SpaceX launches first Falcon 9 rocket since September explosion

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Falcon 9 (SpaceX)

SpaceX launched its first rocket into low earth orbit on Saturday since one of its rockets and cargo suffered from a fiery rocket explosion on its launchpad in September 2016.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch happened in two stages from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, just before 11AM PST. The Falcon9 is carrying 10 communications satellites for the company Iridium to launch into low earth orbit.

Completing the first stage, the Falcon 9 rocket returned to a landing pad in the ocean at roughly 11:10AM PST, marking SpaceX’s seventh successful launch.

“The FAA accepted the investigation report on the AMOS-6 mishap and has closed the investigation,” the FAA said in a statement prior to launch. “SpaceX applied for a license to launch the Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The FAA has granted a license for that purpose.”

The failed rocket launch in September is being blamed on an upper liquid oxygen tank exploding during the fueling process.

Another failed SpaceX launch in 2015 cost the company a quarter-billion dollar annual loss and a 6% drop in revenue, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The launch-and-return idea is a pinnacle concept for Elon Musk’s dream: a fleet of reusable, reliable rockets and spacecraft which can break not only the gravitational barrier safely, but also span the breach for commercial spaceflight. This strategy has landed Musk and Co. contracts for over 70 Falcon9 flights.

Barnes & Noble pulls Nook Tablet 7-inch from sale due to faulty charger

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Barnes & Noble’s latest Nook tablet has been pulled from sale.

Barnes & Noble released its latest Nook tablet, the Nook Tablet 7-inch, on Black Friday in its latest attempt to battle the success of Amazon’s popular Fire tablets. With a low price of just $50, the new Nook was supposed to compete with the dirt-cheap Fire 6, but B&N’s slate has been riddled with issues from the start.

Shortly after its launch, the Nook was found to be loaded with ADUPS firmware that could allow hackers to spy on the device’s user, presumably thanks to the Chinese manufacturer B&N used to produce it (a cost-cutting break from its partnership with Samsung and its Galaxy brand of tablets). The bookseller claims by launch it had updated the Nook to a version that did not track user data and was working on removing it from the device altogether, but it was hardly an auspicious beginning for the tablet.

Then more recently a poster on Reddit claimed to be a Barnes & Noble retail employee and claimed that the new Nook had been recalled from stores. The company’s website has also been updated to reflect that the Nook Tablet 7-inch is now “not available.”

While speculation was that B&N was unable to rid the Nook of the ADUPS spyware satisfactorily, the company told the Android Police website that it pulled the tablet from sale for an unrelated reason. It claims that three incidents of the casing of the Nook’s charging adapter breaking led to the halting of retail sales. No injuries were reported, but Barnes & Noble says that existing owners can charge the Nook via a computer instead and that the company is sourcing a replacement AC adapter.

This incident is just the latest woe for the Nook brand, which Barnes & Noble started several years ago as the tablet market spiked in popularity. Over time, the struggling platform found itself spun off, then partnered up with Samsung’s tablets. You might think this new hardware failure would finally close the book on the Nook, but we’ve thought that a number of times over the last few years, and B&N has always written another chapter for it. We’ll see what happens when the page is turned once again for the Nook.

Salesforce’s Quip acquires startup Unity&Variety

Quip, the productivity platform that Salesforce acquired last year, announced its Friday that the firm Unity&Variety will be joining its team.

The small Unity&Variety design team — which includes Joey Flynn, Drew Hamlin and Andy Chung — will help Quip “build the next generation of productivity tools,” Quip announced via Twitter. They’ll work on adding creative and visual elements to Quip, according to Salesforce. Has produced at least one public app, the game Pinchworm.

Flynn and Hamlin previously worked with Quip CEO Bret Taylor at Facebook, where both Flynn and Hamlin worked on the Facebook Timeline, among other things. Taylor called them “some of the best product designers I have ever worked with.”

When Salesforce acquired Quip last August, the three-year-old startup already had more than a million users and thousands of teams using its services.

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Resurgence of iOS continues on back of iPhone 7: Kantar

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The year-long mobile share tug-of-war between Apple and Android is far spicier now than it was this time last year, according to the latest data from Kantar.

For the three months ending November 30, iOS saw a 3 percentage point increase to 43.5 percent in the United States compared to October’s numbers, and a large jump on the 37 percent reported a year ago.

A similar pattern was exhibited in the UK, where Android dipped below majority market share for the first time since November 2014, according to Kantar. In the land of Brexit, iOS had 48.3 percent market share, compared to 49.6 percent for Android.

In Australia, Android held 50.1 percent of the market, compared to 46.4 percent for iOS.

Kantar said the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and iPhone 6s held the top three spots for most popular smartphones in the US, with 31.3 percent collective market share. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge models took out the next two slots, with the Google Pixel collecting 1.3 percent of sales.

The iPhone 7 topped the smartphone selling charts in Australia with 18.9 percent, followed by the Galaxy S7 on 8.1 percent. Kantar said Australian males aged 35 and over have been increasingly opting for Android handsets priced between AU$400 and AU$700 in the country, making up 58 percent of all buyers in that category, and as a result Huawei, Oppo, and ZTE have chipped almost 3 percent off Samsung’s market share compared to last year, to sit at 59.4 percent for the Korean giant.

For China, iOS was down 5 points year on year to 20 percent — following a trend pointed out by IDC in October last year.

“Nearly 80 percent of all smartphones sold in Urban China during the three months ending November 2016 were Android, as local brands continued to dominate the market,” said Tamsin Timpson, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia.

“Huawei represented 25 percent of all sales, but its share declined 3.1 percentage points from the three-month period ending October 2016, marking only its second period of decline in more than two years.”

The year-long cycle seen in Kantar’s numbers typically sees Apple spike during the first couple of months of each year, followed by a nadir in the northern hemisphere summer, and increases once a new iPhone model is announced in September. Market share for Android is a reflection of this pattern.

​LG G6 to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress

LG Electronics has confirmed that it will unveil the G6 smartphone at the upcoming Mobile World Congress after releasing a 40-second teaser video on its YouTube channel.

The video, where people of New York are interviewed about their ideal smartphone, ends with the caption “February, 2017”.

A LG spokesman confirmed that the G6 will be officially unveiled at MWC, which kicks off February 27.

In the teaser, seven New Yorkers sequentially say their ideal phone criteria: Bigger screen, smaller body, portability, able to fit in the pocket, comfortable to hold and use, one-hand usability, easy to text with one hand, water-proof, capture it all at once, and reliability.

Near the end of the video, LG suggests that the G6 has these features by showing the silhouette of the phone with them written over it.

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LG Display earlier this week said that the new phone will have a QHD+ LCD screen with a ratio of 18:9, the industry’s first.

The new phones will not be modular like its predecessor and will likely have a unibody, water- and dust-proof design.

Orange secures three-year IoT deal with Hertz

Orange Business Services, the business communications arm of France Telecom, has struck a three-year contract with Hertz that will see it provide Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity services to support its hourly vehicle rental service. Orange will provide IoT connectivity across seven European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and the UK.

The keyless cars, which are available 24/7, can be booked by employees on the phone, online, or via an app; and pool fleets can be deployed in multiple countries where the company operates, allowing staff to book and use the vehicles available at different locations.

The new deal with Orange — the value of which was not disclosed — enables Hertz to use a single global communications provider to centralise the management of its fleets’ SIM cards and service management. Previously, Hertz had to use local operators in each country to provide the SIM cards.

In addition, customers will have a direct line to Hertz’s contact centre from inside the vehicle.

“We are constantly evolving as a business to reflect the changing demands of our customers. Our partnership with Orange Business Services is an ideal step for us as we embrace the future and take on new digital technologies that improve customer service,” said Fabrice Genty, senior director of car sharing operations at Hertz.

Orange Business Services’ IoT connectivity service is part of Datavenue, which was first launched in France in 2015 and was made available globally in October 2016.

Orange is not the only telco with a presence in the automotive industry. Earlier in January, American telecommunications company AT&T announced that it is working to connect vehicles to each other and everything else.

Over the AT&T LTE network, vehicles would share information such as traffic conditions with other vehicles, drivers, and smart infrastructure. Drivers would be able to stay informed about collisions, poor weather, or other variables that could impact their driving.

In October 2016, American telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm announced plans to acquire NXP for $47 million largely for its footprint in the automotive industry.

​NSW government to ‘considerably’ extend GovDC datacentres

The New South Wales government said it will “considerably” extend its datacentre capacity at its two GovDC facilities this year, signing with Metronode to provide the extra space at both its Silverwater, Sydney and Unanderra, Wollongong facilities.

According to Metronode managing director Josh Griggs, construction on the addition of data halls is slated to begin soon, with the Australian-based provider offering the state government its experience in energy efficient datacentre provision.

“Energy efficiency is a key deliverable for the GovDC program and our engineered technologies, along with our superior security systems, have more than satisfied the government’s requirements,” Griggs said.

GovDC was officially launched in October 2013 to enable the consolidation of 130 government datacentres into two, with all state government agencies required to move into, or migrate its IT into GovDC by August 2017.

The GovDC Marketplace launched in parallel to provide NSW agencies with a one-stop-shop for finding telecommunications, cloud, infrastructure, managed services, and software providers.

“Metronode has housed NSW Government data since the GovDC program began in 2012 at both facilities. We constructed another data hall in Unanderra in 2015 to provide additional capacity and we are now further expanding both facilities in 2017,” Griggs added.

The state government said the motivation behind shifting to the GovDC model was that at previous sites, back-up and disaster recovery systems were sometimes non-existent.

“Demand was growing at an unprecedented rate, chief information officers were entering contracts which included unused capacity to ensure continuity of expansion, contractual conditions were problematic, and risk allocation unfair, which resulted in hidden costs and risks to the state,” the government said. “No existing facility could meet projected government demand over the 15 years.”

According to the state government, it experienced an overriding benefit by entering into a whole-of-government arrangement to minimise total costs, make contractual terms and costs more transparent, and guarantee reliability and service standards.

“Our priority is driving digital innovation to improve access to services for the citizens of NSW,” New South Wales government director for GovDC Derek Paterson said on Thursday. “We are pleased that this additional capacity will support more agencies and allow services to be added to the GovDC Marketplace, helping us to meet our objectives”.

US explanation for scanning Yahoo emails unsatisfactory: EU

The United States government’s explanation for why it made a court order forcing Yahoo to scan all users’ incoming emails for intelligence purposes was unsatisfactory, the European Union’s justice chief has said.

The European Commission had asked for clarification from the US government back in November last year on the secret court order served to Yahoo.

“I am not satisfied, because to my taste, the answer came relatively late and relatively general, and I will make clear at the first possible opportunity to the American side that this is not how we understand good, quick, and full exchange of information,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told Reuters.

The EU’s investigation into the matter came about as part of monitoring the EU-US Privacy Shield, which came into effect in July last year and required the US to agree not to engage in mass surveillance practices.

The Privacy Shield allows businesses to move Europeans’ personal data — including for credit card transactions, hotel bookings, and browsing habits for targeted advertising — over to the US.

Yahoo, which announced this week that it would be renaming to Altaba and forming a new board of directors as it becomes an investment company following the $4.8 billion sale of its operating business to Verizon, is not signed up to the EU-US Privacy Shield. In addition, the email scanning took place before the Shield existed.

Despite these facts, the EU is viewing the issue as a test case of whether the US will commit to the Shield, Reuters said, with Jourova adding that she expects a more detailed explanation on why Yahoo was asked to scan customer emails.

Jourova acknowledged that the US “cannot be fully concrete” on national security issues, however.

The first annual review of the Privacy Shield will take place mid-year under incoming US President Donald Trump.

“I would expect that Trump’s administration would understand what is good and what is bad for business. This [Privacy Shield] is good for business,” Jourova said.

“We need to see that we can still trust.”

Back in October, reports emerged from Reuters that Yahoo had been forced to build a tool in 2015 for scanning all customers’ emails for specific information provided by either the FBI or the NSA, and to store for remote retrieval any emails containing that information. The court order was made by America’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

It is unknown what the information being sought was, or whether any other companies were subject to a similar order.

Yahoo’s internal security team found out about the program weeks later, and assumed that there had been a cyber attack, with a programming flaw that could have allowed hackers to access the emails being stored under the secret court order. Yahoo’s chief intelligence security officer subsequently resigned from the company.

Yahoo last year admitted that it had faced data breaches in September 2014 and August 2013, when 500 million accounts and 1 billion accounts, respectively, were stolen by hackers.

The EU’s dissatisfaction with the US’ explanation for forcing Yahoo to scan emails follows Reuters’ reports on Tuesday that the EU has proposed a new law that would see email and online messaging services such as Gmail, Hotmail, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp face more stringent rules on tracking users.

The EU has suggested that these services be required to first obtain their customers’ explicit consent before scanning their emails — which they would also have to assure would remain confidential — and placing cookies on their browsers, before being permitted to track users for the purposes of targeted advertising.

Companies that do not accede to the new rules, which still must be approved by the European Parliament and its member states, would face fines of around 4 percent of their global revenue, Reuters said.

With AAP

Taboola buys Israeli startup Commerce Sciences

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Image: Taboola

Taboola, an Israeli content discovery and recommendation company, announced plans to acquire web personalization and on-site optimization startup Commerce Sciences. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Taboola said that Commerce Sciences’ staff will join Taboola’s Tel Aviv workforce.

Commerce Sciences was founded in 2012, also in Israel, and is backed by Genesis Partners, KGC Capital, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, and other angel investors.

The startup’s personalization technology analyzes the implied characteristics of website visitors as they relate to a particular time and context, meaning that the same person may be more likely to interact with different on-site content depending the time of day.

Taboola, which competes directly with another Israeli company named Outbrain, says the acquisition furthers its personalization strategy and technology portfolio. Taboola’s main product generates recommended content typically found at the bottom of articles on a bevy of websites. Taboola says it serves more than 360 billion recommendations to over 1 billion unique visitors every month on websites such as USA TODAY, Huffington Post, MSN, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune and The Weather Channel.

“These are important times to understand the value of data and the user experience, as the web has become very fragmented,” Taboola founder and CEO Adam Singolda said in prepared remarks. “The notion of personalization based on user demographics is old school. It’s evolving into the context in which users are consuming the web; we all have multiple personas as we come from social, search, our phone, and more – imagine if every site had a version tailored to each one of those personas.”

Dell just released a Microsoft Surface Studio style display

Late last year, word had it that Dell was making a Surface Studio clone: An all-in-one PC with a draft-table-type hinge.

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Dell’s new Canvas monitor

At CES on January 5, Dell took the wraps off its Canvas product, which looks like the Surface Studio in some ways, but is quite different in others.

The Canvas ships with a pen and a device that looks a lot like the Dial peripheral that Microsoft ships alongside its Surface Studio. Dell is calling these dial-like devices “totems.”

But the Canvas is a 27-inch QHD display, not a full-fledged PC like the Surface Studio. It’s designed to work with almost any Windows 10 PC. The Dell Canvas has a substantially lower resolution (2560X1440) than the Studio (4500X3000), as well as a lower price tag (starting at $1,800 once it’s available starting March 30).

For what it’s worth, Dell officials have said the company was working on the Canvas several years before Microsoft publicly revealed the Surface Studio in October 2016. According to today’s press release, Dell developed the Canvas in partnership with Microsoft.

While I’ve heard many wonder aloud whether Microsoft officials are angry — to the point of possibly suing OEMs which release near clones of Microsoft’s own Surface hardware, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer Chris Capossela recently told me and my Windows Weekly co-host Paul Thurrott that this isn’t the case.

In building its own hardware, Microsoft’s number one goal is “to create a new category of device and expand the totally addressable ecosystem,” Capossela said. He added that Microsoft “expects” its PC partners to follow Microsoft’s lead in these new device categories.

Capossela said that Microsoft’s OEM/PC partners have the ability to scale their hardware production businesses far beyond what Microsoft itself can do. While Microsoft, of course, would like to build up its own hardware business, its executives’ expectations are that Microsoft’s main goal in building its Surface business is to create new device categories. It’s a kind of lift-all-boats type thing at work.

Dell seemingly believes the company is creating its own category, calling the Canvas not just a monitor, but “the world’s first horizontal smart workspace of its kind with touch, totem and pen capabilities.”

CES 2017: Take a look at these two new HP laptops: