Tuesday, August 31, 2010

iTunes song samples may double in length

Apple's iTunes, the largest music retailer, will boost the amount of time users are allowed to sample a song, sources told CNET on Monday.

On Wednesday, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage at the company's annual September media event, he is expected to announce that iTunes users will be allowed at least twice the amount of time to sample a song, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the move.

An Apple spokesman said the company doesn't comment on speculation and rumor.

Currently, iTunes offers 30-second snippets of songs, a feature designed to give users a taste of the music to help them decide whether they like it enough to buy. Some users have long complained that half a minute isn't enough time to really hear a song.

Numerous other digital-music services offer much more time, including Pandora and Google's YouTube. Pandora has become a leader in digital radio, and while a user can't pick and choose which songs they want to listen to, they do get to hear full-length songs free of charge. By contrast, YouTube users do choose which full-length songs they want to hear by picking whatever music video they want, but these songs can't be legally captured or transferred to digital-music players.

While Apple offers the Genius Mix, a song recommendation engine, music consumers know that they can go elsewhere and be given more of a chance to try out a song. This could give YouTube and Pandora an advantage, as iTunes is not the starting point in the song-purchasing process.

According to the sources, Jobs and Apple will focus a large part of Wednesday's gathering on how the company is improving iTunes' music discovery experience.

Don't expect cloudy Wednesday?
For those who are hoping Apple will finally launch the cloud music service that CNET and others have written so much about in recent months, you're likely going to have to keep waiting. Apple still hasn't obtained the licenses the major music labels would require iTunes to acquire to allow users to store their music libraries on the company's servers and then access them from Web-enabled devices, according to multiple music industry sources.

That said, there is a small chance that Apple executives could decide that they don't need new licensing. There are some who believe that neither Apple nor any other music service should have to pay to store and deliver songs that people presumably legally acquired. The legal questions involved have yet to be answered by the courts.

If Apple decides to challenge the labels on this issue, then it would likely mean a major legal confrontation with the top four record labels, music industry sources said. It's hard to figure that Apple would risk a fight like that.

In past talks with the recording companies, Apple has proposed offering cloud services free of charge. It's not something that would generate a lot of money, at least initially.

Earlier this year, CNET reported that Apple wants to offer users digital shelves by which to store digital music, video, and all their media. Executives there have said a server farm being constructed in North Carolina will be completed by the end of the year, and many expect this to be the backbone of the iTunes cloud. Some have taken to calling this facility Apple's Orchard.

But before Apple can make this dream a reality, it has to get the Hollywood studios, book publishers, and record labels on board.

Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

The good: The iPad keyboard dock provides a sturdy, full-size keyboard to accommodate typing-intensive apps, such as e-mail and word processing.

The bad: It isn't cheap, and the integrated iPad stand makes it awkward to slip into a bag. Editing chores, such as cutting and pasting, still mostly rely on the iPad's touch screen. The dock only supports one screen orientation.

The bottom line: Apple's keyboard dock for the iPad offers a functional and elegant solution for anyone who finds the touch-screen keyboard too limiting, but it does not transform the iPad into a proper computer.

Review: The touch-screen keyboard built into the Apple iPad is more than sufficient for typing out a quick e-mail or jotting down a to-do list. But if you intend to use the iPad for writing pages of text at a time, or simply don't like the idea of propping the iPad on your lap for typing out daily e-mails, a keyboard accessory makes sense.
Apple's keyboard dock accessory for the iPad ($69) offers one of the simplest solutions for adding a hard keyboard to the device. It still can't compete with a laptop or desktop computer when it comes to professional typing and editing capabilities, but many will appreciate the familiar functionality of using a full-size keyboard.
The keyboard measures 11 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep, and stands just 0.65 inch tall toward the back, sloping down to a mere 0.25 inch at the spacebar. The white plastic dock fused to the back of the keyboard gives the accessory a total depth of 7.25 inches.
The dock's integrated iPad stand measures 2 inches tall, making it a tough fit for many roll-away computer desk keyboard trays. That said, a desktop is the natural habitat for this keyboard. With its grippy rubber base and 1.4 lbs, heft, the whole thing has been purposefully designed to stay put and reinforce the iPad against tipping over while you poke at the touch screen.
As keyboards go, the iPad keyboard dock is fairly typical among today's Mac keyboards--which is a good thing. The keyboard is comprised mostly of half-inch-wide plastic keys that jut out from a plank of aluminum. Just like the keyboard found on Apple's Macbook laptops, these keys have a shallow action of around an eighth of an inch, which may take a little adjustment if you tend to wale on keyboards like a typewriter.
Because it is a Mac-style keyboard, Apple's Command and Options keys supplant the Alt and Windows keys found on a typical PC keyboard. If you're accustomed to PC keyboard shortcuts for Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste (Control-Z, X, C, and V), you'll need to train your brain to use the Command key instead of Control.
You'll also notice that the Escape and Function buttons found at the top of a typical keyboard have been replaced with 13 keys that control iPad-specific features. For example, the key in the upper leftmost corner (where you'd typically find the Escape key) takes you back to the iPad's home screen. Other buttons include search, brightness, picture frame, touch-screen keyboard toggle, iPod track control, volume, and screen lock. Each function is represented with an intuitive icon.
If you've already spent some time with the iPad's touch-screen keyboard, you probably won't think twice about missing Escape and function keys. Instead, you'll be overjoyed at the return of the cursor arrow keys and Caps Lock control, which are absent from the iPad. Little things, like not having to switch menus just to type a number or exclamation mark, feel oddly liberating.

Monday, August 30, 2010

ATI is no more: Long live AMD

Since AMD bought over ATI back in 2006, it has incorporated the latter's expertise in graphics technology to boost the performance of its machines.

However, the ATI logo's time is up as the Sunnyvale company has decided to rebrand its upcoming range of graphics cards under the AMD umbrella. Since the experience and know-how remain within the company, we do not expect a major shakeup when it comes to its technological roadmap.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

4 Reasons Why Older People Are on Social Networks Now

 Once the exclusive domain of youngsters, social networks such as Facebook are increasingly catering to an older clientele. A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project says the number of social networking users ages 50 and older nearly doubled in the past year, continuing a trend of strong growth that was first spotted during the summer of 2009.

Here are four reasons why Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are not just for kids anymore:


Using Facebook to find old friends and colleagues isn't unique to any one demographic, but Pew says roughly seven out of ten people have used social networks for this purpose. Roughly half of adults ages 50 and over have been contacted by someone from their past through a social network. As people retire or change careers, social networks can be a way to stay in touch or get support.

Chronic Disease

Morbid as this sounds, Pew notes that Internet users with chronic diseases are more likely to blog or participate in online discussions, and older folks are more likely to have these diseases. Put those two factors together, and you've got a strong argument for social networking as a way to find communities of people with similar experiences.

Bridging the Generation Gap

Pew says older folks may use social networks to connect with their progeny, despite results that "can sometimes be messy." The group doesn't provide hard data to support this claim, but it should seem like common sense to anyone whose parents use Facebook.


Pew doesn't mention the prevalence of social games such as Farmville as a reason Facebook attracts older users, but it seems obvious when you look at the demographics of players. According to a February study of social gaming sponsored by publisher PopCap, 22 percent of social game players are ages 50 through 59 -- the largest age bracket -- and 16 percent are ages 60 and older.

Clothing to Power Personal Computers

Scientists at the University of Southampton are developing technology that may enable people to power MP3 players and other devices through their clothes and the carpets they walk on.

Dr Steve Beeby and his team at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) aim to generate energy through people's movement, eliminating the need to change batteries on devices.
In a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Southampton team will use rapid printing processes and active printed inks to create an energy harvesting film in textiles. This film can also be printed on carpets, enabling individuals to generate energy as they walk around the home or office.
"This project looks at generating electrical power from the way people move and then applying an energy harvesting film to the clothes they wear or the materials they have around them," says Dr Beeby. "We will generate useful levels of power which will be harvested through the films in the textiles. The two big challenges in smart textiles are supplying power and surviving washing."
The research, which begins in October and runs until 2015, will provide a toolbox of materials and processes suitable for a range of different fabrics that will enable users to develop the energy harvesting fabric best suited to their requirements.
Dr Beeby has been awarded a prestigious EPSRC Leadership Fellowship to undertake this research, providing up to five years of funding. These awards are a direct investment in Britain's most talented researchers.
Applications for the research include using the energy to power wireless health monitoring systems, as well as consumer products such as MP3 players. Applications also exist in the automotive sector.
The underlying sensor technology, which will make the energy harvesting process possible, is being developed by Dr Beeby and his team through the Microflex project, a Framework 7 European Union funded project due to finish in November 2012.

Paul Allen sues Apple, Google, Facebook, others over Web patents

A firm owned by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen today sued Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and seven other companies, charging them with infringing patents filed more than a decade ago.
Google and Facebook blasted the lawsuit as "unfortunate" and "without merit."
The complaint, filed Friday morning in a Seattle federal court, named AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and Google's YouTube.
AOL, Apple, Google and Yahoo were each charged with four claims of patent infringement, while Facebook was hit with one. The other eight companies were charged with two claims each.
The suit does not name Microsoft, which Allen co-founded with Bill Gates in 1975 but left in 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Microsoft did not reply to a request asking whether it had licensed some or all of the applicable patents from Allen's firm.
Allen's lawsuit claimed that the 11 companies violated patents developed by Internal Research, a Silicon Valley research lab he funded in 1992, but which shut its doors in 2000. David Liddle, who worked at the Xerox's influential Palo Alto Research Center ( Xerox PARC) in the 1970s, was Interval's CEO.
Those patents were later transferred to Interval Licensing, a company owned by Allen.
The two patents that make up the bulk of the claims are 6,263,507, "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data," and 6,757,682, "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest." Allen's lawsuit alleges that all but Facebook violated the '507 patent, and all 11 companies infringed the '682 patent.
Interval filed applications for the four patents between March 1996 and September 2000, and was awarded the patents between March 2000 and September 2004.
The '507 patent refers to a possible application in a "news browser" that could be used to "review news stories acquired during one day from several television news programs, as well as from text news sources." The '682 patent, meanwhile, describes technology for alerting users of Web content related to what they're currently viewing, or of others' activities that might interest them.
The '682 patent is the only one that Allen's company claimed was violated by Facebook, the popular social networking site.
The remaining two patents spell out an "attention manager" that would flash advertisements, stock quotes and other information in front of a user.
The 15-page complaint singled out Google for special treatment, saying that Interval Research provided both funding and assistance to the then-fledgling search firm in 1998, the year founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporated the company.
Included with the complaint was a 1998 screenshot of Google's "About" page that showed Interval Research credited as one of four sources of research funding, and one of two outside collaborators.
In a statement Friday, Google called Allen's lawsuit "unfortunate."
"This lawsuit against some of America's most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace," said Google. "Innovation -- not litigation -- is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world."
Facebook's take was more blunt. "We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously," said company spokesman Andrew Noyes in an e-mail.
Other Firms contacted by Computerworld, including Apple and Yahoo, did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Allen's suit seeks unspecified damages, as well as injunctions that would block the accused companies from continuing to use the patented technologies.
Earlier this year Forbes put Allen, 57, in the No. 37 spot on its world's richest list, and estimated his net worth at $13.5 billion.