Saturday, October 18, 2014

Trend report for Spring/Summer 2015

The Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week's Spring/Summer 2015 collections pulsated with the beat of novelty while being an ode to summery whirlwinds.

Refreshing and breezy with a play on transparency, the season saw the return of delicate laces in a very floral atmosphere. But there were also muted, chalky tones that acted as a canvas for geometric prints, and built the easy silhouettes that comprised the unanimous choice of most designers. Here are some of the upcoming season's notable trends.

1. Sheer
The usage of sheer fabrics through layering, combined with an opaque sub-layer was a big hit. Designer Samant Chauhan displayed bright embroidery covered by the veil of a sheer layer, while Mrinalini and 'Not So Serious' by Pallavi Mohan played with basic silhouettes and colour gradation.

(L to R: Mrinalini, 'Rajputana' by Samant Chauhan, 'Not So Serious' by Pallavi Mohan)

2. Lace and net
Feminine and summery, lace and net was used in varying amounts. It was abundant in Atsu's garments, designer duo Pankaj and Nidhi used it to compliment their graphic prints, and Manish Gupta used net as a base for exquisite textured floral embroidery.

(L to R: Atsu, Pankaj and Nidhi, Manish Gupta)

3. Kaleidoscopic
A mirror-effect with prints and embellishments on the left and right halves of a garment to create a reflective, symmetrical effect featured as a prevalent trend for SS15. Saaj by Ankita displayed occultism-inspired symmetry, DevRNil employed selectively placed delicate nature patterns and Hemant and Nandita incorporated it into their weaves and embroidery.

(L to R: Hemant and Nandita, 'Saaj' by Ankita, DevRNil)

4. Floral+Geometric
An atypical representation of summer saw the juxtaposition of floral motifs against geometric repeats. Payal Pratap presented European-inspired prints and jacquards, Nida Mahmood showcased the nouveau style in her signature contrast colour choices, while Sahil Kochar showed stenciling-inspired three-dimensional cutwork.

(L to R: Payal Pratap, Sahil Kochar, Nida Mahmood)

5. Denim
Denim has been a popular international trend for SS15, and our designers too incorporated it into their collections. Rajesh Pratap Singh's entire collection was a laudation to the creators of raw denim, Pero displayed floral-embroidered denim as part of its assemblage and Raakesh Agarwal cast denim as the hero of his collection.

(L to R: Raakesh Agarwal, Pero , Rajesh Pratap Singh)

6. Easy silhouettes
This season saw designers ditching form-fitting shapes for looser, more effortless silhouettes perfectly suited to summer. Anupama Dayal layered beautiful azure tones, Sneha Arora chose to pair easy earthy pieces and Eka overlaid relaxed contours to create character in its ensembles.

(L to R: Anupamaa, Sneha Arora, Eka)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cyclone Hudhud blasts India's east coast, at least three dead

Cyclone Hudhud blasted India's eastern seaboard on Sunday with gusts of up to 195 kilometres an hour (over 120 mph), uprooting trees, damaging buildings and killing at least three people despite a major evacuation effort.

The port city of Visakhapatnam, home to two million people and a major naval base, was hammered as the cyclone made landfall, unleashing the huge destructive force it had sucked up from the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Upended trees and wreckage were strewn across Visakhapatnam, known to locals as Vizag. Most people heeded warnings to take refuge, but three who ventured out were killed, officials said.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the state that bore the brunt of Hudhud's onslaught, said the extent of damage would only become known after the storm abates.

"We are unable to ascertain the situation. Seventy percent of communication has totally collapsed ... this is the biggest calamity," N. Chandrababa Naidu told Headlines Today television.

"We are asking people not to come out of their houses," Naidu said, adding that damage assessment would start on Monday. "We are mobilising men and material immediately."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Naidu and promised "all possible assistance in relief and rescue operations", his central government said in a statement.

The low toll reported so far followed an operation to evacuate more than 150,000 people to minimise the risk to life from Hudhud - similar in size and power to cyclone Phailin that struck the area exactly a year ago.

After a lull as the eye of the storm passed over the city, winds regained massive potency. Forecasters warned Hudhud would blow strongly for several hours more, before wind speeds halve in the evening.

"Reverse windflow will be experienced by the city, which will again have a very great damage potential," L.S. Rathore, director-general of the state India Meteorological Department (IMD), told reporters in New Delhi.

The IMD forecast a storm surge of 1-2 metres above high tide that could result in flooding of low-lying coastal areas around Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam.


A Reuters reporter in Vizag said the storm had smashed his hotel's windows and flooded the ground floor. It was difficult even to open the door of his room, he said, as wind rushing through the corridors drove it shut again.

"I never imagined that a cyclone could be so dangerous and devastating," said one businessman who was staying in the hotel. "The noise it is making would terrify anyone."

An operations centre in state capital Hyderabad was inundated with calls from people seeking help, including 350 students stranded in a building with no food or water, said K. Hymavathi, a senior disaster management official.

Vizag port suspended operations on Saturday night, with its head saying that 17 ships which had been in the harbour were moving offshore where they would be less at risk from high seas.

The city airport was closed and train services suspended.

The IMD rated Hudhud as a very severe cyclonic storm that could pack gusts of 195 km/h and dump more than 24.5 cm (10 inches) of rain.

The cyclone was strong enough to have a "high humanitarian impact" on nearly 11 million people, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), run by the United Nations and the European Commission, said.

The evacuation effort was comparable to one preceding Cyclone Phailin, credited with minimising fatalities to 53. When a huge storm hit the same area 15 years ago, 10,000 people died.

Hudhud was likely to batter a 200-300 km stretch of coastline before losing force as it moves inland, forecasters said.

According to the IMD, peak wind speeds will drop to 60 km/h by Monday afternoon. Hudhud is expected to continue to dump heavy rains in northern and northeastern India and, eventually, snow when it reaches the Himalayan mountains.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple gets illegal tax benefits in Ireland

Ireland appears to be granting Apple illegal rebates that may have to be recouped, the European Union's competition watchdog said as it pressed forward with an inquiry into Apple's overseas tax practices. 

If the EU's preliminary finding is confirmed over the coming months, Apple Inc could face a repayment bill worth billions of dollars because it funnels the bulk of its international sales through subsidiaries in Ireland, where it benefits from low, negotiated tax deals. 

In a letter to the Irish government published Tuesday, the 28-nation bloc's executive Commission said the tax treatment granted to Apple "constitutes state aid" and therefore raises "doubts about the compatibility" with EU law. 

EU rules forbid governments from helping companies to avoid undermining free market competition. The EU first announced the probe in June, also targeting coffee store chain Starbucks and others as part of a crackdown on multinationals exploiting tax loopholes. 

The EU Commission is now requesting further documents from Ireland before making a legally binding decision on whether the rebate granted to Apple is illegal and must be recouped, wholly or partially. 

The EU probe focuses on exaggerated transfer pricing, where one part of a company charges another part an inflated price for goods or services to shift profits to low-tax locations. 

If Apple had to repay some taxes, the money would come as a windfall to Irish state coffers. However, fearful of losing its reputation as a business-friendly country with low corporate taxes, the Irish government is adamant that no EU rules have been breached. 
The Commission, however, said in the letter the tax deals struck with Apple in 1991 and in 2007 show "several inconsistencies" and may not comply with international taxation standards. The Brussels-based executive body also was critical of the fact that Apple's applicable tax rate appears to have been the result of "a negotiation rather than a pricing methodology" which a "prudent, independent" tax authority should not have accepted. 

Apple's tax practices have also attracted scrutiny in the United States, where a Senate Committee last year published a scathing report on the Cupertino-based firm's tax schemes. The report held up Apple as an example of legal tax avoidance made possible by the complicated US tax code, estimating the firm avoided at least $3.5 billion in US federal taxes in 2011 and $9 billion in 2012 by using its tax strategy. 

Apple one the world's most valuable and profitable firms — sat on some $164 billion in cash and cash equivalents, with $138 billion stashed away in foreign subsidiaries, according to its latest quarterly report in June. The company estimated its effective US tax rate is 26.1%, as opposed to the statutory US rate of 35%, primarily because of undistributed foreign earnings. 

"A substantial portion" of those foreign earnings was generated by subsidiaries organized in Ireland, Apple said in the regulatory filing, adding that "such earnings are intended to be indefinitely reinvested outside the US."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Google trying to limit Samsung's control over Android

When it comes to Android devices, it's common for various phone makers to put their own software over Google's clean version of Android.
If you swipe through one of Samsung's Galaxy phones, for example, you are likely to come across some of Samsung's apps and its own Galaxy app store.

Now, however, it seem that Google wants its partners to put its own apps and services at the forefront of most Android phones.

Amir Efrati at The Information says he has obtained confidential documents that reveal Google has been upping its requirements for partners that want to build Android phones.

In particular, the documents suggest Google wants its partners to place more of its apps on Android phones and feature them in more prominent places.

One reason for this change is that Google wants the Android experience to be more consistent across devices, Efrati reports. This means Google would turn down certain customizations proposed by phone makers, and Efrati notes that "there have been frequent fights about that, particularly between Google and Samsung."

This wouldn't be too surprising — Samsung is known for adding its own TouchWiz software to its Android devices. The company also emphasizes its own software features and apps when promoting its new phones.

While Samsung is one of Google's biggest partners, it's also its most formidable rival when it comes to the smartphone space. Samsung's incredibly popular Galaxy phones compete directly with Google's Nexus devices and other smartphones, such as Motorola's, that use near-stock versions of Android.

Google's partners are reportedly saying the company is "tightening the screws" on these Android contracts, known as Mobile Application Distribution Agreements, according to Efrati.

But many of these manufacturers feel as if they don't have a choice since other operating systems such as Windows Phone, Tizen, and Firefox OS have limited reach. Android currently commands an overwhelming 85% of the global smartphone market as of July 2014, according to Strategy Analytics.

As part of the updated contract, Google is requiring one of its partners to increase the number of Google-made apps from nine in 2011 to 20 in 2014. This year's agreement also required that there must be a Google search widget on the default home screen of the phone along with an icon for the Google Play store and a Google icon that houses 13 apps included Google Chrome, Google Maps, Google Drive, YouTube, and Gmail among others.

Google is also reportedly requiring partners to follow its guidelines regarding hotwords for voice-enabled searches and virtual assistants.

It's unclear exactly what the impact of these new contracts will be, but if Efrati's report is legitimate this may mean we'll be seeing less customization from some of Google's partners. Samsung has already been putting more of its resources into Tizen, a different open-source software based on Linux.

The company's new Gear S smartwatch, for example, runs on Tizen, but we have yet to see a mainstream phone from Samsung that runs on something other than Android.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Microsoft set to offer first look of new Windows

Microsoft will unveil a new name for its best-known product on September 30 when it offers the first official glimpse of its latest Windows operating system.
The project — known for the past few years as "Threshold" inside the software company and "Windows 9" outside it — will likely get an entirely new brand, or just be called Windows, analysts said, ahead of its full release early next year.

The name change is symbolic of a new direction and style for Microsoft, which is veering away from an aggressive focus on Windows and PCs, the hallmark of previous CEO Steve Ballmer. The new, quieter emphasis is on selling services across all devices and is championed by new boss Satya Nadella.

The switch also represents a desire to erase the ill will generated by Windows 8 — an ambitious attempt to redesign Windows with tablet users in mind — which ended up annoying and confusing the core market of customers who use mice and keyboards.

"Windows 8 was not a shining moment for Microsoft," said Michael Silver, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner. "Probably the biggest issue that lingers is the negative brand equity in the name."

Many users howled in protest over the death of the start-button menu and the introduction of a colorful grid of squares or tiles representing apps in what became known as the modern user interface, even though they could easily switch to a traditional desktop mode.

Judging by recent leaks online, which Microsoft has not tried to discredit, the start-button menu will come back in the next Windows, with an option of tacking on tiles if preferred.

But the problem of users having to toggle between the modern interface and the old-style desktop — for instance to use the full version of Excel spreadsheet software — has yet to be solved.

"The schizophrenic behavior between the modern user interface and the Windows desktop has got to go away," said David Johnson, an analyst at tech research firm Forrester. "They have to smooth that out."

Microsoft declined to comment on the new name, or what it plans to unveil on Tuesday.

The Redmond, Washington-based company has said only that it will have a "discussion" about where Windows is headed at a stylish event space in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The choice of wording and venue are key to a humbler, lower-profile Microsoft under Nadella, who is keen to rebuild respect in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley as it moves away from the PC and to play a bigger part in the mobile computing world fashioned by Apple and Google.

Nadella's slogan is "mobile first, cloud first," and although he will not be at the San Francisco event — he is traveling in Asia — that theme will be at the fore.

"This is a launching pad and catalyst for Nadella's holistic cloud vision over the coming years," said Daniel Ives, an analyst at investment bank FBR Capital Markets. "Windows 9 is a potentially game-changing product release for Microsoft."

Nadella is resigned to the fact that sales of PCs have leveled off, and with it sales of Windows. With the explosion of smartphones and tablets, Windows now powers only 14% of computing devices sold last year, according to Gartner.

His response is to focus on selling high-quality services — such as the Office suite of applications or storing documents in the cloud — to people on whatever device or system they are using.

"Microsoft is changing from a company that was Windows-centric to one that is services-centric," said Silver at Gartner. "It has to be that way. Windows revenue is likely going to decline, and Microsoft's task is to replace that Windows revenue with revenue from services on all sorts of platforms."

The challenge is to come up with killer apps and services users can't live without.

"Microsoft built their business on being very good at delivering what people needed in the moment, for example Excel in the 1990s," said Johnson at Forrester. "That's what Microsoft has to get back to, innovating and creating things that people find indispensable."
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Samsung, BlackBerry speed up launches amid Apple chaos

South Korea's Samsung moved up the release date for it hotly anticipated Galaxy Note 4 big-screen smartphone, hitting the key Chinese market ahead of arch-rival Apple.
Samsung's head start in the sizzling "phablet" race came as Apple stumbled, abruptly pulling back an update for the iOS software powering iPhone after users complained of bugs — including one that disabled cellular service.

In a statement to the news website TechCrunch, Apple said: "We have received reports of an issue with the iOS 8.0.1 update. We are actively investigating these reports and will provide information as quickly as we can. In the meantime we have pulled back the iOS 8.0.1 update."

The apparently botched update came after a rash of complaints posted on social media about new-model, large-screen iPhones bending when stuffed in pockets of snug pants. Some users posted videos showing the handsets warping under pressure.

Samsung is credited with starting the "phablet" craze with the first Note that meshed tablet and smartphone features — particularly enhanced screen size.

Apple capitalized on the trend with the September 19 release of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in a handful of markets, not including China.

Samsung announced that the Note 4 smartphone will be launched in South Korea and China this week, ahead of the planned worldwide debut on October 17.

It marks first time a flagship Samsung product has gone on sale in China ahead of other markets, reflecting the firm's desire to battle growing competition from rivals.

Note 4 will be for sale in 140 markets by the end of October, according to Samsung.

Note 4 release overshadowed the kickoff of BlackBerry's newest Passport smartphone, aimed at business users in an effort to revive the fortunes of the struggling Canadian manufacturer.

The launches came after Apple reported a record opening weekend for its latest range of iPhones, the US firm's first foray into the big-screen market.

Sales of new iPhone models topped 10 million in just three days following Friday's launch in the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico and Singapore. Apple has not announced plans for selling the new iPhone in China.

The Passport is BlackBerry's first global launch of a product under John Chen since the chief executive took over last November.

The Passport, named for its approximate size to the travel document and will be available in stores in two weeks, is "packed with power" and "a lot of groundbreaking stuff," said Chen, appearing at a Toronto launch event with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Analyst AviGreengart described the new phone as "the first competitive BlackBerry in years, because it isn't competing head on" with Apple or Samsung.

It is the third of four new phones to be launched by BlackBerry this year, after a budget Z3 smartphone was launched in Indonesia (one of its last bastions), and a sleek Porsche-designed phone sold in Dubai.

The upcoming BlackBerry Classic — which will be similar to the Passport — will be launched "between now and the end of the year," Chen said.

BlackBerry helped create a culture of mobile users glued to smartphones, but appetites have since shifted to iPhones or devices using Android software like Samsung's Galaxy line.

The mobile market has become increasingly saturated, while competition has intensified from Chinese handset makers such as Huawei and Lenovo.

In July, Samsung reported a 20% drop in net profit for the second quarter, and its shares are sitting at a two-year low.

Sales of Galaxy Note 3 topped 10 million in two months after its launch in 2013, and Lee predicted the Note 4 would outperform that.

The 5.7-inch Note 4 comes with S-pen stylus allowing users to draw and write on the screen and perform various tasks simultaneously. It will sell off-contract at prices ranging from around $700 to $900, depending on the country.

The presence of a stylus — not offered by Apple — offers a "unique input methodology," said Lee Young-Hee, executive vice president of Samsung's mobile unit.

According to International Data Corp., a record-high 295.3 million smartphones were shipped worldwide in the second quarter.

Samsung remained the world's top vendor, moving 74 million handsets, but saw its overall market share slip seven percentage points to 25.2%, while China's Huawei nearly doubled its shipments from the same quarter a year ago.

Samsung also announced Wednesday it plans an October launch for a new version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, as well as a virtual reality headset, Gear VR.

The Apple Watch unveiled earlier this month is expected in stores early next year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Windows 7 PCs may disappear after October 31

Thinking about picking up a new PC with Windows 7 pre-installed? You might want to hurry as Microsoft has announced it will no longer supply certain versions of the OS to hardware partners from October 31. 
Post October, Microsoft will stop sending copies of Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate to PC makers, which will be able to sell off (but not replenish) remaining stock. A cut-off date for Windows 7 Pro is yet to be announced. 

The move is a not-so-subtle nudging of users toward Windows 8, which has struggled to find its footing since launching in 2012. According to figures from NetMarketShare, 13.4% of PC users are using Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, compared with 51.2% on Windows 7 and 23.89% running the 12-year-old OS Windows XP. 

Microsoft revealed earlier this year that it is ending mainstream (free) support for Windows 7, which turns five on October 22, on January 21 2015. That date will see it transition to Extended Support (which will end in 2020) and will include security updates and paid hotfix support. 

Nine lives 

Microsoft is hosting an event in San Franciso next week which is likely to be used to show off the next version of Windows, Windows 9 (also known as "Threshold"). 

A slew of juicy leaks have so far revealed Windows 9 to feature a redesigned Start Menu that incorporates Live Tiles, OS X-like mulit-desktop functionality, a notification centre and Microsoft's Siri-like personal assistance, Cortana.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

At $25 billion, Alibaba's IPO is world's biggest

Alibaba's IPO now ranks as the world's biggest at $25 billion, netting underwriters of the sale a more than $300 million windfall after the e-commerce giant and some shareholders parted with additional shares.
The fees are equivalent to 1.2% of the total deal, with Alibaba paying $121.8 million in commissions. Selling shareholders are set to pay another $178.6 million, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.

Overwhelming demand saw the IPO initially raise $21.8 billion, and then sent Alibaba Group Holding's stock surging 38% in its debut on Friday. That prompted underwriters to exercise an option to sell an additional 48 million shares, a source with direct knowledge of the deal said.

That means the IPO has surpassed a previous global record set by Agricultural Bank of China Ltd in 2010, when the lender raised $22.1 billion.

According to its prospectus, Alibaba had agreed to sell 26.1 million additional shares under the option, and Yahoo an additional 18.3 million, netting the two companies an extra $1.8 billion and $1.2 billion respectively.

Alibaba's Jack Ma had agreed under the same option to sell an extra 2.7 million shares and company co-founder Joe Tsai agreed to 902,782 additional shares.

The source declined to be identified as the details of the additional sale have yet to be made official. Alibaba declined to comment.

Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Morgan Stanley acted as joint bookrunners of the IPO.

Rothschild was hired as Alibaba's independent financial advisor on the deal.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Intel's plan to invest $6 billion approved by Israel

Israel's finance and economy ministries have approved a plan by Intel to invest $6 billion in the upgrade of its chip manufacturing plant, in what would be the largest single investment by a foreign company in the country. 

Intel will receive a government grant of $300 million over five years and will be eligible to pay a corporate tax rate of only 5% for a 10-year period, the ministries said. 
The US chip giant plans to hire close to 1,000 more workers at the plant in the southern town of Kiryat Gat by 2023, in addition to the 2,500 that already work there. 

"Intel's investment is a strategic asset for Israel's industry," Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. "This is the biggest investment by a foreign company ever in Israel and is further proof that Israel is at the forefront of technology and innovation." 

Intel submitted the investment plan in May and it is widely believed to be aimed at shifting to new 10 nanometer technology. 

The finance ministry said the plant would be the most advanced chip facility in the world. 

A company spokesman declined to comment. Intel had said in January that it would decide on the location of a 10 nanometer plant this year. Israel was one of a number of countries competing to host the new plant. 

Intel Israel's exports, mainly from its Fab 28 plant in Kiryat Gat, amounted to $3.8 billion in 2013, down from $4.6 billion the year before. 

In its 40 years in Israel, Intel has invested $10.8 billion in plants and development centres and received $1.5 billion in grants. It employs nearly 10,000 people in the Jewish state.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unvired readies Google Glass for enterprises

A small oil painting hangs in the office of Srinivasan Subramanian, the chief technology officer of enterprise mobility startup Unvired. It depicts a white ship sailing against the current.
"My wife did that (painting)," said Subramanian pointing to it. "It is an indirect way of support from the family." Unvired's other cofounder Dilip Sridhar said the inside joke in the office is that Subramanian's wife made the ship go against the current to show the difficulty of product companies succeeding in India. But that was six years ago. 

These days the startup, tucked away in Bangalore's Jayanagar, is creating a buzz by offering Internet of Things (IoT) — a technology where devices communicate with each other intelligently — to large enterprises. 

It has notched up a marquee list of global customers, including New Zealand's electricity distribution company WEL Networks, chemical company Kaneka, life science and tech company Sigma-Aldrich, among others. 

"Services is something which is against our DNA," said Subramanian. "Product is more difficult route that is why it has taken us six years to reach there and weigh against the biggies." Unvired is now working with Google X, a facility run by Google on IoT, which will help enterprises to improve productivity and efficiency using wearable devices like Google Glass. 

It has built an inventory and warehouse management app for Google Glass that integrates directly with the software. 

"Workers can do hands-free transactions involving goods movement and other functions directly with enterprise software, without the need for a phone or tablet," said Sridhar, vice-president at Unvired. Wearables are in vogue, especially Google Glass and smartwatches. 

Companies can save over $1 billion (Rs 6,000 crore) in costs related to field service using wearables, according to research firm Gartner. 

"We selected the Unvired mobile platform over other competing platforms, because it offered us the greatest value, ease of building custom applications and seamless integration with SAP," said Andre Winterhalter, information technology director, Kaneka Americas Holding. 

This month, Unvired was selected as a finalist in technology innovation leadership awards by Silicon Valleybased research firm Ventana Research. 

Founded in 2007 by former employees at German software maker SAP, Unvired launched the enterprise IoT platform four years later in India. But it had to shift to other markets like United States and Middle East which were more open then to such technology. "The notion in India is that this kind of technology should be like the air we breathe — free," said Subramanian who declined to reveal the revenue of the firm. 

"We can't afford that." The company, which is completely bootstrapped, is now in talks with venture capital firms to raise around .  Rs 60 crore to scale up its operations. 

"There is lot of startup action in IoT," said Bhavanipratap Rana, investment director at Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of the world's largest chip maker. "Enterprise is more willing to pay." What is also unique about the Unvired founders is that they hired a non-founder Alok Pant, who was senior vice president, at NTT DATA (formerly Intelligroup), as chief executive of the firm. 

"When we wanted to go global, the choice was to be at $5 million (Rs 30 crore) with full control or a $100 million (Rs 600 crore) with lesser control, we chose the latter," said Sridhar. 

"We have disrupted the market sitting here in Jayanagar."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Android is cooler than Apple

Holly Riggle, a 29-year-old white-collar worker from Ohio, is just the kind of everyday customer Apple would love to have for its new iPhone 6.
But Riggle is sticking to her Android smartphone, calling Apple less "original" than it was under former CEO Steve Jobs. She's one of the 16% of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll who said Apple had become somewhat or much less cool in the last two years.

By comparison, some 11% of respondents said that Android had lost some sheen in the same timeframe. In a similar poll a year ago, 14.3% of 1,379 people surveyed thought Apple had lost its cool image between 2011 and 2012.

While still a juggernaut, with analysts expecting sales of around 9 million iPhone 6s in its launch weekend, Apple may be losing some of its shine, according to the poll.

More Americans feel that Apple has lost its "coolness" quotient than has the Android brand, according to the poll, conducted September 8-13.

When questioned on how they perceive five popular technology brands — Apple, Android, Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard — respondents gave the highest coolness factor rating to the Android brand, which includes devices such as Samsung and others that run on Google's mobile operating software.

About 50% said that in the last one to two years, the Android brand had grown cooler, compared with 48% who voted for Apple.

Although the poll is based on a limited sample, it reflects how Android products, which tend to be less expensive, have caused Apple to shed some of its buzz.
"Especially when you have competitors who are doing a lot of innovative things themselves and great advertising, it's not surprising that Apple doesn't have the same cachet and coolness that it once did," said Kevin Lane Keller, a branding expert and professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

The mobile phone wars have become a lot like politics, with battling Democrats and Republicans, said Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo and an independent branding and design expert based in Chicago.

"You can't carry that magic forever," Janoff said, but that does not mean consumers should dismiss mature brands. "I think people have to accept that companies that are out there, they age."

Last year when it launched its previous version of the iPhone, Apple sold 9 million iPhone 5Ss and 5Cs in the first three days in stores. But drawing a comparison with the iPhone 6 is tricky as sales are based on availability, and Apple has not shared comparable details.

Also, this time iPhone is not launching in China on Friday, unlike last time, Shannon Cross, an analyst with Cross Research, explained.

Many customers will need to wait until next month for their new iPhones after Apple logged a record 4 million first-day pre-orders, double the number for the iPhone 5 two years ago.

Errand-service TaskRabbit said more than 500 people in the US and London have hired individuals at $25 an hour to stand in line at Apple stores to grab the new iPhone, up 43% from requests during iPhone 5 launch two year ago.

Apple's iPhone is "easily broken and expensive to fix," said Jim Jackson, a 55-year old from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, who participated in the survey.

"Apple is following Samsung at this point in terms of design," Jackson added. "A couple of years ago they were making fun of Samsung because Samsung grew big and now they've gone big," he said, referring to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6-Plus that had hit store shelves on Friday.

That was the only area where Riggle saw innovation at Apple.

"The only new idea they've come up with is that they're adjusting the size of their products," she said.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Google buys polling startup Polar to bolster Google+

Search giant adds to the team working on its social network. That includes the startup's founder, who wrote the book "Mobile First," which has become a Silicon Valley mantra.
Google on Thursday announced it has acquired the startup Polar, which specializes in online polls, signaling that the search giant is still investing in its fledgling social network. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The team will work on Google+, the search giant's social network, which hasn't had the same kind of traction as Facebook, the world's biggest social community with more than a billion users. By contrast, Google said in October that Google+ has 300 million "in-stream" users -- or people who actively view the main news page or feed.

Polar, founded last year, polls users on smartphones and tablets by letting them choose between two things -- for example: Coke versus Pepsi, or Warriors versus Lakers. The startup has served more than half a billion polls in the past eight months and had 1.1 million active voters in September, according to a blog post by founder Luke Wroblewski.

Google will shutter support of the service by the end of the year. In a statement, Google+ Vice President of Engineering Dave Besbris said he was "thrilled" about the deal.

Wroblewski, Yahoo's former chief design architect and an entrepreneur in residence at the venture capital firm Benchmark, also wrote the book "Mobile First," which is now an oft-repeated Silicon Valley mantra.

The acquisition seems in contrast to some of Google's recent moves surrounding the social network. Other shifts relating to Google+ have been around extending the social network's features beyond its closed walls. For example, Hangouts, Google's videoconferencing service, in July was added to the company's suite of enterprise software. The company will also reportedly break out popular photo features of Google+ to become a standalone brand.

It's unclear what exactly Wroblewski and his team will work on with Google+, but other newer social networks have recently integrated polling features. In August, the mobile app Secret, which lets users anonymously post to the service, added polls as well.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yahoo acquires platform Luminate to bolster ailing ad business

The Internet giant buys another company, as Alibaba, the Chinese giant in which Yahoo has a large stake, moves closer to its blockbuster IPO.
Yahoo has acquired the startup Luminate, a service that focuses on advertising on top of online images, as the Internet giant tries to give its once-mighty ad business a jolt.

The service shut down earlier this week, and terms of the deal were not disclosed. TechCrunch earlier on Friday reported the news. Yahoo confirmed the acquisition to CNET.

The company, founded in 2008 in Mountain View, Calif., is an ad network with more than 180 million users and more than 6 billion image views each month, according to Luminate's website. The service lets marketers layer product, display and text ads over images.

"We are thrilled to be joining Yahoo, where we can continue to bring innovative experiences to an even larger audience," Luminate CEO James Everingham said in a blog post.

The acquisition is just the latest of CEO Marissa Mayer's more than 40 buyouts since she took the helm at Yahoo more than two years ago. The company has been looking to rejuvenate its advertising business, which has been in decline as younger competitors like Facebook have gained dominance in the online ad world. Last quarter, display revenue, an important financial metric for the company, fell 7 percent from the same period last year.

In February, the company introduced Gemini, a platform focused on so-called native advertising -- ads that fit in more with editorial content instead of being cordoned off like traditional ads.

The move also comes as Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant in which Yahoo has a large stake, announced on Friday that it will price the shares in its upcoming initial public offering at $60 to $66. Yahoo, which has owned a 22.6 percent stake of Alibaba, will retain a 16.3 percent stake after the IPO, which is poised to be the biggest ever.

The Chinese company could raise up to $24.3 billion. That means Yahoo could rake in more than $8 billion before taxes, though the company has promised to return half of the IPO proceeds to shareholders. But the remaining amount could go toward funding more of Mayer's acquisitions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five ways to improve battery life on Windows

Having battery life problems on your Windows 8.1 laptop? These tips will help you squeeze the most juice out of your battery.
You shouldn't have to be tethered to your desk to use your laptop. While battery life is improving, it still isn't perfect. If you've got a Windows 8.1 machine, these tips will help you squeeze the most juice of your computer's battery.

Software updates

Microsoft routinely issues patches and software updates to fix bugs and add new features to Windows. It's always a good idea that you are on the latest version of Windows. Not only will these updates help keep your system more secure, but they can sometimes also improve your battery life.

To check for updates, go to the Charms menu by swiping from right to left on the screen or moving your mouse to the lower right corner of the screen. Then, click on Settings, select the "Change PC settings" option, followed by Updates and Recovery, and click the "Check for updates" box.

Tweak power settings

Microsoft has bundled various power saving options inside of Windows 8.1. These settings can be accessed from the desktop by opening the Control Panel, selecting Hardware and Sound, and clicking on Power options. Here you can choose a power plan from Microsoft or you can create your own.

You can tweak things like brightness, when the display will turn off, and when the computer will go to sleep, among other things. Clicking on the "Change advanced power settings" will open the door to even more customization options.

Dim the display

The display on your laptop uses a ton of energy. When you disconnect the power cord, it's best to dim the brightness down below half or to a level that is suitable for your eyes. This can be done by going to the Charms menu and select Settings. The brightness options are located above the keyboard icon and next to the volume menu.

If your laptop includes it, you should also disable the automatic brightness feature, and dim the keyboard backlight. To do this, go to Settings, click on the "Change PC settings" option, tap on PC and Devices, followed by Display, and turn off the "Adjust my screen brightness automatically" slider.

To dim the keyboard backlight, open the Charms menu, click on Search, type in "mobility," and select Windows Mobility Center.

Turn off Bluetooth

Even if you don't have a wireless mouse or speakers connected, having Bluetooth enabled will still draw power from your computer's battery. To disable the Bluetooth radio, go to Settings, click on the "PC and devices" option, and select Bluetooth.

Having battery life problems on your Windows 8.1 laptop? These tips will help you squeeze the most juice out of your battery.

You shouldn't have to be tethered to your desk to use your laptop. While battery life is improving, it still isn't perfect. If you've got a Windows 8.1 machine, these tips will help you squeeze the most juice of your computer's battery.

Software updates

Microsoft routinely issues patches and software updates to fix bugs and add new features to Windows. It's always a good idea that you are on the latest version of Windows. Not only will these updates help keep your system more secure, but they can sometimes also improve your battery life.

To check for updates, go to the Charms menu by swiping from right to left on the screen or moving your mouse to the lower right corner of the screen. Then, click on Settings, select the "Change PC settings" option, followed by Updates and Recovery, and click the "Check for updates" box.

Tweak power settings

Microsoft has bundled various power saving options inside of Windows 8.1. These settings can be accessed from the desktop by opening the Control Panel, selecting Hardware and Sound, and clicking on Power options. Here you can choose a power plan from Microsoft or you can create your own.

You can tweak things like brightness, when the display will turn off, and when the computer will go to sleep, among other things. Clicking on the "Change advanced power settings" will open the door to even more customization options.

Dim the display

The display on your laptop uses a ton of energy. When you disconnect the power cord, it's best to dim the brightness down below half or to a level that is suitable for your eyes. This can be done by going to the Charms menu and select Settings. The brightness options are located above the keyboard icon and next to the volume menu.

If your laptop includes it, you should also disable the automatic brightness feature, and dim the keyboard backlight. To do this, go to Settings, click on the "Change PC settings" option, tap on PC and Devices, followed by Display, and turn off the "Adjust my screen brightness automatically" slider.

To dim the keyboard backlight, open the Charms menu, click on Search, type in "mobility," and select Windows Mobility Center.

Software updates

Even if you don't have a wireless mouse or speakers connected, having Bluetooth enabled will still draw power from your computer's battery. To disable the Bluetooth radio, go to Settings, click on the "PC and devices" option, and select Bluetooth.

Disconnect any dongles
As is the case with Bluetooth, a USB-connected device (such as a flash drive) will also drain your battery. If you aren't using the dongle or device, you should unplug it to prevent battery drain. If the power cord is unplugged, charging your smartphone or tablet via a USB port will also reduce your battery life.

As is the case with Bluetooth, a USB-connected device (such as a flash drive) will also drain your battery. If you aren't using the dongle or device, you should unplug it to prevent battery drain. If the power cord is unplugged, charging your smartphone or tablet via a USB port will also reduce your battery life.

The ReSound LiNX is the world's first 'Made for iPhone' hearing aid

A hearing aid isn't something I'd normally expect to try out while working for CNET, but in fairness, the ReSound LiNX from GN ReSound isn't your standard hearing aid. Also, it's Hearing Awareness Week here in Australia, so it all sort of makes sense.
First making the news late last year, the LiNX is the world's first Made for iPhone hearing aid, developed in partnership between Apple and the Danish company, ReSound. The hearing aid will pair with an iPhone (or iPad, or iPod) and allow users to access detailed controls, as well as functioning a bit like a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

The concept is apparently designed to help reduce the stigma around hearing aids, making the LiNX feel more like a phone accessory than a medical prosthetic.

But a medical prosthetic it is, so before I can try the LiNX, I need to get my hearing tested. Rashel Abdishoo, audiologist with NS Audiology does the testing for me. She uncovers something I'd long suspected: I do have some hearing issues. Specifically, I have mild sensorineural hearing loss at the 3-4KHz range, occurring bilaterally.

It seems that I have an almost-textbook "4KHz notch" where my hearing drops at those specific sounds. It's commonly caused by exposure to loud noises, which may mean one concert too many in my youth (or, more honestly, one bad goth club too many).

It's not a big problem as hearing loss goes, but I'm assured that I will notice some benefits from a hearing aid, and my results are emailed off so my LiNX can be programmed for me to pick up at the Sydney Apple Store that evening.

The LiNX uses Bluetooth to pair with iOS devices and also to help lower the power consumption. The current compatibility list is iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Air, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini, and iPod touch (5th generation) with all devices needing to run iOS 7.X or later.

At the Apple Store, Ayrton Hogan from ReSound sets me up with the LiNX. A little bizarrely, he's joined by Todd Hunter from classic Australian Rock band Dragon, who's a bit of a spokesperson for the device.

The hearing aids themselves are as small as would be expected and pretty much invisible once they're in. The over-the-ear portion is small enough that there's no problem getting my glasses on over the top. Apart from a slight weirdness to the way everything sounds, I could easily forget that I'm wearing them.

Hogan says that the weirdness is natural -- there's a period of adjustment for any hearing aid as the senses get used to the new input.

I take some time to explore the app and its this that provides the point of difference for the LiNX. There are some standard controls, such as the ability to adjust the volume, along with the treble and base. The adjustments can me made to the hearing aids either as a pair or individually.

But there's also a lot more. You can add different programs to the app that will adjust the LiNX for optimal use in certain situations, such as driving, or in a restaurant. You can then associate those programs with actual locations. So, for example, when you're in your favourite restaurant, the ReSound app notes your GPS location and automatically switches to the restaurant program.

That GPS connectivity can also be used to track your hearing aids, almost identically to how you can track a lost phone. For when you can find the LiNX but you know it's within Bluetooth range, the app can let you track it down using a directional finder.

But obviously it's the sound connectivity that matters the most. The LiNX will directly play sounds from your Apple device, including any content audio (music, movies etc) as well as phone calls, Skype, Facetime and the like.

I try the music and it's a little reedy and tinny, but Todd Hunter breaks in at this point to assure me that with some adjustments to bass and treble, you can get decent sound. He also says its particular good for sat nav directions while driving. Hunter even uses his to get foldback direct from the mixing desk while in concert.

Because of the Apple partnership, the LiNX has some impressive integration with iOS. A triple press of the iPhone's button at any time -- even from lock screen -- opens up an interface for basic sound adjustments on the hearings aid as well as the option for a 'live sound'. In this mode, the hearing aids directly relay anything coming from the iPhone's mic. Hogan suggests that this is particularly good for lectures and talks where an iPhone could be placed on a lectern and someone wearing the LiNX could get a clear sound even from the back of a noisy conference room.

In the short time I had the LiNX in, it's hard to tell if my hearing was any better -- voices certainly seemed a little clearer -- but the sheer level of control and options, as well as the comfort of the hearing aids themselves, was impressive.

One possible concern would be battery life, however. The LiNX uses Bluetooth LE, but it's a still a big drain on the battery, which is the standard hearing aid size 312. Hogan says that the normal battery life is about a seven to ten days, but that the Bluetooth functions can drop that to just four days.

There's also the price. ReSound don't like to discuss the cost, saying that the company is a wholesaler and it's up to suppliers to set price. Speaking to the people back at NS Audiology, they also don't want to give exact pricing, but they do say that in general a top of the line hearing aid, such as the ReSound LiNX, can run anywhere from $9,000 to $13,000 (£5437 to £7853, AU$9661 to AU$13955). Back in November 2013 when my colleague Dara Kerr reported on the LiNX, the estimated US price was $3,000 (£1817, AU$3220).

So, definably not a cheap option, but the tech savvy (and, obviously, Apple fans) among the hearing impaired might find that the extra features and additional level of control to be well worth the cost.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Google buys Gecko Design for X projects

The product-design firm will be put to work on some of Google's most "cutting edge" projects.

Google is buying product-design firm Gecko to bolster the efforts of Google X, the search giant's experimental division that carries out its most ambitious projects.

Gecko announced the acquisition on its website Friday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gecko, based in Los Gatos, Calif., has previously helped design products for clients including Fitbit, Hewlett Packard, Dell, and Logitech. Google confirmed the deal, but declined to provide further comment.
"This is an incredible opportunity for everyone at Gecko," wrote Jacques Gagne, design firm's president and owner, on its website. "We are very excited and honored to join Google(x) and work on a variety of cutting edge projects."

Gecko offers several services during the design process, including mechanical design work like assembly layout. The firm, which has been around since 1996, has worked with top industrial design firms like Frog Design and Fuseproject, which was founded by design veteran and Jawbone Chief Creative Officer Yves Behar.

Google's X division is responsible for the company's most out-there projects, which it calls "moon shots." Several of those initiatives have hardware components where Gecko could get involved. The company's head-mounted device, Google Glass, has run into image problems in its current form, now available to the general public. Earlier this month, the company was granted patents that hint a more low-key design, which looks more like ordinary glasses.

The X team has also worked on projects that range from driverless cars to smart contact lenses to high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons that aim to bring connectivity to rural regions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Four ways Google changed tech IPOs

The technology landscape has changed drastically since Google made its market debut 10 years ago. Google's IPO and its co-founders had a big hand in that evolution.

Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, in a 2004 founders' letter to potential shareholders, said their guiding principle was "Don't be evil."

Ten years ago, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin introduced the world to the search engine's now-famous mantra: Don't be evil.

The three-word vow is a promise to "do good things for the world" -- and was introduced in an unusual 4,000-word treatise Page and Brin wrote to would-be investors in their 2004 founders' letter before the initial public offering. The message was clear: Yes, we're joining the businesses on Wall Street, but this is not business as usual.

"Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one," Page wrote in the opening line of the letter, citing billionaire investor Warren Buffett as a source of inspiration. "But the standard structure of public ownership may jeopardize the independence and focused objectivity that have been most important in Google's past success and that we consider most fundamental for its future. Therefore, we have implemented a corporate structure that is designed to protect Google's ability to innovate and retain its most distinctive characteristics."

Tuesday marks a decade since Google went public. Its path has charted the course for the myriad tech companies that have come after it.

The search engine made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange, raising $1.2 billion. The amount seems almost paltry compared to Facebook's $16 billion offering in 2012, and the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's forthcoming IPO, expected to fetch about $20 billion.

But the world was a very different place in August 2004. Facebook was only a few months old. Apple was still about three years away from releasing the iPhone. And Google was known for search -- and not much more. (Gmail was still in its infancy, launched in April of that year. Google would buy Keyhole, which would become the basis of Google Maps, two months after its IPO.)

Google's IPO changed all that. The company still rules the search world, but now it's also known for its Android mobile software, online video site YouTube, and ambitious, game-changing projects like driverless cars and Wi-Fi equipped balloons. Projected revenue in 2014 is $67 billion (it was $3.18 billion in 2004), and Google's market capitalization is just shy of $400 billion. The stock, which was priced at $85 at its opening and closed at $100.34 that day, traded at $582.16 end of day on Monday.

Google's influence has grown so vast since then that it's run into criticism over its market might. The company clashed with regulators in the United States and Europe over competition issues, and has been the target of privacy advocates who fear Google's power over users' data. (The "Don't be evil" philosophy has been a favorite go-to for critics to cite while protesting Google's policies.)

While it set the stage for the next 10 years, the IPO didn't go off as smoothly as Page and Brin might have liked. At the last minute, the offering price dropped to $85, from the expected range of $108 to $135. And an interview that Page and Brin gave to Playboy drew ire from the Securities and Exchange Commission, who thought the piece put the company in violation of the commission's IPO rules.

All market debuts are seminal moments for the companies, but Google's IPO caused reverberations that would affect not only tech IPOs from there on out, but the landscape of the entire tech world as well. To get a sense of perspective, CNET chatted with Lise Buyer, founder of the IPO strategist Class V Group. Buyer was Google's director of business optimization until 2006 and part of the team that took the company through its IPO. Buyer said she was the most skeptical team member when Page and Brin came up with "weird" ideas for the IPO, but that in the end, she was a believer.

Here are four ways Google's IPO changed the way tech companies take on an IPO and how they run as public firms. Google wouldn't make any of its executives available for this story, but instead pointed to Page and Brin's letter from the's IPO prospectus.

1. Warren's playbook. 

Page and Brin called their message to investors an "Owner's Manual," taking their cue and the name of their letter from Buffett, founder of Berkshire Hathaway, who often wrote essays and letters to his shareholders. Google's version was written mostly by Page.

The practice is more commonplace now. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used his founders' letter to tell potential investors that "Facebook was not originally created to be a company." When Alibaba filed for its IPO in May, it was more of a surprise that the filing did not include a letter from co-founder Jack Ma.

But things were different in 2004, and reading a manifesto that said the company would do no evil and take a long-term approach "even if we forgo some short term gains" was novel, to say the least. "People howled at how ridiculous the idea was," says Buyer.

2. Going Dutch.

Google took an unorthodox approach to its offering. It rounded up investors using a "Dutch" Internet auction where the IPO price is based on bids by investors, making the stock available to a larger pool of people. The degree of success Google had with the Dutch method is debatable. Buyer admits "it wasn't the perfect deal," but argues it was the right choice for the company at the time.

The IPO didn't set off a trend of Dutch offerings, but was emblematic of one thing. It was Page and Brin's attempt at taking a process that was always done one way, and seeing if it could be done in another, more efficient way, said Buyer. It's the same audacious thinking Google has applied to projects since. An example: Google is trying to cut the inefficiencies out of driving with software-powered cars.

"The process was unusual," says Buyer. "But it was a big old clue to the investors that the company would be unusual."

3. In control.

The company also rewrote the rules for tech founders. It created a corporate structure based on "dual-class" stock, which gives the founders outsize voting power. The structure was uncommon for a tech company at the time, but more common for media companies where there's concern over the business side influencing editorial content. In the letter, Page even names The New York Times Company as having a similar structure.

Page and Brin wanted the same principle to apply to Google: not having to worry about investors meddling if they made decisions that favored long-term plans over short-term profits.

Other high-profile tech companies have followed suit. Facebook and LinkedIn -- which went public in May 2011 -- both use dual-class stock.

4. Android makers, moon shot takers.

The IPO paved the way for some of Google's most important projects beyond search. Yes, it brought them cash. Lots of cash. But as important, Page and Brin, feeling less pressure from investors partly due to the dual-class, could devote their time on efforts and experiments that took Google into areas outside of the cash cow search business.

Almost exactly a year after the IPO, Google acquired mobile software maker Android, which now powers the majority of the world's smartphones. "I felt guilty about working on Android when it was starting. It was a little startup we bought," Page said in March. "It wasn't really what we were working on."

"That was stupid, he said. "That was the future." Google has since parleyed Android into the most popular mobile operating system in the world with more than 80 percent market share, according to research firm IDC.

The same idea goes for the company's so-called "moon shots," audacious attempts at technological leaps like driverless cars or the connected headset Glass. "You don't want the company to not have the ability to not make a big investment that might not pay off for awhile," said Buyer.

As for whether Google has lived up to its pledge to don't do evil, that depends on whom you ask. "The idea was that we don't quite know what evil is, but if we have a rule that says 'don't be evil,' then employees can say, I think that's evil," Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, told NPR last May.

For the founders though, one thing about the idea was simple: Change the world in the best way possible. There's no denying they've delivered change.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Microsoft preps Windows 'Threshold' preview for late September

Microsoft is aiming to make a "technology preview" of Windows 9, aka Threshold, available to anyone interested this fall.
Microsoft is aiming to deliver a "technology preview" of its Windows "Threshold" operating system by late September or early October, according to multiple sources of mine who asked not to be named.

And in a move that signals where Microsoft is heading on the "servicability" front, those who install the tech preview will need to agree to have subsequent monthly updates to it pushed to them automatically, sources added.

Threshold is the next major version of Windows that is expected to be christened "Windows 9" when it is made available in the spring of 2015. Threshold is expected to include a number of new features that are aimed at continuing to improve Windows' usability on non-touch devices and by those using mice and keyboards alongside touch.

Among those features -- according to previous leaks -- are a new "mini" Start Menu; windowed Metro-Style applications that can run on the Desktop; virtual desktops; and the elimination of the Charms bar that debuted as part of Windows 8. Cortana integration with Windows Threshold is looking like it could make it into the OS, as well.

I've asked Microsoft officials for comment. To date, Microsoft execs have declined to comment on what will be in Threshold, when it will be available, how much it will cost, or what it will be named.

When Microsoft was working on Windows 8, the company delivered three external "milestones" before making the operating system generally available in October 2012. First there was a Windows 8 developer preview, which Microsoft released on September 13, 2011, followed by a Windows 8 "consumer" preview on February 29, 2012. The operating system was released to manufacturing on August 1, 2012.

These days, Microsoft's operating system team is on a more rapid release schedule, so I'd think there won't be five or six months between any Threshold milestone builds Microsoft plans to make available externally.

I had heard previously from my contacts that Microsoft was aiming to deliver a public preview of Threshold available to anyone interested toward the end of calendar 2014. I'm not sure if there's still a plan to make a public consumer preview available at that time or if this "technical preview" is the only "preview" Microsoft will release before Threshold is released to manufacturing.

Update: One of my contacts who has provided accurate information on Windows in the past said the Threshold tech preview will be public and available to all those interested.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Lenovo Y50 Touch: A midsize gaming system with style

The Good - The Lenovo Y50 Touch has great style for a gaming laptop, plus a touchscreen, and it balances performance, size, and price to the benefit of mainstream gamers.

The Bad - The display suffers from poor viewing angles and the midlevel graphics card means you can't run newer games at the highest detail settings.

The Bottom Line - With the Y50 Touch, Lenovo has created a reasonably priced, not-too-big gaming laptop that doesn't look like a throwback. But the most serious PC gamers may want to
hold out for a better display and faster GPU.

Lenovo, a brand best known for its conservative ThinkPad laptops and flexible Yoga hybrids, also makes some killer gaming laptops, even if few people are aware of them. That's a shame, because they generally look much nicer than the brick-like boxes from Origin PC, Alienware, and other gaming specialists, and they offer decent enough performance for mainstream gamers who just want to play the latest games away from a living-room console.

The newest entry in Lenovo's gaming lineup is the Y50 Touch, a 15.6-inch laptop that combines a slightly geeky style with decent (but not top-of-the-line) gaming components. First profiled at CES 2014, the Y50 is easily one of the computers I've received the most emails, tweets, and inquiries about from CNET readers. That says to me that there's a real hunger out there for a gaming laptop that can work as a full-time midsize home or work computer, balancing gaming and nongaming tasks equally.

A few different versions of the Y50 are available, with changes to the screen, storage, and other features, but the base configuration, consisting of an Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics card, remains the same.
Our test unit was the Best Buy configuration, combining an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD/8GB SSD storage combo, Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics, and a 1080p touch display, all for $1,149. If you look at the Lenovo website, you'll find several slightly different configurations, most without the touchscreen. The single touch config costs $1,399, while an intriguing option to add a full 4K resolution display starts at $1,299.

In the UK, the Y50 starts at £1,000, but isn't available with a touchscreen. According to Lenovo's website, the Y line is not yet available in Australia.

If you're searching on the (often-confusing) Lenovo site, note that the Y50, Y50 Touch, and Y50 UHD models are all on separate pages, so you'll have to click around a bit to see all the options. Frankly, the Best Buy configuration feels like the best overall value, especially if, like me, you think Windows 8 really needs a touchscreen to work for non-gaming tasks.

Sadly, there's one thing holding this otherwise excellent system back from being close to perfect. The display is clearly not one of the newer IPS (in-plane switching) panels that we're seeing in more and more laptops this year. Off-axis viewing angles are poor, and even dead-on, the display appears more washed-out than the best laptop and tablet screens.

That may be a deal-breaker for some. But the other aspects of the Y50, including the powerful overall performance, excellent design and build quality, touchscreen, and price, all combine to make it a great overall value. It won't compete with $2,000-plus specialty rigs, but instead leads the small field of crossover systems that can satisfy mainstream gamers who want to skip clunky, thick gaming laptops that sacrifice portability.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 does the 2-in-1 thing on the cheap and does it well

The Good - The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 gives you the flexibility of a laptop and tablet in one ultraportable package at an affordable price. It has a long battery life, it looks good, and feels like it's solidly built. Plus, you can easily open it and upgrade storage and memory.

The Bad - The lower-end components limit performance. There are few configuration options, so if you want more than 4GB of memory or an SSD, you're on your own. The bottom can get uncomfortably hot.

The Bottom Line - With the Inspiron 11 3000, Dell delivers an everyday ultraportable hybrid with an excellent battery life at a good price.

It didn't take long for computer manufacturers to bring the hybrid design of Lenovo's Yoga series down to more affordable prices. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000, for example, takes the nearly $1,200 XPS 11 and strips it back to just essentials for less than $500, but without sacrificing the 360-degree hinges for its laptop-to-tablet-and-back-again design.

Like its competition, the 11 3000 has decidedly entry-level components. In the US, Dell has two configurations: one with a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 and one with a quad-core Pentium N3530. These basically replace Intel Atom processors in this type of ultraportable and it's for the better, delivering more performance with improved power efficiency.

There is $50 separating their "market value" prices ($450 for the Celeron and $500 for the Pentium), though different deals come and go and at the time of this review the Celeron was $400 and the Pentium was $480 with all other specs -- 4GB of memory, integrated Intel HD graphics, and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive -- being the same.

The 11 3000 2-in-1 is currently unavailable on Dell's UK site (there's just the XPS 11 as yet), but in Australia you can pick up the Celeron configuration for AU$599 -- oddly enough, with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which isn't available in the US version.

Design and features

Considering its price, the 11 3000 is a classy-looking laptop. No, it's not made from aluminum, but the plastic body is made to look like it from afar and it feels solid, not cheap. Though the hinge design adds some thickness to the system, it's still just under an inch thick (21 mm) with the rest of the body measuring 11.8 inches wide by 7.9 inches deep (300 by 202 mm).

At 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) it's not heavy, but with all that weight packed into a relatively small package, it might feel a little more hefty than you would think. The weight becomes more noticeable when using it as a handheld tablet, so it's really best if you want a full-time laptop and a part-time tablet.

Open the laptop and, well, it looks like a typical clamshell laptop. The 1,366x768-pixel IPS touchscreen gives you wide viewing angles -- pretty important given the two-in-one design -- which the similarly configured HP Pavilion x360 doesn't have. Below the screen is a Windows logo key that can be set to go to Start menu or Desktop.

The keyboard is about as far forward as possible, leaving a fair amount of room below it for resting your palms and the wide touchpad. The keys are just big enough and there are no awkwardly small ones, so typing is accurate and comfortable: it shouldn't take much time, if any, for you to adjust to using it.

Key travel is good, so you won't feel like you're typing on flat board, and the keys are responsive and soft without feeling mushy. There is some flex toward the middle of the keyboard, but unless you're really hammering on it, it shouldn't be an issue.

The touchpad is OK, but you might want to crank up the palm rejection setting to help tame unwanted cursor movement. You may also want to shut off left and/or right-edge swiping and stick to the touchscreen for those. In fact, with the laptop's small size and the keyboard so far forward you may find yourself not using the touchpad as much as you would without a touchscreen anyway.

Since it can be used as a tablet, Dell put the power button and a volume rocker on the right side along with a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and security slot. On the left you'll find the headphone/mic jack; one more USB 2.0 port as well as a USB 3.0 with sleep charging; a full-size HDMI output; and the power input. 

Wireless options include Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with a single antenna, not the newer 802.11ac and not dual-band.