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The technology in our homes takes on a wide array of jobs: playing music, turning lights on and off and brewing coffee. One of the promises of the internet of things is that all of them could one day communicate, creating smarter homes that anticipate and meet our needs with minimal effort. There are already systems for bringing connected devices into one central control center, but most of them resemble the remote controls we have used for years to manage our TVs and stereos. Siri has a voice, but does little to convince us that it is more than a computer talking. Jibo, the first robot by a Cambridge, Mass., startup with the same name, is built to bring a body and voice to our electronics.  CEO Cynthia Breazeal, who is also director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab, put years of work in social robotics into Jibo, resulting in a device that is meant to hit us exactly where we are most human: our emotions. Breazeal described Jibo as “warm” and “part of the group.” It is distinctly a piece of technology, but is built to blend into everyday life and conversation. It can display a distant relative’s face on its screen during a video chat or read a book to a child. During a demonstration, Breazeal held a short conversation with Jibo. “Jibo, how are you doing?” she asked. “I’m great, thanks for asking,” Jibo replied. Jibo then launched into an explanation of its skills: relaying notifications, acting as a telepresence screen, dramatically reading a book. The startup would like to see developers pair Jibo with connected devices. A Nest thermostat would still do its job of tracking your patterns and adjusting your home’s heating and cooling, but Jibo would act as its face. Instead of programming the thermostat through your phone, you would just ask Jibo to take care of it. CEO Cynthia Breazeal with a Jibo prototype, left, and a mockup of what the final design will look like. Photo by Signe Brewster. A humanoid robot in the image of C3PO that takes care of all of our needs is still decades away. Instead, a series of robots that perform specialized tasks like cleaning our grills and brewing our coffee are emerging. They aren’t very personal. That makes room for a sort of “robot butler,” as Silicon Valley Robotics managing director Andra Keay recently described to me, that bridges the disconnect between human and machine. “Jibo, when you open him, out of the box one of the first things he wants is to learn to recognize you,” Breazeal said. “Just being able to log in … and have Jibo know me so I can keep the flow of my life is really interesting.” Jibo looks simple: a half sphere sitting on a cylinder. It is black, white and gray like any piece of technology these days. But it still manages to ooze emotion and a noticeably cute persona with its voice and carefully designed motion. Breazeal noted how Luxo Jr. –Pixar’s animated lamp character — conveys story and a personality just by the way it moves. Like Jibo, it has no face or humanoid body. Jibo does a dramatic reading of a story. Photo by Signe Brewster. “It’s not about trying to make robots looks progressively more humanoid,” Breazeal said. “Jibo is saying, ‘I’m a robot. I’m a humanoid robot, but I’m not trying to be human. I don’t have to have arms and appendages in order to do that.’ As long as you capture these right cues, the robot can be expressive in its own ways, and people respond to them.” A limited number of Jibos are available for preorder on Indiegogo for $499. The developer version costs $599. Consumer Jibos will ship to backers in 2015, with a full rollout in 2016. As more and more Jibos go out to consumers, Breazeal said she would like to see it helping people live their everyday lives. It could someday be used for therapeutic and educational applications, or to help an elder maintain their independence. “Technology needs to be a key part of doing that, helping empower us in our own homes to address these challenges in a much more effective way,” Breazeal said. “It’s about people helping themselves live their best possible life. That’s what social robotics does.”Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Applying lean startup theory in large enterprisesA look back at this year’s CES and what it means for tech in 2014Why design is key for future hardware innovation

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High-performance computing (HPC) allows users to solve complex science, engineering and business problems using applications that require a large amount of computational resources,as well as high throughput and predictable latency networking. Most systems providing HPC platforms are shared among many users and constitute a significant capital investment to build, tune and maintain. Amazon Web Services (AWS), using Intel® Xeon® processors, enables you to allocate compute capacity on demand without up-front planning of data center, network and server infrastructure. You have access to a broad range of cloud-based instance types to meet your demands for CPU, memory, local disk and network connectivity. Run infrastructure in any of a large number of global regions and avoid lead times for contract negotiation and a local presence. Read more.

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JFrog, a maker of tools to streamline the building and distribution of software, now has $7 million in a funding round that includes a contribution from VMware. This brings total backing to about $12 million. The company, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif. and Israel, claims big customers including Apple, Netflix and Twitter. Its main products are Artifactory, for managing software code and projects, and Bintray, for distributing the end result. Jfrog supports binary code – a packaged-up version of the source code that developers typically need to run the software itself. As a Jfrog spokeswoman said, if you think of source code as the blueprint, binary code is the house. The company, founded by Shlomi Ben Haim, Fredric Simon and Yoav Landman (pictured above), will use the money to staff up R&D, expand sales and marketing worldwide and finance open-source activities. Both its products are based on open-source technology, but Artifactory, which competes with Sonatype, also comes in a paid and SaaS version that add more features. Artifactory competes with Sonatype. Gemini Ventures, which led the $3.5 Series A round, is participating again.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Why the virtual desktop now matters to the enterpriseWhat first-quarter 2014 meant for the mobile spaceHow OpenStack can become an enterprise reality.

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New techniques and technologies are emerging, but things are nonetheless becoming more integrated. Table of Contents Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Data discovery tools and companies to watch in 2014Sector RoadMap: SQL-on-Hadoop platforms in 2013Why Hadoop as a Service might be right for you

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Mass surveillance by intelligence agencies is almost certainly illegal under international law, even where it involves collecting but not looking at people’s data, the United Nations human rights chief has advised. In a damning but cautiously-phrased report on Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (pictured) recommended that governments review their national laws, policies and practices to check that they do comply with international human rights law, then fix them if they don’t. The report doesn’t name names, but it’s not very hard to see that much of it applies to the activities of the U.S. and its various intelligence partners. “The very existence of a mass surveillance programme creates an interference with privacy,” Pillay said in a speech. “The onus is on the State to demonstrate that such interference is neither arbitrary nor unlawful.” So, where’s the law being broken? Not playing by agreed rules The key treaty here is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the signatories to which include the U.S., the U.K. and most nations of note (China signed but didn’t ratify the treaty; the U.S. signed and ratified, but with reservations). In particular, Article 17 of the ICCPR grants everyone a right to privacy. Here are some key points from Pillay’s report (and again, any reference to a specific country is my added interpretation and commentary): Hey U.K., it seems forcing communications providers to retain customer metadata for intelligence and law enforcement purposes appears neither necessary nor proportionate: “It will not be enough that the measures are targeted to find certain needles in a haystack; the proper measure is the impact of the measures on the haystack, relative to the harm threatened; namely, whether the measure is necessary and proportionate.” So much for the it’s-not-surveillance-if-we’re-just-collecting-the-data argument: “… the collection and retention of communications data amounts to an interference with privacy whether or not those data are subsequently consulted or used.” Just because it’s “lawful” under national law doesn’t mean it’s actually lawful, if it clashes with the ICCPR and the relevant country is a signatory. “… sharing of data between law enforcement agencies, intelligence bodies, and other State organs risks violating article 17 of the Covenant, because surveillance measures that may be necessary and proportionate for one legitimate aim may not be so for the purposes of another.” Cough cough FBI, NSA and CIA. “Secret rules and secret interpretations – even secret judicial interpretations – of law do not have the necessary qualities of ‘law’… a law that is accessible, but that does not have foreseeable effects, will not be adequate.” Countries can’t give foreigners fewer human rights than they do their own citizens: “To conclude otherwise would not only undermine the universality and essence of the rights protected by international human rights law, but may also create structural incentives for States to outsource intelligence to each other… International human rights law is explicit with regard to the principle of non-discrimination.” As for the complex web of intelligence operations that allow global mass surveillance while skirting national laws: “Such practice arguably fails the test of lawfulness because… it makes the operation of the surveillance regime unforeseeable for those affected by it.” An interesting point – states that don’t “take effective measures to protect individuals within their jurisdiction against illegal surveillance practices by other States or business entities” are “in breach of their own human rights obligations.” Again, one for the U.S.: “If a country seeks to assert jurisdiction over the data of private companies as a result of the incorporation of those companies in that country, then human rights protections must be extended to those whose privacy is being interfered with, whether in the country of incorporation or beyond. This holds whether or not such an exercise of jurisdiction is lawful in the first place, or in fact violates another State’s sovereignty.” “In several countries, judicial warranting or review of the digital surveillance activities of intelligence and/or law enforcement agencies have amounted effectively to an exercise in rubber-stamping.” “Mass surveillance technologies are now entering the global market, raising the risk that digital surveillance will escape governmental controls.” Companies that hand over customer data “in response to a request that contravenes the right to privacy under international law”, or that sell mass surveillance technology to countries “without adequate safeguards in place or where the information is otherwise used in violation of human rights,” risk being complicit in human rights abuses. If they’re in this position, they should interpret government demands as narrowly as possible and ask to see court orders. What’s the effect of this report? For one thing, it gives some backing to those who want to sue over non-compliance with the treaty – not so much in the U.S. though, because that country bars any “private cause of action” over ICCPR compliance in U.S. courts. Most importantly, though, it will make it a darn sight harder for our governments to maintain that what they’re doing is legal under international law.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Gigaom Research predictions for 2014Who to watch in the growing European cloud marketConsumer products will drive enterprise breakthroughs

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Is the era of the best-effort internet over? As a larger amount of web traffic is sent between a few giant players and more and more dollars are riding on the bits traveling over networks, is the public internet the best route for government files sent to Amazon or Netflix streams? A three-year-old startup called IIX hopes that the answer is no. The firm has built what its Founder and CEO Al Burgio hopes will be the next generation of peering, but is essentially a frictionless way to bypass the public internet. The company has just raised $10.4 million in funding from NEA to help expand its vision. But before we delve into that, let’s take a quick refresher on how the internet works. A primer on peering and the internet Cables at an Equinix facility. The internet is not one monolithic thing. It is a series of networks, literally pipes in the ground filled with fiber, coaxial cable or copper that terminate in a variety of end devices from at consumer modems to switches and servers inside data centers. Some companies like Google might own data centers and fiber that comprise its network, while other companies might lease space inside data centers or buy bandwidth from transit companies to build out a network. Oftentimes there’s a mix of all of this. And what we think of as the internet is the collection of all these networks, with the public internet being the highways where all packets mix and mingle on their way to a home or data center, and private networks being the closed and controlled networks owned by a company. Today, the public interest is best effort, which means when a person requests a web page or a file, a number of different providers may work together to send the request and then return the content. But as those files become more valuable or voluminous, companies have an incentive to directly connect their networks via peering arrangements, so they can offer some sort of security and control about where and when packets get to their destinations. Scaling peering and interconnections Despite the public drama over peering arrangements between large U.S. ISPs and Netflix and other transit providers, most peering is done on a pretty ad hoc manner. And while internet exchange points or companies like Equinix offer neutral meeting places where a customer can buy cross connects to directly link their networks, in many cases those are negotiated on a company-by-company basis. There are a few programs where you can connect directly to Amazons cloud via Equinix for a fee without having to involve Amazon, but it’s still primarily a hands-on effort. That’s what IIX hopes to change. Burgio describes it at a LinkedIn for peering and interconnection, where you click to connect with a company and within minutes you’ve established a direct link to their network — creating what amounts to a private network controlled by the linked parties. While this may seem unrealistic, as of 2012 researcher and CEO of Deepfield Networks Craig Labovitz had determined that about 70 percent of internet traffic came from 150 companies, a substantial increase from about 30 percent of traffic coming from the top providers in 2009. So as the amount of traffic consolidates in the networks of a few large companies, creating this virtualized layer to connect them isn’t as far-fetched. How it works What IIX has done is put switches and supporting servers running its proprietary software in a variety of data centers. These locations include colocation facilities owned by companies such as Telx; CoreSite; Equinix; Verizon; Telehouse; and others. Its customers, which include Box, Google, and Microsoft, have physically connected (via a cross-connect) in at least one of these locations. Once a customer is physically connected in any location, it can “virtually” connect to all other customers connected to the IIX PeeringCloud platform, regardless of the others’ locations using the IIX software. Burgio says that the interconnection platform is a secure Layer 2 offering, not some encapsulation scheme that might go over the public network. The key is that in addition to IIX gear in each of the above-named locations, IIX has also has contracts with third-party Internet Exchange Points so IIX customers are also able to “tether” across the IIX PeeringCloud to participants in those third-party IXPs. It’s a similar concept to the internet, except it’s limited to the IIX participants and they can choose how and who their traffic is exchanged with using a few clicks of the web interface. While fascinating and certainly of growing use to companies sending high-value traffic, it also has me wondering about what this means for the future of the internet. If the companies that make up the majority of the traffic create these private deals among themselves, what does that mean for the rest of the internet? Does it make the net neutrality arguments moot, given that these companies are building their own fast lanes to share traffic? Does it mean they have less incentive to support policies and practices that grow the broader internet? Burgio didn’t have a great answer for these questions, but I am curious to hear what others think. Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Who to watch in the growing European cloud marketFlash analysis: the Fisker debacle and its implications on investing, innovation, and government incentivesSponsored Research: How direct-access solutions can speed up cloud adoption

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Dropbox has struck a deal with Germany’s big telco, Deutsche Telekom, that will see the cloud storage app preinstalled on the carrier’s Android devices across all of its central and eastern European markets – well, almost all. The partnership was revealed late Tuesday in a Dropbox blog post that referred to “select central and eastern European countries”. Germany’s not included, a DT spokesman confirmed to me on Wednesday morning. This is unsurprising because DT has its own cloud storage service, TelekomCloud, that is specific to that market. The countries where DT will be promoting Dropbox as of October this year – both through preinstallation on Android devices and marketing to both iOS and Android users – include: Albania, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Montenegro, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. It’s only a preinstallation deal for now – there’s no free premium Dropbox services or zero-rated data usage, for example. However, the Dropbox blog post said this was just the start of the partnership, and “we’ll share more news in the next few months.”Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What mattered in social business in the first quarter of 2014How companies can grow by moving into newer, bigger marketsSurvey: How apps can solve photo management

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FiftyThree, the U.S. startup that produces the designer-friendly drawing app Paper, has now brought out the accompanying Pencil stylus in Europe, 8 months after it was released in North America. Pencil connects with the user’s iPad via Bluetooth to enable features like palm rejection, finger blending and switching to the erase function without needing to change tools in the app. Variable surface pressure will be added with the upcoming release of iOS 8. In the U.K., the graphite version of Pencil is priced at £49.99 ($85.64) and the walnut version at £64.99 ($111.34). Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.The rebirth of hardware demands new definition of designHow Apple’s HomeKit will change the smart home marketWhat the global tablet market will look like by 2017

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Europe’s top banking regulator may think banks should stay away from bitcoin and other virtual currencies, but that’s good news for at least one company — Elliptic, which has just scored $2 million in seed funding from Octopus Investments and several angels. Elliptic offers a secure, insured bitcoin service called Elliptic Vault for retailers, hedge funds, bitcoin exchanges and other companies that are trying to dabble in this new world of so-called cryptocurrencies. According to CEO James Smith, the advice of the European Banking Regulator “opens up the playing field for people like us who can step into that void.” Smith said the funding would be used to make Elliptic Vault easier to use: “We want to make it very easy for companies to use. If they’re used to other types of financial products… a hedge fund is used to having everything with a custodian, normally a bank. The way reporting fits into their systems is quite standardized, but bitcoin doesn’t fit easily into that picture because banks won’t handle it, and so on.” Elliptic Vault provides both cryptographic and physical security for customers’ bitcoins, Smith said, adding that the firm also uses geographically distributed backups. Elliptic uses a “large international diversified” insurer, he explained. The British company doesn’t only want to spruce up its Vault product, though. Smith, who was a derivatives trader in a previous life, told me Elliptic sees many opportunities beyond storage — reporting and analytics, auditing and accounting services. “We also think the way exchange is done between digital and fiat currencies has got some work to do in that area,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be an exchange, but we think the way those trades are cleared and settled needs a lot of work.”Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Bitcoin: why digital currency is the future financial systemHow Hadoop passes an IT auditWhy APIs, security features, and more matter when picking multicloud solutions

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Samsung is in talks to purchase SmartThings, the smart home startup that has been trying to make home automation a mainstream option for consumers who aren’t afraid to spend a bit of time programming their devices. According to TechCrunch, Samsung would pay around $200 million with an eye toward getting in front of Google with its Nest acquisition in January. Both the SmartThings spokeswoman and a Samsung spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal. The SmartThings app showing my sensors. But really this is a logical step for any big consumer brand that wants to have some element of control over the smart home. SmartThings has a hub, which handles the radio complexity that’s causing so much consumer confusion in the market today, but its most valuable asset will be its software and ability to get developers excited about using the SmartThings’ programming environment to build apps that can combine different connected devices into a personalized home experience. That software has the potential to act as a sort of universal remote for the connected home, and if the market evolves so consumers pay for apps for their home like they buy apps for their phone, Samsung will have a platform prepared to address this potential evolution of the market. If that’s not the way it pans out, Samsung has purchased a hub and some very smart people who are thinking about the way connectivity changes every aspect of our lives. It makes sense for Samsung to pick SmartThings up and really get into the game. It can’t just sit around and make standards and ignore the fact that no one is going to want an all-Samsung home while it is still offering proprietary apps. It needs to get into the home with quality software and a platform that supports a variety of third-party devices. With SmartThings, Samsung would get a platform that is trying to be as open as possible — even hacking together support for products without developer programs, such as Dropcam or the Nest before it created a developer program. The software side could use some work, but that is where SmartThings has been concentrating in its recent product upgrades. And for SmartThings, the money and clout that Samsung has will help it support more devices faster — a needed element for getting consumers to buy its hub and attracting more developers to the platform. It also means that the platform that SmartThings is building will survive what I expect will be a gradual evolution away from a dedicated hub that threatens those companies solely focused on building these universal remotes for the connected home. As the excitement around the smart home and the internet of things builds, we’re seeing an influx of bigger brands push their way into the hub market, such as the Staples Connect hub and affiliated devices and the GE/Quirky Wink software and hub. Google and Apple are also trying to make their mark with software and a user experience that will drive consumers to their devices. That doesn’t include the service providers or the established security giants also trying to get their software to be the brains of the home. A pile of sensors from SmartThings. As the bigger name brands dive in, it’s tougher for a small company like SmartThings to get the more esoteric radios and big-name consumer brands to work with them. However, it certainly has the support of the developer community. Almost all of the really interesting connected home apps I’ve seen work with SmartThings. So if this deal does happen, it’s probably a good one for both parties. Maybe I can get Alex Hawkinson, the CEO of SmartThings, to tell me how all this went down during our conversation at our Structure Connect event in October. This story was updated at 8:36 pm to add Samsung’s refusal to comment. Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How Apple’s HomeKit will change the smart home marketWhy renewable energy and the smart home ruled cleantech in the second quarterWhat first-quarter 2014 meant for the mobile space

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Electric car maker Tesla Motors told the website Auto Express — and confirmed via Twitter — that its third-generation car will be called “Model 3.” I am disappoint. But I was also not so enamored when they renamed the second-gen car the Model S — anyone remember when they called the third-gen car (now Model 3) Bluestar back in the day (like 2008) and the Model S was called Whitestar? You, dear old-school reader, you remember. Back when Tesla named Whitestar the “Model S,” Tesla’s then marketing head Darryl Siry told me that they chose a more modest name on purpose. The point was to make Tesla the main brand, and not to dilute the brand with additional marketing terms. No doubt it’s the same for the Model 3. And heck, everyone was calling it “Gen-III” anyways, so why not go with what’s obvious. Oh how far you’ve come Tesla. The Roadster. Tesla’s first car. There was some discussion, and joking, that the third-gen car would be named the Model E, so that Tesla’s first three cars could spell out S, E, and X. But Musk said — I have no idea if this is true or not — that Ford threatened to sue them over the Model E trademark. But with “Model 3″ they can get kindof close to a hacker version of S.E.X, with S3X. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The Roadster was Tesla’s first official car, and the Model S was its second. The Model X is a cross-over SUV minivan that is based on the basics of the Model S. The Model 3 will be built on an entirely new, and more low cost, platform. That’s why they’re calling it third-gen even though its the fourth car. The third-gen is meant to be the low cost, more mainstream electric car that will help break into the mainstream. They’re targeting $35,000 for a price tag of the Model 3, versus closer to $70,000– double that — for the Model S. So all hail the Model 3. Now they just have to make it. For some glimpses of what they’re thinking about for the new platform for Model 3 watch my interview with Tesla’s Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen from last year’s Roadmap design conference. And if you want a laugh, read these reader suggestions back from 2008 for what Tesla should name the then-Whitestar, now Model S, before we knew what the name would be. They should have gone with “the Booyah.”Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What the next business model for EVs might look likeA 2011 Green IT Forecast

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Sling Media revamped its line of place shifting boxes, introducing a new entry-level device dubbed the M1 that’s going to retail for $150, and a slightly overhauled SlingTV, which is basically the same hardware as the two-year-old Slingbox 500 but with new apps and an overhauled UI. Both devices are still based on the same premise: Consumers who have cable at home and want to watch live TV or DVR recordings on the go can use a Slingbox to stream to mobile devices, computers and even Roku boxes, and viewers that have one cable box but don’t want to rent another can use the device to shift TV within their own home. What’s new is a growing focus on online apps and content: SlingTV, which retails for $300, comes with apps for Blockbuster’s VOD service and DishWorld. The device is technically capable of running HTML5 TV apps for other services as well, but Sling Media SVP and General Manager Michael Hawkey told me during a recent interview that he doesn’t have the deals to include services like YouTube or Netflix just yet. The new SlingTV, which is basically the same as the Slingbox 500 with a new name and UI. SlingTV also comes with a new, flashier UI that includes a modern, dynamic TV guide that can be sorted by categories and that includes real-time sports metadata from Thuutz, allowing sports fans to see which of the games currently airing is the most exciting. Asked why cable subscribers need yet another guide, Hawkey told me that some consumers are stuck with legacy boxes with much uglier and less useful grid guides, adding that this would essentially bring the power of a modern cable box like the Comcast X1 to households with legacy devices. Existing Slingbox 500 owners will get the guide and new UI with a system upgrade. The new guide is exclusive to SlingTV, which features HDMI pass-through, making it possible to take a digital HD signal from a cable box and overlay the guide on top of it. The newly-introduced M1 doesn’t come with these bells and whistles and instead squarely focuses on place-shifting. In many ways, it’s similar to it’s slightly more expensive predecessor, the Slingbox 350, save for the addition of integrated Wi-fi. In addition to these hardware changes, Sling is also re-introducing its desktop apps for Windows and OS X, and Hawkey said that it is looking to discontinue its web app in the near future — which seems backwards to me, given that it will lock out Chromebook users. But then again, I’m not really the target audience of these devices anyway: Both the Slingbox M1 and the SlingTV require cable TV to work. The company stopped selling models with integrated tuners for over-the-air TV years ago.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Talking to the TVWhy TV ads are making their way over the topThe iPad: Cable TV For Publishers?

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Bitcoin merchant adoption is fast becoming a neck-and-neck race between Coinbase and BitPay, two companies who both offer similar services as a payment processor for merchants. Expedia and Dish Network both use Coinbase, while TigerDirect and Virgin Galactic are partners with BitPay. Shopify used to be squarely in BitPay’s corner, but today it announced that the more than 100,000 businesses on the ecommerce platform can now choose Coinbase to be their payment provider as well. “We’re not supporting one provider over the other. We want to make sure merchants have the choice because each one has their features and benefits. And we’re just happy to offer that level of choice,” said Louis Kearns, director of payments at Shopify, in a phone interview. Shopify was early to hop on the bitcoin bandwagon when it teamed up with BitPay in November 2013. Kearns said “thousands” of businesses use BitPay already and it has processed “millions of dollars worth” in bitcoin payments. As of today’s announcement, Shopify merchants LeapMotion, Boosted, Soylent and iOgrapher will begin accepting bitcoin payments via Coinbase. When it came to adding Coinbase into the mix, Kearns said that it was technically easy for Shopify to add the alternative payment methods. “It was actually Coinbase who built the plugin themselves so we were able to turn it on without a whole lot of work from ourselves, but we wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t see the overall benefit in adding a provider like Coinbase to our platform,” Kearns said. “We liked their product so we thought why should we restrict shops from choosing which bitcoin acceptance provider to use on their platform when there’s really nothing holding us back.” Shopify may just be stoking the flames between the two natural, but growing competitors. BitPay traditionally was solely a payment processor focused on getting businesses on board with bitcoin, while Coinbase was seen as more a universal bitcoin company with a wallet for the everyday user. Coinbase has since lured big names like Expedia to its payment processing side, while BitPay announced it had developed and open-sourced a new multi-signature wallet last week. The service, called Copay, does stick with BitPay’s more business-friendly side and requires multiple people to approve transactions — a feature many businesses have wanted so they don’t give only one person all the keys to their crypto financial kingdom. “At Coinbase, we are focused on making the bitcoin payment process as simple as possible for merchants and customers alike,” said Adam White, Coinbase’s director of business development and strategy, in an e-mailed statement. “Our integration with Shopify brings new features like a two-click checkout experience, the ability to easily issue refunds to bitcoin customers, and no fees for the first one million dollars of bitcoin transactions to Shopify’s 100,000 stores.” Bitpay did not respond to a request for comment. As Shopify acknowledged by integrating both processing companies, each have their pros and cons — and, most importantly, now businesses on Shopify have the option to choose. Bitcoin will have a hard time growing its economy if there’s a monopoly. Giving consumers a choice only helps open it up to more people. After all, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Bitcoin: why digital currency is the future financial systemHow the mobile payment market is shaping up in 2014

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As expected, Verizon added LTE service for its Allset prepaid plans on Tuesday. Previously, Verizon’s prepaid customers were stuck with sluggish data from its CDMA network. Prices are staying the same as before: the base plan, which includes unlimited calls, texts, and 500MB of mobile data, costs $45 and you get the option to add 1GB and 3GB blocks of rollover data. LTE speeds will require an LTE-capable device, and you can either bring your own or purchase one from Verizon. If you’ve got an XLTE-capable device, you can take advantage of the added speeds from Verizon’s new LTE network as well.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.Is there a market for prepaid tablets?Mobile Q1: All Eyes on Tablets, T-Mobile and AT&TIn Q3, the Tablet and 4G Were the Big Stories

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Almost three years to the day after it launched its attempt at a social network, Google has removed the last remaining restrictions it had on what name users could go by on Google+ — meaning the search giant has abandoned its so-called “real name” policy, and members are now free to use a pseudonym. But the change seems unlikely to cause any kind of dramatic growth, since those to whom pseudonyms made a difference have presumably already established themselves elsewhere. If anything, it makes Google seem a little desperate. In a blog post on Google+ about the decision — one that appeared without any identifying information about the author — the service apologized for the “unnecessarily difficult experiences” that its previous policy caused for some users, and for excluding those who wanted to use pseudonyms. “When we launched Google+ over three years ago, we had a lot of restrictions on what name you could use on your profile. This helped create a community made up of real people, but it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names… we hope that today’s change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be.” When Google+ first launched, the executives in charge of the service — including Vic Gundotra, who recently left the company — said that the idea behind using real names was to maintain a certain quality of discussion, since potential trolls and other negative elements wouldn’t be able to hide behind a pseudonym. Gundotra compared it to a matter of social etiquette, like restaurants requiring that diners wear shirts or shoes before being served. It was probably no coincidence that Facebook also had a firm “real name” policy, although it too seems to have moderated its views on the topic more recently. Google+ still sucks. But I’m glad those who actually do like it can now do so pseudonymously.— Jillian C. York (@jilliancyork) July 15, 2014 For many users, however, the requirement that they use their real names meant they couldn’t discuss certain subjects or comment on specific posts because they didn’t want those activities to be attached to their real-world identities for a variety of reasons: because of potential harassment, because it might affect their jobs, or because their families might find out things about their sexual preferences or other behavior that they didn’t want them to know. All of these users were effectively excluded, as Google acknowledged in its blog post about the change. What’s interesting about the company’s decision to make the change now — not to mention apologizing so publicly — is that it seems to indicate that Google still cares about expanding the reach of Google+, despite bragging regularly about the hundreds of millions of users who are active on the service, and despite the fact that the network has always seemed like more of an “identity layer” for the rest of its data-oriented activities, rather than a standalone platform. Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Andrea Michele PiacquadioRelated research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How the customer experience can help businesses build applicationsContext is king: accelerating productivity through contextWhy Hadoop as a Service might be right for you

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As Google connected car and driverless vehicle ambitions increase, so has need to find a car guy to advise it on the rather arcane and insular ways of the automotive industry. Well, Google got its gearhead. Former Ford Motor Company CEO and President Alan Mulally has joined Google board of directors and will serve on Google’s audit committee, Google revealed in its blog today. Google didn’t say specifically that Mulally would advise the company on automotive matters, but you have to figure that Mulally’s eight years at the helm of one the world’s most storied automakers – one which he managed to save from bankruptcy – has got to have something to do with the decision. As I’ve pointed out before, Silicon Valley and Detroit have very different views about how and how fast the automotive industry needs to innovate. Mulally could help Google make sense of the automakers and maybe even help prevent some of the inevitable clashes as Google gets up in their business. Google has long been developing autonomous driving technologies and is even rumored to be designing its own driverless cars. In addition, Google’s core services like Maps and Search will soon make it into the vehicle as part of its new Android Automotive program. Mulally oversaw the launch of Ford’s own connected infotainment platform, Sync AppLink, which is surprisingly similar to Android Automotive as both rely on the smartphone for mobile data connectivity and to run the actual connected car apps. Under Mulally’s watch, Ford also began pursuing driverless car technologies, though its approach has been a bit different from Google’s. Instead of focusing solely on vehicles that use sensors to see for themselves, Ford has put a high premium on networked cars that can communicate their intentions to one another. Before joining Ford, Mulally was EVP at Boeing where he headed up its commercial aircraft division, which might be handy knowledge for Google as well, given its various balloon, drone and satellite projects. Before retiring early from Ford last month, Mulally was rumored to be one of the external candidates to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft.    Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How to manage mobile security through productivitySponsored Research: How empowering workers enhances business communicationWhat developers should know when choosing an MBaaS solution

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One of the tropes of the internet of things is that it will produce a lot of little data that needs aggregation and analysis. The rush is on to both collect that data (witness Google’s $3.2 billion deal for Nest) as well as profit from selling gear to help companies parse that data (see Intel’s investment into Cloudera). I get dozens of pitches for what I think of as the back-end of the internet of things — the services and boxes that help companies track APIs, monitor up-time and yes, store and analyze data. But it’s rare that in those pitches I also get the larger truth behind why the internet of things and connected devices has everyone salivating. Yet, in a release about how home security provider Vivint’s smart home services is using Cloudera’s Hadoop platform to aggregate data, Brandon Bunker, senior director, customer analytics and insights at Vivint puts it plainly: “We’ve taken that one step further with Cloudera and can now look across many data streams simultaneously for behaviors, geo-location, and actionable events in order to better understand and enrich our customers’ lives. This platform has differentiated our business and given us a tremendous competitive advantage.” My what a lot of data you are collecting, Vivint! The better to sell you services and create a competitive barrier to entry, my dear! Yes, there is a very real potential to eliminate waste — such as turning off the A/C when someone isn’t home — or to enhance security, but when you know what’s in someone’s home and the status of those things, it becomes much easier to sell them other things. The level of knowledge a company might have could also translate into influence — whether it’s benign like encouraging exercise or questionable like punishing you with higher insurance premiums if you eat poorly. In Vivint’s case, its customers have an average of 20 to 30 sensors installed in their homes, but it couldn’t aggregate all that data to make larger inferences. The news release is about how Cloudera helps with that, but really it’s about the economics. Listen to Cloudera’s VP of Marketing Alan Saldich [emphasis added]: “When we consider all the net new data generated by devices embedded with sensors and geo-location services that hasn’t been touched before, we open ourselves to new possibilities – to realize not just new revenue streams for business but to solve much bigger problems because we can dive into those points of convergence in our world.” Frankly, if we were really after solving those bigger problems, we would have open data standards, a clear statement of consumer rights to their data and incentives to share select data widely among the consumers who generate that data and those with an interest in making changes. Yes, the insights derived from that data can and should be packaged up as services, but it can’t stop there. For example, fine-grained data about home energy use could help change home design if researchers had access to enough data from enough homes to figure out the most optimal designs for an area. On the flip side, a customer’s video camera data or motion sensors might say more about her life than she really wants to share. Either way, right now, these connected products hold a lot of promise for adding convenience to our lives, but we’re woefully ignorant of the potential costs and why providers are leaping into the smart home. Let’s start having that conversation.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.A look back at this year’s CES and what it means for tech in 2014How the truly smart home could finally become a realityWhere the internet of things and health care meet

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Peter Taylor, who managed Twitter’s data center expansion until he was terminated last September, claims the company let him go because of his age and because his treatments for kidney stones left him unable to perform additional duties. In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco last week, Taylor said Twitter violated a California law that prohibits discriminating against people on the basis of age or disability. He is claiming an unspecified amount of money based on lost salary and stock options, and for emotional distress. Peter Taylor’s Twitter profile picture. Source: https://twitter.com/Movieman109The case of Taylor, whose LinkedIn profile shows he previously worked at companies like LucasFilms and Sprint, may strike a chord with older technology employees who work in an industry where the archetypal figure is a 20-something who works all night. Recent exposés of Silicon Valley culture report a boom among plastic surgeons who help people appear young enough to fit in. For its part, Twitter has denied the allegations, which were reported by SFWeekly, as “without merit.” But here are some more details based on the lawsuit filing: In Twitter’s performance evaluations, Taylor met or exceeded expectations since he began the job in early 2011, and the company rewarded him with 20,000 restricted stock options. Taylor had surgery to remove kidney stones in May and August of 2013, and had to attend medical visits. Taylor claims he was fired in September 2013 and replaced with “several employees in their 20s and 30s” Taylor said he continued to work full-time the entire time he was employed, but that he spent less time than usual during the medical episodes, leading him to ask Twitter to supply an extra worker. Instead of supplying him a helper, Taylor said Twitter increased his duties and then fired him without explanation. This is of course just Taylor’s version of events so it’s hard for now to speculate what exactly happened. But whatever the situation, it likely took courage for Taylor to divulge medical details from his personal life, and to directly raise issues of age in Silicon Valley’s youth-obsessed culture. I’ve reached out to Twitter for additional comment and will update if I hear back. Here’s the complaint: Taylor v Twitter Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How businesses can provide mobile application discovery and promotionConsumer products will drive enterprise breakthroughsThe risks and rewards for the ride-sharing market in 2014

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Ah, remember the good old days, when IBM forbade its own employees from using Siri or other non-enterprise software and devices for fear of data leakage or theft?  So much for that. Now, IBM and Apple will collaborate on selling iPads and iPhones into enterprise accounts and developing business applications for iOS, in news that first appeared in Re/Code. Presumably this means that IBM has loosened up its restrictions on Apple device use by its own employees. In what played out as a mutual admiration session, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty described Apple in Re/code as “the gold standard for consumers.” Since selling off its PC division to Lenovo ten years ago, IBM has not been a force in that market. Conversely,  Apple  has relied on consumers to bring its iPhones and iPads into the enterprise through the back door — Those devices were unsanctioned and unwelcomed by IT departments.  C-level execs led the charge that forced IT staff to change those policies. “If you were building a puzzle they would fit nicely together with no overlap,” Apple CEO Tim Cook added. “We do not compete on anything. And when you do that you end up with something better than either of you could produce yourself.”” If this “landmark” collaboration bears fruit — and many such alliances do not — it will be a boon for both companies. Apple gets a new IBM enterprise sales force and 100 new iOS applications for business. And IBM can bask in the reflected glow of Apple’s iPad and iPhone devices. And both companies can take aim at mutual competitors Google and Microsoft, which is trying to position Windows Phone as an enterprise-friendly mobile option.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How the mega data center is changing the hardware and data center marketsThe importance of benchmarking cloudsHow the mobile payment market is shaping up in 2014

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There’s no lack of third-party battery cases for smartphones these days, but the Unity for Galaxy S5 from Unu is a bit unique. While the Unity replaces the stock Samsung battery inside an S5, it also acts as receiver for the native power pack, using both batteries. With a stacked design, the $79.99 battery and case doubles the run time of Samsung’s flagship Android phone.  The secret is the thin part that fits into the smartphone: It contains a 2800 mAh battery that supplements the phone’s own battery, which has the same capacity. The native battery stacks on top of the Unity and the phone simply thinks it has 5600 mAh to work with. Of course, even a thin, stacking battery will make the phone itself thicker. As a result, you can’t use the standard Galaxy S5 rear cover. That’s why the Unity comes with its own back, available in seven colors, along with an outer bumper that holds everything together. Samsung has typically inserted an NFC antenna in its battery packs but according to Unu, the Unity doesn’t affect the phone’s NFC capabilities. Bitbitbyte.com recently reviewed the Unity case, saying “If you’re a power user of any sort and can get around the added dimensions the Unu battery case provides (and the neutering of water resistance), this is a hands down must buy.” That’s about the only downside I see: you lose the Galaxy S5′s water resistance with this option.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.How the tablet will create better productivity in the enterpriseWhat first-quarter 2014 meant for the mobile spaceWhat the global tablet market will look like by 2017

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Big messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber are getting scooped up even bigger internet companies, but fellow texting heavyweight Line may have different exit plans. It has filed for an IPO, according to numerous reports, and plans to take on the quickly growing communications app market as an independent company. Line’s owner, South Korean search portal Naver, has submitted an application for an public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which may be followed by listing on a U.S. exchange, Bloomberg reported citing unnamed sources. An IPO seems almost counterintuitive despite Line’s success. It’s one of the handful of over-the-top (OTT) apps — apps that bypass traditional carrier voice and SMS services — that have passed the 100 million registered users mark; it boasts more than 400 million individual accounts and exchanges 10 billion messages per day. But the strategy for most companies in this space seems to be to grow as quickly as possible and then sell out to a big internet company. In WhatsApp’s case that sale was to Facebook, for an astonishing of $16 billion purchase price. Viber went to Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten for $900 million. Video chat-centric app maker Tango is still on the market, though it is attracting interest form global internet giants as well. China’s Alibaba recently pumped $215 million into Tango, leading its most recent $280 million funding round. Line would have been a good candidate for an acquisition by Google or Yahoo or even a global mobile carrier, if Naver had been willing to sell. Line’s home market is Japan, where it is by far the most popular OTT messaging app, but it has successfully broken beyond its boarders into the rest of Asia and many other countries around the world. Line, however, has proven more successful than its peers in monetizing its huge network. It was on forefront of the Stickers trend, selling the next generation of emoji to its users. It’s used its communications network to create a gaming network that brokers in-game purchases (a model Tango has also been following), and it hosts offers premium accounts in its networks for celebrities and companies who want to communicate with their customers and fans.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What first-quarter 2014 meant for the mobile spaceWhy Hadoop as a Service might be right for youConsumer products will drive enterprise breakthroughs

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Discovering new apps to use with Google’s Chromecast streaming stick just got a lot easier: Google started to add a catalog of hundreds of apps capable of casting to the Chromecast website. The site previously only listed a few select featured apps from major publishers, but now includes more than 400 apps, ranging from video services to games to personal media players. Also nice: The app catalog can be sorted by iOS, Android and web apps, and then offers links to download each app either on Google Play or on the iOS App Store. Google first announced that it would make discovery of apps easier at Google I/O, where it also introduced screen mirroring for Chromecast.Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What first-quarter 2014 meant for the mobile spaceHow mobile will disrupt the living room in 2014Why the TV industry matters for Google

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Looking to get your hands on a Project Ara prototype? Google has opened up applications for its Ara developer’s program — but be warned, it won’t be easy to get one of the first modular phone prototypes available outside of Mountain View. According to an email sent on Monday to Ara developers informing them of the application page, Google will “prioritize requests based on technical experience and the strength of your module concept.” The first batch of dev boards, with three board options, will ship in late July. If you’d like to be in that group, you’ll need to get your application in by Wednesday. For non-developers, Google is aiming for a early 2014 commercial release.    

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The difference  between traditional enterprise software companies and cloud purveyors continues to erode. Today’s case in point — Amazon Web Services’ decision to offer third-party products on an annual subscription basis. AWS Marketplace will now offer 90 products for an up-front yearly commitment – a plan it says will offer business customers predictable costs, discounts of 10 to 40 percent compared to typical pay-per-hour-per-instance price plan. But the software use is locked to that instance–it cannot be moved from regions or availability zones. A monthly subscription was also available. By paying up front, users get unlimited use of the software – albeit locked to a particular EC2 instance — for 12 months. Or they can stick to the existing hourly rate for “bursty” workloads, as AWS put it. The usual argument for public cloud use has been that its great elasticity and scale let customers spin spiky workloads up and down without having to buy new hardware but Amazon has also argued that its cloud is also broadly applicable to more stable enterprise workloads as well.  That’s why it encourages big customers to lock into  1-  (or even better) 3-year Reserved Instances as opposed to the more expensive on-demand instances. Software from Alert Logic, Barracuda, Citrix, Fortinet MicroStrategy, Progress Software, Riverbed, ScaleArc, Tenable, and Vormetric is covered by this new annual subscription.It was unclear from a quick perusal of the marketplace whethere any of the big titles from  Oracle, Microsoft or  SAP are offered by the year. With Microsoft Azure getting good reviews as an enterprise-class public cloud, and Google also pushing its cloud platform, Amazon now has some web-scale competition on its hands so look for more enterprise-friendly news to come out from now till its AWS Re:Invent event in November. Enterprise buyers are used to paying up front for use of software from Oracle, SAP, IBM etc. — and then ponying up for annual support and maintenance contracts as well. In fact that model is one reason many have fled to cloud in recent years    Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.What developers should know when choosing mobile backend as a serviceHow the mobile-first world will transform the data centerWhat developers should know when choosing an MBaaS solution

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New York-based Asian TV drama service DramaFever has struck a deal with movie distributor Well Go USA to add full-length feature films to its streaming catalog. DramaFever announced Tuesday that it has already added a handful of titles, including a remake of the Hong Kong action classic A Better Tomorrow, martial-arts-meets-basketball comedy Kung Fu Dunk and history drama Shaolin, starring Hong Kong cinema superstar Andy Lau. DramaFever will add additional feature films from Well Go throughout the year, and the company’s co-founder and co-CEO Suk Park hinted in a press release at the possibility that partnerships with other film distributors are going to follow. This move into feature films comes ahead of a launch of additional verticals in the coming months, for which DramaFever has teamed up with AMC. Together, both companies plan to launch dedicated subscription services, including a site for documentaries later this year and a horror video service in early 2015.

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