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2012 in Review: Tech

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2012 has been a monumental year in technology. This year we’ve watched Facebook truly realize the complete “American Dream,” as it went through with an IPO that valued the social network at $90 billion in May,  lost 47 percent of its value in 94 days, and subsequently began a slow ascent back to respectability. The Internet rallied its voice and defeated major legislation across the globe, including SOPA and PIPA that attempted to regulate the Internet. Major gadgets were released, including the Nexus 7, iPad mini, Microsoft Surface and iPhone 5. Copyright and patent laws around the world were put to the test as Apple and Android OEMs embarked on a game of ‘who can file lawsuits against each other in the most countries,’ with Samsung arising as the first victim of the lawsuits to the tune of $1 billion, which of course is being appealed.

All in all, it was a very eventful year in tech. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights.

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If You Want to Back a Winner, Get the New Kindle Fire

Image Credit: The Verge

Today’s Kindle announcements made one thing clear: if any Android tablet manufacturer is going to hold their own against Apple’s iPad or the flood of upcoming Windows slates, it’s Amazon.

It’s weird to type that, because what Amazon announced today wasn’t that impressive. The new Kindle Fire and Fire HD look a hell of a lot nicer than Amazon’s first tablet, but they’re still not up to the build quality of an iPad or a Transformer. The software isn’t that good, app selection is mediocre, and the core carousel interface isn’t exactly inspired. The screen is good, but Apple and others have better. The price beats the competition, but it won’t stay that way for long; Asus’ and Samsung’s prices are a hairs breadth away from Amazon’s, and what’s to stop them from shaving another seventy-five bucks off come Christmastime?

No, Amazon has the edge because they have something no one else in the Android ecosystem, not even Google, has—focus. They don’t just want the Fire and the Fire HD to succeed; they need it to. Amazon is a massive conglomerate, the Internet’s 1990’s Microsoft. They sell server space, shoes, books, IMDB subscriptions, free shipping, and local daily deals. They run a Netflix competitor and an iTunes Match clone. They knocked off Dropbox and bought Audible. You name it, they probably do it, or will do it, or have done it. Like Google, they try everything once and most things twice.

But unlike Google, Amazon has decided to put everything together in one product. IMDB, the bastard stepchild Amazon bought for a lark? It’s now powering contextual trivia searches in your movies.  Audible audiobooks? Amazon will read them to you while you look at your e-ink copy. All of those media services everyone forgets come with their Prime subscription? It’s all at your fingertips on the brand new Kindle Fire. The original Kindle Fire was a portal to Amazon content, just like the Kindle was a portal to Amazon’s books. Sure, it was integrated with all of Amazon’s other stuff, but just because that’s how Amazon justified selling hardware at a loss. The Kindle Fire then didn’t feel like the future of Amazon; it felt like the future of the Kindle, one small part of Amazon, an unfocused web giant.

With the new Fire, things feel different. It feels like Amazon is making the Fire line the priority of the entire company, not just the content departments. Any service they have, no matter how unrelated it might seem, is going to find its way into Amazon’s tablet line up. Bezos has made selling the new Kindle Fire the priority of his entire company. And you know what? What Bezos wants, Bezos gets. Early Amazon succeeded because Bezos focused the entire company on books. He wanted to transform a single industry, and he did. Since then, Amazon has stretched out, grown, gotten bigger. But in the process, it’s gotten slower, messier. It was starting to lose its focus and its edge. Now, things are changing. There’s a goal line, a plan, and a flagship product everybody has to get behind. The Amazon that is is becoming more like the Amazon that was. And the Amazon of the old, the ruthless bookseller that drove everybody out of business? That’s not a company I would bet against.

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Amazon launches updated 7″ Kindle Fire and new 8.9″ Kindle Fire HD

Image Credit: Engadget

Amazon has just introduced an updated Kindle Fire tablet, packing a faster processor, increased RAM, and better battery life. The updated 7″ Kindle Fire has also received a price drop, now ringing in at just $159. Amazon says they want to have “the best tablet at any price”.

In addition, the company is launching a new 8.9″ Kindle Fire HD. The Kindle Fire HD measures just 8.8mm thick, and weighs in at a paltry 20 ounces. The display is an 8.9″ 1920 x 1200 HD IPS display, with a stunning 254ppi pixel density. Inside, the Kindle Fire HD runs on an OMAP 4470 processor. Amazon is putting a heavy emphasis on content consumption using the Kindle Fire HD, so they’ve included dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus. The Fire HD also features improved wireless networking specs, supporting dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi, two built-in antennas, and MIMO.

The Kindle Fire HD will actually be available in 3 models. The 8.9″ WiFi-only Kindle Fire HD comes with 16GB of storage, and will ship on November 20th for $299. A 4G LTE variant will also be available, coupled with an increased 32GB of storage, and a higher price tag of $499, also shipping November 20th. Finally, a 7″ Kindle Fire HD with 16GB of storage will ship September 14th for $199. Specs for the 7″ model remain the same for the most part, but the screen resolution is yet to be confirmed. All models are available to pre-order today.

  

For LTE service, Amazon is offering a $50/year data plan that includes 250MB of data per month, 20GB of Amazon Cloud Storage, and a $10 Amazon Appstore credit.

Amazon is adding a bunch of new features to the Kindle Fire software, including “X-Ray for Movies”. You can tap on an actor while watching a movie to instantly bring up their IMDb page! In addition, Amazon has updated the Fire email client with “world-class” Exchange support, contact & calendar sync, improved sync reliability, and faster access to new email. Amazon is also including a custom-built Facebook application, which looks much like the Facebook app for iPad, and a Skype application will be available for video calls using the Kindle Fire’s new front-facing camera. As of now, it is unclear if these features will be available to both Fire models, or just the Kindle Fire HD.

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Amazon announces Kindle Paperwhite, refreshed $69 Kindle

Image Credit: Engadget

During a press conference in a southern California hangar, Amazon announced a brand new addition to the Kindle line, the Kindle Paperwhite. With new display technology that Amazon ‘invented’ the front-lit Kindle Paperwhite comes with 25 percent more contrast and 62 percent more pixels than your average Kindle. That all adds up to 212ppi, significantly better than its predecessors. The Kindle Paperwhite has an eight week battery life, and will also come in a free-3G variation.

The Kindle Paperwhite, which comes in at 9.1mm thick, is available to order today, and will ship on October 1st at $119, with the 3G version coming in at $179.

Amazon also announced a refresh to the $79 Kindle, with new fonts, crisper text, and 15 percent faster page turns. Amazon has dropped the price of the entry-level Kindle to $69, which is available to order today. The kindle will ship on September 14th.

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Amazon holding September 6th press event, likely to announce new Kindles

Image Credit: The Next Web

As if there weren’t enough technology-related press events happening in September – with Nokia/Microsoft, Apple, and Nintendo already penciled in – Amazon has thrown their hat in the ring and invited press to a September 6th event in Santa Monica.

The invites just went out, so details are slim at the moment, but the company is likely to announce new products in their Kindle line. The successor to the 7″ Kindle Fire tablet is probably a lock, seeing as it has been rumoured for quite some time already, and we can probably expect updates for the rest of the company’s eBook readers as well. Of course there is always the possibility that we will finally see the oft-rumoured Amazon smartphone, affectionately dubbed the “Kindle Spark”, which the company is said to be building in partnership with Foxconn. Amazon last updated their Kindle products back in September 2011, which included the aforementioned Kindle Fire, an updated $79 Kindle, and the all-new Kindle touch.

CE will be covering Amazon’s announcements live on September 6th, and be sure to check back all month long for what is sure to be a crazy and exciting month in the tech world!

Source: The Next Web

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The Unsecured Cloud: Your Digital Life In A Glass Box

Image Credit: Nicholas_T

If you haven’t read the horrifying details of Wired senior writer Mat Honan’s digital life being turned upside down, get to it. It’s a harrowing tale of what amounts to a home invasion and annihilation of his online identity, partly due to Honan’s own inconsistencies and shortcomings with his digital information, but mainly due to the failures of Amazon and Apple, who operate the two biggest credit card collections in the world.

there is no simple fix for the kinds of issues that brought about the hacking of Honan’s accounts.

As much as many have said this could have been prevented, or at least tempered the damage by not having all of his accounts interconnected, the truth is the majority of people operate in the same fashion. The worst part is, there is no simple fix for the kinds of issues that brought about the hacking of Honan’s accounts. The last four digits of your credit card will continue to be a verification method. Very few people remember their entire credit card number, and if they have multiple cards? Forget it.

And what happens when we fully integrate into the cloud? Two-step authentication is an option, but let’s be honest — there are a lot of people who are lazy and won’t do it unless they are forced — and for it to really work, it can’t just be Google, it has to be a complete shift in security preferences across the board.

The complete integration into the cloud will be the biggest test of privacy and security on the Internet to date. Hackers have always been at arm’s length for most of the Internet population. If you kept all of your information on your hard drive, it was a difficult task for a hacker to reach it. Your computer had to be on, had to be online, and some form of software needed to be used, whether it be a key logger, or a remote access tool. All you had to do was unplug your computer from the Internet, and for all intents and purposes, you were untouchable.

All you had to do was unplug from the Internet, and for all intents and purposes, you were untouchable.

The cloud is a different beast. The cloud is taking your digital information, from behind a steel door that could only be accessed when you were online, and moving it to a hanging glass box suspended above you at all times. Sure it may be built from the strongest glass ever constructed, but if there is a crack, one small crack, the whole thing will come crashing down on your head.

And that’s the huge, glaring problem with the cloud — you can’t disconnect from it. It’s always on, and always vulnerable with our current paltry security methods. Honan’s hacking was devastating, but luckily — even though they did serious damage — the people who hacked him were apparently in it only to get access to his Twitter account. Deleting his digital life was just another step to keep him from re-accessing his Twitter account. Everything that happened to Honan was in effect “collateral damage.” They weren’t there for money, or for access to his address book, which as a noted journalist, no doubt carries a few prominent names and numbers in it.

So what happens when the next group of idiots decide to go for the bigger fish through someone else? What happens when if hackers figure out how to build a backdoor into the cloud, which is entirely possible no matter what “security experts” tell you? If we built it, we can break in to it. If we are going to live in the cloud, we need to seriously reevaluate our security protocols, because unlike the past 30 years of the Internet, there is no plug to yank out.

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Amazon’s Q1 2012 Earnings: $13.2 billion in revenue

Amazon has just announced their Q1 2012 Earnings, and they’re better than expected. The company pulled in $13.2 billion in revenue, a 34% increase over the same quarter last year. Net income dropped 35% to $130 million, compared to $201 million in Q1 2011. That $130 million amounts to about $0.28 profit per diluted share, which beats Wall Street estimates of just $0.07 per share on $12.9 billion in revenue.

The North American market alone was responsible for $7.43 billion of that $13.2 billion revenue, which represents a 36% increase over Q1 2011.

Though Amazon chose not to release specific Kindle sales numbers, they did state that the Kindle Fire remained their flagship device – the best selling, most gifted, and most wished for product on the site. Despite the lack of hard sales figures, Amazon remains excited about and committed to the Kindle. Jeff Bezos stated, “Kindle is the bestselling e-reader in the world by far, and I assure you we’ll keep working hard so that the Kindle Store remains yet another reason to buy a Kindle!”

Amazon’s Q2 forecast looks equally promising: the company is predicting net sales of between $11.9 billion and $13.3 billion, which would equate to growth of between 20% and 34% over Q2 2011.

Source: Amazon

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Tablets in Grade School: Why Apple Should Launch a Smaller iPad

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear from the beginning—despite speculation and rumors to the contrary, Apple could not have released a smaller iPad this year. The iPad line is still too new for Apple to split it in half and keep profits high. The production of a smaller tablet would have required that Apple retool their entire supply chain and give up tremendous economies of scale, sacrificing high margins to produce a new product that would cannibalize sales of the ten inch iPad.

But next year is a different year. By then the iPad will have reached its fourth birthday and competition from mobile phone and laptop vendors will be at a fever pitch. Window 8 will be on store shelves and Android 5.0 Jelly Bean will have been made available to vendors. Amazon’s second or third Kindle Fire will be up for sale, likely alongside a larger sibling, and Samsung will have had a chance to refine their tablet offerings and create a truly compelling S Pen. Much of the field will, like it already does, rely on smaller form factor tablets to clearly differentiate themselves from the new iPad. The launch of an Apple branded Lilliputian tablet would squash the development of Android market share while heading off a resurgence of the Microsoft brand. Small tablets are the most successful iPad challengers, but a smaller Apple tablet could easily destroy its burgeoning rivals.

Nevertheless, competitor offerings alone are not enough to justify a bifurcation of the iPad form factor. Apple is not a company that releases products just to be in the same space as other manufacturers. Apple never released a netbook, they pulled out of printers when they were most profitable, and they never made a serious play for the enterprise. Apple’s astounding success has come from it’s uncanny ability to see opportunity in the failings of other technology companies and respond to them with original hardware coupled to wonderful software. The iPad was a response to Microsoft’s attempts to slam Windows into a new market, the iPod was a response to terrible music players, the iPhone was a reply to crappy smartphones, and the MacBook Air was a rebuttal of Atom powered netbooks. Apple only introduces a new gizmo when it is absolutely certain it can innovate successfully while growing its share of the industry’s profits. Apple has already answered the call for a computer platform that moves beyond the PC; simply making it smaller would seem to do little to address an unmet market need.

But Apple has already told Wall Street what need it wants to meet. The education business is based on decaying models ripe for real disruption, and Apple wants to be the agent of change. In January, Apple held a large press conference for what seemed to be a relatively minor announcement—an iTunes category for textbooks, a WYSIWYG e-book creator, and a new version of iBooks. The products unveiled were not especially important, but Apple’s articulation of its vision for the future was. Tim Cook wants Apple to be the dominant player in classroom technology. The iPad, Apple’s post-PC success darling, was the star of the show. Students were shown flipping through pages of text, looking at diagrams, and playing videos without ever having to turn on a Mac or open a book. What was a little strange, though, was the age of the students Apple used to showcase its products. Apple chose not focus on colleges, or even high schools, where the high price of textbooks makes iBooks an easy sell and an obvious fit. Instead, Apple decided to pitch iBooks for grade schools and middle schools, and did its best to show how iPads for all could change the face of the primary schoolhouse.

The problem Apple failed to acknowledge at the event was not one of software, but of hardware. Children love using iPads, but its size gets in the way. When adults and teenagers hold an iPad, or any other ten inch tablet, there’s an easy intimacy that defines the relationship. The iPad strikes a wonderful balance between a larger screen size, better for productivity, and a smaller size that’s easier to handle and carry around. When you give a smaller child an iPad that careful balance is immediately disrupted. An awkwardness is present that is never seen when adults play with a tablet. Children’s iPads are left propped up or prone, they are almost never held in the hands for extended periods of time. The iPad’s 9.7 inches, so perfect for adults, are just too much for kids. If Apple is as serious about selling iPads to schools as they say they are they will need to introduce a miniature tablet, one small enough to not intimidate younger learners or interfere with their digital education. With the iPad 2 and iBooks they already have the price point and the software, now all they need is the form factor.

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