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7
May

Apple Public Relations Vice President Katie Cotton to Retire


Katie Cotton is retiring from her position as VP of worldwide corporate communications at Apple, reports Recode. Cotton has worked in Apple’s public relations department for almost twenty years, serving under both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.

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“Katie has given her all to this company for over 18 years,” Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said in a statement. “She has wanted to spend time with her children for some time now. We are really going to miss her.”

Cotton has confirmed her retirement, saying it was an extremely difficult decision to make as “Apple is a part of my heart.”

Cotton is known for having been fiercely protective of Apple executives, particularly Steve Jobs, serving as gatekeeper for all media access and shepherding executives through their formal and informal meetings with the press. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, Cotton has long been tasked with keeping a tight rein on the company’s PR operations, managing Apple’s image and contributing to the company’s presentations.



7
May

Apple Regains Lead in Latest J.D. Power Tablet Customer Satisfaction Survey [iOS Blog]


Apple reclaimed its spot as the highest ranked tablet manufacturer in J.D. Power’s latest U.S. tablet customer satisfaction study. Apple earned a 5-star rating and scored 830 on a 1,000 point scale, edging out Samsung, which scored a second place 822.
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The survey of 2,513 tablet owners found that Apple led its competitors in four of the five measured categories, including performance, ease of operation, features and styling and design. Apple trailed only in cost, which isn’t surprising given the starting $299 price tag of Apple’s iPad lineup. Number two Samsung ranked above-average in features, styling and design, and cost.

All is not rosy in the tablet market, however, with overall satisfaction among tablet owners on the decline, dropping 18 points to 835 in 2014 from a high of 853 in 2012. Ease of operation was the feature that showed the largest drop in satisfaction, with tablets taking longer to setup and becoming more complicated to use.

“Since the inaugural U.S. Tablet Satisfaction Study in 2012, a number of new tablet OEMs have entered the U.S. marketplace, differentiating themselves to satisfy a growing interest in owning a tablet,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecommunications services at J.D. Power. “Price has significantly impacted the marketplace. The average purchase price continues to drop and consumer expectations of tablet performance and features are different than they were for past products. Subsequently, overall satisfaction has declined, especially with ease of operation, as navigation features and functions have changed.”

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Not surprisingly, the most important feature cited by consumers when buying a tablet was cost, followed by features and brand reputation. Brand recognition is becoming increasingly important to consumers, beating out both manufacturer websites and personal recommendations as the reasons why they select a particular brand.



7
May

Drone inspectors: UK airline easyJet looks to tech to cut costs


Virgin’s the kind of brand we’re not shocked to see playing with the latest tech — after all, Richard Branson’s got a space plane. Experiments with Google Glass, smartwatches and iBeacon for Virgin have all focused on boosting customer experience, as long as you’re in Upper Class, anyway. European airline easyJet, however, is known for its no-frills, low-cost approach, which is why we’re curious to see the company investing in an “innovation” arm that looks at how new technologies can be applied to aviation, with no immediate return. easyJet sees it differently, though, as the long-term goal is to save money by reducing technical delays, or hopefully avoiding them all together. This has a knock-on effect of improving customer service by minimizing disruptions, of course, but make no mistake: easyJet’s motivated to explore emerging tech because a grounded plane might as well be a money pit.

easyJet envisions reducing aircraft downtime in a number of ways, the simplest (on paper) being better software. In this area, the airline’s testing a system that monitors its fleet in real time, and schedules part replacements before they fail, as well as looking at mobile apps that also take the hassle out of identifying and ordering the right parts. The main issue for easyJet, really, is when a plane is struck by lightning or suffers some other event that might’ve caused damage, and it needs meticulous inspection before returning to active duty. We’re told it can take up to a day for engineers to OK a plane, and it’s this lost time that easyJet is trying to cut dramatically by using a much smaller kind of aircraft: the drone.

Though the airline admittedly has no real idea of when it could deploy drones in support of its engineers, the pipe dream sees UAVs shrinking lengthy inspection times to little more than an hour. Instead of making engineers climb about the aircraft in search of damage, the thinking is drones could help get at hard-to-reach places quickly. While laser scanning and 3D modeling could be part of a drone’s job in the future, easyJet’s still just working on making sure camera quality is as good as it can be. The airline’s working with drone-builders CopterCraft and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (UK) to perform proof-of-concept studies, with the latter even looking into autonomous scanning, multi-drone setups to divide workload and particularly outdoor flight in turbulent environments.

All aircraft maintenance is managed from a command center next to London’s Luton Airport, and the hope is that drone imagery and scans can enhance communication and data availability with engineers on the ground. Not limited to just drones, easyJet’s also testing hand-held and head-mounted cameras, as well as portable 3D scanners for relaying information back to base. AR headwear from the likes of Epson and Vuzix could also feed information the other way, giving engineers a heads-up as to where an issue might be found. Most of these applications are a long way from formal introduction, but some tech is set to save easyJet money right now. By the end of the month, the 25kg of flight manuals and other paperwork its planes lug around will be replaced by Panasonic’s rugged Toughpad tablets. And, according to easyJet, one kilo costs it $20,000 each year. In an effort to make truly paper-free planes, Sony’s large e-paper slates are also expected to substitute in for the plethora of forms the crew must fill out for each flight.

easyJet considers all these projects investments, and ones that will eventually pay off. It’s not concerned with other airline’s riffing of the ideas, either, and in some respects hopes to be a leader in assessing new technologies for their potential in aviation. Most of all though, easyJet wants its planes in the air as much as possible, getting you on your way and making dollars in the process.

Sharif Sakr contributed to this report.

Filed under: Robots, Tablets, Transportation, Wearables, Software, Sony

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Source: easyJet

7
May

NBC’s $7 billion Olympics deal will keep the games tied to cable TV until you’re old


2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014

We hope you love how NBC handles its Olympic Games broadcasts, because it just locked up broadcast rights on TV, internet and mobile devices until 2032. NBC previously outbid rivals from ABC/ESPN and Fox with a $4.38 billion offer for the broadcast rights through 2020, and the new extension runs things out for twelve more years at a price of $7.65 billion, with a tiny $100 million signing bonus “for the promotion of Olympism” between 2015 and 2020. The good news, is that NBC has at least seen the light on live broadcasting, and made all the events (except for the Opening Ceremony) available for viewing as they happened on the internet or TV during the 2014 Winter Games. Of course — rather predictably since NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast — it’s still tying access to those internet streams to having a cable or satellite TV subscription, and it seems unlikely that will change any time soon.

[Image credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images]

Filed under: Home Entertainment, HD

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Source: IOC

7
May

The world’s largest election is being led by a holographic politician


INDIA-ELECTION-MODI

What do you do when you’re running for prime minister of one of the most populous nations on Earth and need to reach over 800 million people? How can you possibly shake every hand and kiss every baby, occasionally appearing in several locations at once? One solution is dark magic. The (slightly) more realistic solution, recently employed by Indian candidate Narendra Modi, is to simply turn your speeches into holographic affairs.

Yes, like Tupac’s 2012 performance at Coachella.

Modi’s used a hologram of himself to reach a huge portion of India’s voting public — some 814.5 million people comprise India’s eligible voting populous — appearing over 800 times as such. The hologram is actually a projection controlled from above the stage (rather than the Star Wars-esque devices we expected). It’s a novel concept that’s assisted in Modi’s rise to popularity in India; as John Oliver points out on Last Week Tonight, Modi’s also promising working toilets to every household. Which is to say, “The country with the world’s first hologram politician is also a country that lacks indoor plumbing on a wide-scale.” We live in a weird world, y’all.

Filed under: Displays, Misc, Software

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Source: The Telegraph

7
May

Don’t go to North Korea, but do check out this travel app


When we think of the places we’d rather not go, a Whole Foods on a Tuesday night before Thanksgiving or your great-grandparents’ windowless basement apartment come to mind. And then there’s also North Korea, bastion of human rights violations and the favored destination of one Dennis Rodman. If, for some reason, you’ve always wanted to plan your own trip to the “most secretive nation” in the world, but felt it was too complicated, well, now there’s a 99-cent app for that. Yeah. But it doesn’t come from the genius minds of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s propagandists. It hails from Uniquely.Travel, a London-based startup specializing in trips to difficult destinations and Magora Systems, a Russian software maker.

The app appears well-designed enough, with over 350 points of interest, slick menus, hi-res imagery and even recommendations from a tour guide with 10 years of experience traveling in the land that time (and justice forgot). The sights are helpfully mapped out and available for offline access should you need a handy reference while casually strolling through Pyongyang looking for that hot new Tapas bar. And the intrepid among you can even use it to customize your itineraries, compare price quotes from different travel agencies and book travel.

But, really, why would you?

Filed under: Cellphones, Software, Mobile

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Via: Washington Post

Source: North Korea Travel

7
May

NASA wants its next rover to bring a greenhouse to Mars


NASA's 2020 Mars rover with a greenhouse on top

Any long-term human presence on Mars is going to require renewable food sources, and that likely involves plants. But how do we know that they’ll flourish in the Red Planet’s higher radiation and lower gravity? NASA may find out in the next several years. One of the proposed modules on its next Martian rover is the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX), a tiny greenhouse that would study plant growth. The experiment would use Earth air and water to keep a batch of flowering plants alive for 15 days and see how they’re affected by otherworldly conditions.

The MPX crew can’t promise that the rover will bring greenery to Mars when it touches down in 2021. Their project is just one of the 58 proposed experiments for the vehicle, many of which aren’t likely to make the cut. If the plants get the go-ahead, though, they’ll give NASA a better sense of whether or not full-size greenhouses are viable — and they might make life a lot easier for any would-be colonists.

[Image credit: Chris McKay and the MPX Proposal Team]

Filed under: Science

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Source: Space.com

7
May

Google pads small-business toolbox with purchase of website builder


By nabbing up Appetas, a company that gives restauratuers a way to build a website in minutes, Google appears to be diving deeper into small business. The culinary outfit announced the acquisition on its blog, along with the news that it would be shuttering the service to get to work on its “new endeavors.” Co-founders Curtis Fonger and Keller Smith note that the folks in Mountain View are looking to bring easy-to-use business tools to merchants, but as you might expect, there’s no mention of what that might entail. Appetas not only serves up Squarespace-esque design tools, but it offers GrubHub, OpenTable and social integration for key features — like managing reservations. “We’re very excited to use what we’ve learned with Appetas to create something even better at Google,” they wrote in the blog post. Of course, Google purchased Zagat and its crowd-sourced reviews back in 2011, so we’ll have to wait and see if it and this offering are paired together in future services. And there’s Google+, which could be ripe for a transition to business directory now that its status is in limbo.

Filed under: Internet, Google

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Via: TechCrunch

Source: Appetas

7
May

Not just for figurines: 3D printing saves companies big


While we’re monkeying with our MakerBots, large corporations have much better toys to play with. They insist on calling them “additive manufacturing” machines but, truth be told, they’re just Replicators with a superiority complex. They sinter or melt powdered or solid metals using lasers or electron beams, then deposit them in layers to form objects. Companies were previously leaning on such (incredibly expensive) devices for rapidly building prototypes like the Audi concept car shown above. Though that’s still a huge part of the industrial 3D printer business, the machines are now churning out finished products as well.

As the Economist points out, industry giants like Siemens are using selective-laser melting to build gas turbines faster and cheaper. That’ll eventually reduce part prices by up to 30 percent and order times by 90 percent. The technology is also being rapidly adopted by the aviation business, with GE building nozzles for its next-gen Leap fanjet engines with electron beam melting printers, for instance. That makes for a product that’s a quarter lighter and five times stronger than before, something most travelers would surely get behind. That’s why the additive manufacturing industry is booming 40 percent higher than last year — and explains why companies like Epson are neglecting consumer 3D printers in favor of industrial models.

[Image credit: Eirik Newth, Flickr]

Filed under: Science

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Source: Economist

7
May

New York’s next big neighborhood is its smartest


“It was always going to be tomorrow’s city today. A new heart of New York City; Midtown expanding west.” — Thad Sheely, SVP operations for Related Companies

Tourists come to stop and stare, and sometimes throw pennies. This isn’t a long-standing tradition. There are no wishes to make here. It’s just a construction site they’re filling with change; “the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center.” Its 28 acres span west from 10th Avenue to 12th Avenue and the Hudson River, and north from 30th Street to 34th Street. The site is home to the final piece of the High Line park; an extension of the number 7 subway line; five office towers and nearly 5,000 residences; 14 acres of public space; a public school; and an active rail yard, from which it gets its name. This is Hudson Yards: New York City’s first truly smart neighborhood. Or, it will be when New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), a partner for the development, finishes outfitting it with sensors.

Timeline showing the initial phase of construction on the Eastern yards through the project's completion in 2018

Timeline showing the initial phase of construction on the Eastern yards through the project’s completion in 2018.

This “quantified community” is a real-life urban laboratory for connected living, and its future, deep-pocketed residents will be its well-kept lab rats. CUSP, a 2-year-old NYU program born of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Applied Sciences initiative, is the brains behind this real estate operation from developers Related Companies and Oxford Properties. They’re the ones outlining which aspects of life will be measured when the first building, 10 Hudson Yards, opens in 2015; what sensors to install and the equipment used to make them. For CUSP, the opportunity at Hudson Yards is twofold: The site presents a unique look at the impact urban development has on a city vis-à-vis pollution and waste, as well as a chance for the center to model and analyze scientific assumptions regarding energy and water usage.

Constantine Kontokosta, department director for CUSP, said his team’s just beginning to refine exactly what to prioritize for phase one of the construction. Air quality, noise levels, energy and water usage: These are all things Kontokosta believes can be tracked and meaningfully analyzed to not only help make life better for residents of Hudson Yards, but also make New York and other cities “more resilient.”

This “quantified community” is a real-life urban laboratory for connected living, and its future, deep-pocketed residents will be its well-kept lab rats.

It’s an especially weighty concern after the devastation that wracked much of the city in late 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. That frankenstorm caused rampant flooding in much of lower Manhattan that led to evacuations for the city’s residents and the shutdown of subway stations, tunnels and streets. It even forced Con Edison to preemptively cut off power in parts of the financial district to avoid damage to its underground electrical systems. Thad Sheely, SVP of operations at Related Companies, pointed to the fallout from that natural disaster when describing the Yard’s multipronged energy-management system.

“We’re trying to think about it both from a sustainability perspective and efficiency … but also from a redundancy side of things,” Sheely said. “So if a Sandy event happens, we would still have power and be able to turn our buildings on.”

Resiliency, redundancy, future-proofing: These are the big-picture buzzwords that get thrown around about Hudson Yards. The idea is that you can build a neighborhood that won’t go down when disaster strikes; a haven of self-sustainability powered by Con Edison, diesel and an on-site cogen (natural gas/heat) power plant. “We have all these different energy sources and we want to make sure we’re managing them effectively,” Sheely said. “And why that’s important is that in some ways, we’re creating almost a micro-grid.”

That micro-grid is the lynchpin of the Yards. But like the site’s other high-concept, high-tech aspects, Related Companies hasn’t yet nailed down specifics for this energy platform’s creation. Though, discussions with “tech providers and vendors to create a master building-management system” are ongoing. When the grid is eventually completed, Sheely said the idea is to have an open-source protocol that can connect and manage the various, intelligent moving parts of the Yards — the waste-management system, the energy grid, the sensor data — while delivering insights based on all of that incoming data. The end goal, he admits, is cost savings.

“When we think about combining that data with some of the sensor data and the opt-in individual data about people flows and traffic … to be able to have some predictive analytics about that we think will be really interesting,” Sheely said. “It could determine your energy buy.”

A view of the extension for the No. 7 subway line

A view of the extension for the No. 7 subway line.

A lower energy bill may not strike you as a cutting-edge use of connected tech, but it’s just one of the many practical perks of Hudson Yards’ measured world. Since much of the info in CUSP’s Big Data pool comes from its partnership with the city, things like GPS data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the MTA or bike-sharing initiative can be analyzed to make the life of a resident incredibly convenient.

“We could add that data to other things that we know about the way people come in our buildings and the way they enter and exit, and start directing them to where the best place to get a taxi cab is,” Sheely said.

Resiliency, redundancy, future-proofing: These are the big-picture buzzwords that get thrown around about Hudson Yards.

The approach Related Companies and CUSP are taking to connected life in the Yards is more additive than intrusive. “We don’t necessarily want to recreate someone’s digital world; we want to just plug into it,” Sheely told me. Neither he, nor Kontokosta envision tracking residents and visitors in a way that treads on their privacy. “Everything we do there is going to be an opt-in, voluntary scenario,” Kontokosta said. That’s on the individual level, however, and doesn’t take into account the thermographic (heat) mapping planned to monitor pollution, energy usage and crowds visiting the area — a number projected to be around 24 million per year.

There is, of course, also the question of security. A smart neighborhood like Hudson Yards harbors a great potential for nefarious data mining and cyber attacks. But again, since much of the planning for the site is still in progress, neither party was ready to speak in-depth about methods to secure the data harvested from residents and the Yards-at-large.

The “internet of things” is a nebulous term that somehow seems apt here. It’s the sort of digital-era jargon imbued with such a multitude of meanings as to render it indefinable. And yet, it perfectly describes Hudson Yards, a 21st century neighborhood designed to digitally assist better living. This is a smart neighborhood that “lives” so long as it’s persistently connected to the internet. Related Companies is aware that this crucial digital infrastructure is the lifeblood and major hook of Hudson Yards, and Sheely said the developer is “spending a significant amount of money to bring in a fiber loop that connects all the buildings.” This future-proofed wired connection is set to offer access points for “almost half a dozen different fiber carriers.”

Michael Samuelian, VP at Related Companies, looks out over the site from atop 10 Hudson Yards.

Beyond laying just fiber in the ground, Related Companies is also outfitting its buildings at Hudson Yards with digital antenna systems, or DAS, to ensure strong and consistent mobile phone service. Think of these as repeaters that relay WiFi and cellular service signals, thus avoiding dead service areas common in heavily developed urban areas. It’s a way for Related Companies to attract even more investment from wireless carriers since the system helps offload a carrier’s network congestion to a wired system.

The “internet of things” is a nebulous term that somehow seems apt here.

In other words, carriers are going to have to pay to deliver quality service to the big-name corporate clients like Coach, Time Warner and L’Oréal residing at Hudson Yards. “We’re gonna put in the upfront investment to put this core in and then you go and you cut your deals with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint … to basically pay you for access to that service,” Sheely said. It’s a model that has obvious potential for commercial buildings on-site, but Sheely admits implementing it on the residential side is a bit trickier due to the number of users relying on different service contracts.

That’s the resident-end benefit. As the estimated visitor data and inclusion of public space prove, tourists are a large part of the plan at Hudson Yards and Sheely wants to help shape their visit (and credit card purchases) with a dedicated app. “We’re going to have a really interesting target market to go after and deliver information to them. And a lot of them are tourists. So it’s that digital tour guide for someone … How can we help program someone’s trip when they come to Hudson Yards?”

Retail therapy isn’t the only perk Sheely hopes the Yards can provide for the 80,000 to 100,000 visitors that could drop in daily. There’s also talk of modeling building security on airports. Not in the intrusive, TSA pat down kind of way, but more along the lines of electronic boarding passes for visitors that want to bypass security. “We could basically … forward you your boarding pass and it would go right to your phone,” Sheely said. “You would be pre-qualified and you could come right in without having to check in at the door.”

There’s just one problem with Hudson Yards’ vision of the smart neighborhood: all tech-based futures are eventually rendered obsolete. Sheely’s aware of how quickly the modern infrastructure built into the site could become antiquated. “With technology, you want to put those [decisions] off as long as possible,” he said, adding that the developer has about a year or more before it needs “to start making end products that are hardware solutions.” Which is to say, the current promise of Hudson Yards could change as technology advances. Kontokosta said CUSP could even add or subtract from its grandiose, sensor-laden plans with a “plug-and-play” approach, swapping things out as the project progresses toward its 2024 completion date.

Like the tech powering its modernity, Sheely also anticipates a progressive shift in attitudes toward privacy and the Big Data-reliant environment of assisted life at Hudson Yards. “Over time, it obviously evolves. The comfort level that people have with that obviously changes.”

Filed under: Science, Internet

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