to the use of the term in fiction.

A UK media lawyer said more and more firms were using trademark law to protect their creations.

Generic term

The row started in December 2011 when US writer Maggie Hogarth found out that her novel called “Spots the Space Marine” had been removed from the Amazon ebook store following a complaint from Games Workshop.

In emails sent to Ms Hogarth this week, Games Workshop claims that its entry into digital publishing gives it a “common law trademark claim” over the phrase.

Ms Hogarth wrote a blogpost about the row and expressed her fear that if Games Workshop started actively pursuing its claim, science fiction could lose one of its “fundamental” ideas. Ms Hogarth said a lack of funds meant she was unable to defend herself against the claim. However, she is now in touch with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns on digital rights, about the case.

The blogpost received a huge amount of publicity and has provoked responses from best-selling SF authors Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross and John Scalzi. Many people sent messages to Games Workshop’s Twitter account using the #spacemarines hashtag criticising the firm.

“Start Quote

If you have a registered trademark you can stop people using it in the course of trade for goods that are not yours or licensed or approved by you”

Susan Hall DWF

Mr Scalzi, who is currently president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, said it was “absurd” for the firm to claim ownership of the phrase and its use in literature. In a blogpost, Mr Scalzi said it was “pretty damn generic” long before Games Workshop began using it to describe its toy soldiers and in tabletop games,

A spokesman for Games Workshop said it had a “blanket policy” of not talking to the media and had no comment to make about the row or its trademark claim.

Media and intellectual property lawyer Susan Hall from DWF said Games Workshop might struggle to assert its trademark claim in America.

“In the US they’ll come straight up against the First Amendment and that’s one issue they’ll have to overcome,” she said.

Ms Hall said Games Workshop could launch a similar protection campaign in Europe as it had had a registerd trademark for the term “space marine” since 1995. Its trademark claim covers the use of the word in connection with many aspects of tabletop gaming and video games, she said, but also extended to published works.

“If you have a registered trademark you can stop people using it in the course of trade for goods that are not yours or licensed or approved by you,” she said. “It puts the person with the mark in a very strong position.”

Many firms, she said, were registering trademarks to help them keep control of intellectual properties that were now out of copyright. There were dangers in this bid for control, said Ms Hall.

“You need strong IP laws,” she said, “but you need to have the ability to rub up against those in a way that allows people to be creative and allows creative freedom.”

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Kids ‘using coding skills to hack’ friends on games, expert says

Children as young as 11 years old are writing malicious computer code to hack accounts on gaming sites and social networks, experts have said.

A report from antivirus company AVG detailed evidence of programs written to “steal” virtual currency.

In one case, researchers were able to reverse-engineer “amateur” code to reveal data about the identity of one child in Canada.

The company said children must be educated on coding “rights and wrongs”.

“As more schools are educating people for programming in this early stage, before they are adults and understand the impact of what they’re doing, this will continue to grow.” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG.

The researchers found that many instances of malware targeting games popular with children shared the same characteristics.

Most were written using basic coding languages such as Visual Basic and C#, and were written in a way that contain quite literal schoolboy errors that professional hackers were unlikely to make – many exposing the original source of the code.

Stealing data

The team examined closely one particular instance of code that masqueraded as a cheat program for gamers playing Runescape, an online title that has over 200 million signed-up players.

Runescape program screenshot
This piece of software was used to steal data from gamers

The program, Runescape Gold Hack, promised to give the gamer free virtual currency to use in the game – but it in fact was being used to steal log-in details from unsuspecting users.

“When the researchers looked at the source code we found interesting information,” explained Mr Ben-Itzhak to the BBC.

“We found that the malware was trying to steal the data from people and send it to a specific email address.

“The malware author included in that code the exact email address and password and additional information – more experienced hackers would never put these type of details in malware.”

That email address belonged, Mr Ben-Itzhak said, to an 11-year-old boy in Canada.

Enough information was discoverable, thanks to the malware’s source code, that researchers were even able to find out which town the boy lived in – and that his parents had recently treated him to a new iPhone.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

It is not enough to just use computer programs”

Linda Sandvik Code Club

Many schools around the world are changing education programmes in schools to teach children to code, rather than simply to use, computers.

In the UK, several after-school clubs have been set up – and initiatives to get kids into programming have been backed by the likes of Google and Microsoft.

Coding benefits

Mr Ben-Itzhak said that, as the ability level of children increased, more needed to be done to educate them on how best to use their new skills.

“We cannot tell how many kids around the world are [writing malicious programs], but we believe there are more cases like this.

“You teach your children that you can’t take a toy without paying – so I think this type of a message needs to get to the kids when they’re writing software too.”

Linda Sandvik is the co-founder of Code Club, an initiative that teaches children aged nine and up how to code.

She told the BBC that the benefits from teaching children to code far outweighed any of the risks that were outlined in the AVG report.

“We teach English, maths and science to all students because they are fundamental to understanding society,” she said.

“The same is true of digital technology. When we gain literacy, we not only learn to read, but also to write. It is not enough to just use computer programs.”

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