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Microsoft’s 15-inch Surface Book 2 comes to 17 new countries

Microsoft first launched the Surface Book 2 in November, but so far, both the 13- and 15-inch variants have only been available in the US. That’s about to change, however, as the 15-inch model is now on pre-order in Australia, Canada, France, German, the UK and other European nations where, until now, only the 13-inch model was sold. On top of that, starting in February, Microsoft will release both Surface Book 2 models in places where it has yet to go on sale, including China, India, Italy, Qatar and other parts of Asia and the Middle East.

The 15-inch model is particularly interesting as a graphics and gaming unit, since it comes with a nicely powerful NVIDIA GTX 1060 graphics card (the 13-incher has NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics). Though you might be tempted to buy it as a gaming machine, know that the power supply isn’t enough to sustain a charge if you’re running games like Destiny 2, however. Microsoft has yet to say how or whether it will rectify that rather weird issue.

The original Surface Book suffered from power management and other bugs, but Microsoft told Engadget last year that it learned from that experience for the Surface Book 2. In fact, Microsoft fixed nearly everything we didn’t like about the last one, strengthening the hinge, improving the screen and making it work better as a tablet. With an eight-gen Intel CPU and NVIDIA 1060 graphics, it’s certainly powerful, and incredibly light for a hybrid laptop/tablet at 4.2 pounds.

As mentioned, pre-orders start today for the 15-inch model in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Over the next few months, both the 13- and 15-inch models will go on sale in Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. Pricing starts at $1,499 for the 13-inch model and $2,499 for the 15-incher.

Source: Microsoft


Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus Was China’s Second Best-Selling Smartphone in 2017

Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus was the second best-selling smartphone in China last year and outperformed iPhone 7 sales by some margin, according to new market research, suggesting price is not the only concern amongst Chinese consumers.

Low-cost smartphones have dominated the Chinese market in recent years, while high-end devices from companies like Apple typically see low sales numbers in the country. But a report from Counterpoint Research reveals Apple’s 5.5-inch device reached second place with a 2.8 percent market share overall, while Oppo’s similarly sized R9S ended 2017 as the market leader with a 3 percent share. In third and fourth place the Vivo X9 and Oppo A57 took 2.7 percent and 2.6 percent of the market, respectively, while Apple’s 4.7-inch iPhone 7 sat in fifth with 2.4 percent, suggesting the smaller form factor display dampened interest amongst consumers.

Apple was the only foreign brand in China’s 2017 market top 10, according to the research, thanks to the success of its iPhone 7 series. An uptick in sales in the second half of the year was reportedly due to the implementation of price cuts, which increased Apple’s competitiveness against lower-cost local brands. For example, an iPhone 7 Plus with 128GB storage received a 16 percent price cut, putting it around the $900 mark.

The big winner though was Oppo, whose product and pricing strategies were most in sync with the demands of the Chinese market, enabling it to end the year with three different models in the top 10. In terms of product strategy, Oppo focused on selfie and social media features, both of which are popular with Chinese consumers in the high-volume middle-tier market, where smartphones cost between $200 and $400.

According to the report, higher replacement demand and a bigger dependence on mobile apps has spurred fierce competition in China, which is home to the world’s biggest smartphone market in terms of sales volume. Apple fared well, however, managing to ship an estimated 11 million iPhones overall in the third quarter, up 40 percent from the year-ago quarter, according to separate research conducted by Canalys.

The strong growth, buoyed by the launch of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, put an end to six consecutive quarters of declining iPhone sales in the region. Data isn’t yet available for the fourth quarter, when the iPhone X launched in China, although the model’s high price and supply constraints likely inhibited growth in the short term, despite excitement around all-display/bezel-free phones.

Apple was the fifth largest smartphone maker in China in Q3 2017, behind local brands Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, and Xiaomi, according to Canalys data.

Tag: China
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Lyft opens its ride-booking Concierge service to all businesses

Lyft has finally opened up Concierge to businesses and organizations of all sizes. The program allows members to hail rides for other people, giving companies a way to offer that extra touch of service to customers, especially those who can’t call for a ride themselves due to one thing or another. Concierge launched in 2016 when Lyft teamed up with the National Medtrans Network in New York City — the perfect place to start, since most residents don’t have cars — to take patients to the doctor.

After a while, Lyft forged partnerships with more companies, including JetBlue, CareMore and GoGoGrandparent. JetBlue, for instance, can call a Lyft to offer their passengers or crew a seamless journey, while GoGoGrandparent can hail a ride for the seniors who call their number on a landline. Rotor Zen, a San Diego-based helicopter tour operator, also uses the service to get guests from hotels and to drive them back after their tour.

Now, Concierge is open to any company, so long as they sign up for a Lyft Business account and add a payment method. They can hail almost any type of Lyft ride for employees and clients alike. It’s worth taking note, however, that the companies will be able to track passengers’ journeys in real time. That’s ideal for businesses like GoGoGrandparent, so they can track their elderly customers. But those who don’t appreciate being watched by their employers might want to call a ride on their own and just ask for reimbursement.

Source: Lyft


London’s new electric taxis scuppered by faulty sensor

London’s new electric taxis have been delayed. The “TX” cabs developed by LEVC were supposed to arrive in the capital late last year. But there’s a problem with the system that tracks time and distance — recorded as electric “pulses” — for the all-important fare meter. It’s forced the company to push back its production schedule while a fix is developed and approved by Transport for London (TfL). “Deliveries are subject to a short delay as a result of an unexpected issue with compatibility with the taxi meters and the taxi,” an LEVC spokesperson said. “The problem is understood, and it involves the pulse messages sent between the vehicle and the meter.”

LEVC, formerly known as The London Taxi Company, is working with TfL and third-party meter suppliers on a solution. It’s unclear exactly which component is causing the issue, however. A spokesperson explained that it’s causing the taxis to deliver fewer “pulses” than normal, which in turn produces low, inaccurate fares. (Not a bad problem for London citizens, but I’m sure taxi drivers wouldn’t be impressed.) LEVC now expects to fulfil its first taxi orders sometime next week. Only then can it usher in the greener, tech-savvy era of transportation mayor Sadiq Khan has been longing for.

The new car has a 1.3 litre, three-cylinder petrol engine that acts as a generator for a battery pack and electric motor. As a pure EV, it can travel up to 70 miles on a single charge, but with a full tank of petrol that rises to 400 miles. Its green credentials, then, are limited, but it does meet the zero-remissions capable” requirement that was introduced on January 1st. London’s air quality is notoriously bad and it’s hoped the new cabs will improve public health as older, traditional gas-guzzlers are switched out.

The TX comes with a contemporary interior too. It has onboard WiFi, USB charging and support for contactless payments — a requirement in London since 2016. Drivers also have access to a sat-nav with information about traffic congestion and charger points. The latter will be crucial as the city gradually expands its EV-refueling infrastructure. Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, told the Guardian that there is “still nowhere near the number of rapid charge points” required in central London. Tfl has promised to install 300 by 2020, but the slow roll out could limit the initial interest from drivers.

There’s also the issue of price. At £55,600 — including an electric vehicle grant of £7,500 — it’s hardly an impulse buy. Though running costs are lower, the initial cost is considerably higher than a traditional diesel model. That’s a problem for an industry that is already steeling itself against ride-hailing services such as Uber. At the moment people are very hesitant,” McNamara added. “We’ve got to pay £12,000 more for a vehicle that we don’t know the reliability or durability of, at a time when the market is being squeezed by that company [Uber].” The TX has an uphill battle, then, even once LEVC has fixed its mysterious vehicle-to-meter interface glitch.

Via: The Guardian


The city of Barcelona is dumping Windows in favor of Linux

The city of Barcelona, Spain, announced its plan to dump Windows and Office in favor of open-source alternatives. Linux will be its operating system of choice, as officials attempt to save some money by dodging the subscription fees associated with Microsoft’s offerings.

Little has been said about how Barcelona plans to transition to open-source software, according to a report from Tech Radar. However, a pilot scheme is already underway, as some city employees have been outfitted with workstations that run Ubuntu and come pre-installed with Firefox to cater to their web browsing needs.

The plan goes beyond just picking and choosing the best open-source alternatives to Microsoft products out there, as Barcelona will apparently be hiring developers to create bespoke software. The idea is that these projects could potentially be rolled out across other Spanish cities if they’re up to the task.

It remains to be seen how successful the move away from Windows will be in the long run. Barcelona is far from the only European city to make a similar decision and previous examples have been less than encouraging.

In 2003, Munich announced its plans to switch to Linux, a process that took several years to carry out, according to a report from MSPowerUser. The city eventually decided to revert back to Windows, after widespread complaints from staff regarding reduced efficiency and productivity. Vienna made a similar transition to Linux in 2005 but would return to the Microsoft ecosystem in 2009.

Of course, the computing landscape has changed a great deal in recent years. There was once a time when Linux and open-source software was thought of as something for power users, but years of development brought many of these projects up to a very high standard, in some cases on a par with Microsoft’s products.

From packages like LibreOffice to the various free alternatives to Photoshop that are available, there has never been a better time to dive into open-source software. It remains to be seen whether Barcelona will succeed in its attempt to leave Microsoft behind, but it’s certainly in a better position to do so than Vienna was more than a decade ago.

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Real-life Doctor Dolittle aims to use A.I.-powered translator to talk to animals

What pet owner hasn’t, at some point, looked at their nonpaying houseguest and wondered what it is that they’re saying with those meows, barks, or assorted other sounds they make? Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, wonders too — to the point where he’s spent the past 30 years examining the behavior. And now he’s created an artificial intelligence (A.I.) startup so we won’t be left wondering for too much longer.

“We are increasingly finding that animals have languages of their own,” Slobodchikoff told Digital Trends. “In my book, Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, I show that many animals have either language or language-like abilities. In the past, it was difficult to decipher these languages, but now we have the tools with which we can do this. The goal of Zoolingua is to start with dogs — because many people do not understand what their dogs are trying to say to them — and, using A.I. technology, build a device that would allow people to communicate with their dogs. Once that is built, we plan to expand to devices that will allow people to communicate with cats, horses, cows, pigs, goats, and wild animals.”

Slobodchikoff’s research started out analyzing the high-pitched calls of prairie dogs, which he found contained a complex language capable of describing everything from the presence of a predator nearby (obvious) to the color of specific humans’ clothing (less obvious.) He then teamed up with a computer scientist colleague to turn those insights into a machine translation tool. It was this work that prompted the creation of Zoolingua in 2017.

The company’s work won’t just focus on spoken words, though. “We are in the process of building a device that will read dogs’ body language and vocalizations, and using A.I. technology and cloud computing, will tell people what their dog is saying to them in English,” he said. “At the present time, some 2 million to 3 million dogs are euthanized each year in the United States, primarily because of behavioral problems arising from an inability of dogs to communicate their needs to people. With this device, we will be able to drastically reduce behavioral problems and euthanizations of animals. Also, people love to talk to their dogs and think that their dogs understand them. This device will show people that dogs do indeed understand what is said to them, and even have their own thoughts and opinions.”

Slobodchikoff says that such a device is two to five years away, depending on funding. If it works as well as described, though, we’ll be the first in line to buy one. Let’s hope that Slobodchikoff and his colleagues are barking up the right tree!

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The Autel EVO packages 60 fps 4K video in a compact folding drone

The folding DJI Mavic Pro may have just lost a competitor, but another company is bringing a new portable drone to the market — the Autel EVO. The recently announced EVO drone sports a 4K 60 fps camera mounted on a compact drone with a 30-minute battery life rating.

While 4K may be increasingly common, the EVO captures that higher-resolution video at 60 fps, which is tougher to find. The camera is mounted on a three-axis gimbal for steadier shots. The camera also uses computer vision to help the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) avoid obstacles, while an infrared sensor at the back adds more crash-prevention technology.

The EVO can fly for up to 30 minutes on a charge, with a recharge taking a little over an hour. Speeds top out around 65 feet per second, while the drone can remain in range for about 4.2 miles. Intelligent flight mode options include object tracking, as well as following the drone’s flight path using a GPS. The ability to preset waypoint mission coordinates, along with flight patterns designed for 3D mapping tasks, is also slated to be included in the EVO.

The drone can be controlled with the Autel Explorer App on both iOS and Android — or with a controller that also has a 3.3 inch OLED screen that streams the drones viewpoint live in 720p resolution.

Based in Washington state, Autel is a relative newcomer to the drone scene — we included them in a list of new drone companies to watch in 2016. The EVO, once launched, will be the company’s new flagship, following the X-Star line launched in 2016.

The EVO appears to be a close competitor for DJI’s folding drone, the Mavic Pro, offering another compact option now that GoPro is withdrawing from the drone market and ceasing production of the Karma. The EVO has similar gimbal specs to the Mavic Pro, but a faster frame rate for 4K video and a slightly longer battery life, though DJI’s longer history, rugged design, and intelligent flight options at the same price point are still likely to sway many buyers.

Autel hasn’t released a launch date yet, but says the price point will sit right around $1,000.

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New pressure sensor for medical uses dissolves in the patient’s body

A biodegradable pressure sensor that has been developed by engineers at the University of Connecticut can make certain medical procedures much less invasive.

The small, flexible device is designed to monitor the forces at work within a patient’s body, including those related to chronic lung disease and brain swelling, before dissolving completely. The degradable quality means surgeons won’t have to dig back into the body to retrieve the sensor once its job is done.

“A lot of current devices used to monitor internal pressures are bulky and invasive,” Thanh Duc Nguyen, a UConn engineer who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “They need to be removed after the implantation and such removal can damage the organs and delicate tissue.”

The sensor developed by Nguyen and his team is composed of an electrical film squeezed between two electrodes. This is then coated with a biodegradable material called polylactic acid, often used in medicine for things like bone screws.

“We wanted to make something that could be implanted and monitor the organ pressure and then just disappear without having to be removed,” Nguyen said. “To do that you can implant a soft and degradable sensor so that it could directly interface with soft tissue and then you have a wireless electronic implanted in a [place] far away from such delicate tissues.”

In other words, the sensors could be attached directly to the sensitive area that needs monitoring while the electronics that wirelessly transmit the sensor’s data are left nearer to the skin’s surface. After the sensor’s work is complete, the electronics can be removed through minimally invasive procedure while the sensor itself dissolves.

“You won’t have to remove these sensors that interface with the soft tissue so you don’t damage these delicate tissues,” Nguyen said. “And you only need a minimally invasive surgery to remove the electronic circuits based far away from the tissue you want to monitor.”

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nguyen and his team demonstrated the device at work transmitting information about the contractions of a mouse’s diaphragm over the course of four days, before dissolving.

Moving forward, Nguyen and his team hope to develop circuitry that can itself degrade within the body.

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First Hawaii, now Japan issues a missile warning in error

Many Japanese people had their dinner rudely interrupted on Tuesday night when their smartphones buzzed with a missile attack warning. But the alert, sent by the country’s national broadcaster, had been sent in error.

The blunder comes just days after Hawaiian authorities did the vey same thing, sending to islanders’ smartphones a warning of imminent attack.

Ten minutes after the Japan alert was issued, the broadcaster, NHK, confirmed on TV that North Korea had not launched a missile in its direction after all, and that the message, sent to everyone with the NHK app, had been sent by mistake.

It’s not yet clear how the alert came to be issued, though there were no reports of the kind of panic seen in Hawaii at the weekend. A spokesperson for NHK later apologized, saying a member of staff had “mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet.”

Missile alert

The warning went out at 6.55 p.m., telling people: “North Korea likely to have launched a missile…The government urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground.”

With tensions on the Korean peninsula recently reaching crisis point, many who saw the warning may have feared the worst. Parts of Japan are just 350 miles from North Korea, so any missile attack would give those in the targeted location only minutes to take evasive action.

On Saturday, officials in Hawaii made the same mistake, sending an alert to smartphones in the state warning of an incoming missile. News shows played video clips of terrified people running for cover in the belief that something terrible was about to happen. Like NHK, the warning was sent by mistake, though it took officials in Hawaii 38 minutes to inform islanders of the gaffe.

The error was reportedly the fault of a worker at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who sent the warning to handsets after selecting the incorrect option on a computer during what was supposed to be a training exercise.

The message read: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a statement this week that a subcommittee will examine issues of safety communications, adding that the public “needs to be able to trust that the emergency alert they receive is legitimate. We need to make sure that a mistake like what happened in Hawaii never happens again.”

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Video offers peek at ultra-wide Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope has been a long time in the making when work on its mirrors started in 2007. It’s finally coming together, though. The LSST team has released a brief clip showing progress on the Chilean facility as of the end of 2017. Not surprisingly, it’s huge — that giant 3.2-gigapixel camera (potentially the largest in the world) and ultra-wide optics (3.5 degrees in diameter) take up a lot of space by themselves, let alone the rest of the complex.

As far as the LSST has come, it has a long way to go. It won’t see engineering first light (that is, first actual use) until 2019, and its 10-year survey won’t start until January 2022. This is more a preview of what astronomy will be like in the next decade. Between this and the Giant Magellan Telescope, scientists will capture an unprecedented level of detail that promises to reveal elements of the universe that just weren’t detectable before.

Source: LSST (YouTube)

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