Tag: Sony

North Korea behind Sony hack – reports

Kim Jong Un, courtesy of North Korea news agencySuspicions that hackers working for the Democratic Republic of North Korea were behind the hack attack on Sony Pictures last week appear to have been verified by US investigators.

Both Bloomberg and Reuters claim to have talked to individuals who are part of the investigation that have outlined their suspicions.

They believe that the malware is ripe with Korean hacking code and bears distinct similarities to hacks on South Korean banks in March last year.

The attack on Sony Pictures computers caused widespread disruption and resulted in the theft of company information, personal data and even some forthcoming movies, which appeared on unternet sites earlier this week.

North Korea is furious about a film called The Interview which describes an attempt by two journos to assassinate the country’s autocrat, Kim Jong Un (pictured, with two military folk).

North Korea claims the release of the film later this month should be regarded as an act of war.

FBI warns of more North Korean cyber attacks

USmilitaryOUTThe Untouchables have warned businesses that North Korean hackers are using malicious software to launch a destructive cyberattack in the United States.

The alert appeared to describe the one that affected Sony, which would mark first major destructive cyber-attack waged against a company on US soil. Such attacks have been launched in Asia and the Middle East, but none have been seen in the United States. The FBI report did not say how many companies had been victims of destructive attacks.

Analysts think that the attack is a watershed event and that politics now serve as harbingers for destructive cyberattacks.

The five-page, confidential “flash” FBI warning issued to businesses last night provided some technical details about the malicious software used in the attack. It provided advice on how to respond to the malware and asked businesses to contact the FBI if they identified similar malware.

The malware overrides all data on hard drives of computers, including the master boot record, which prevents them from booting up.

“The overwriting of the data files will make it extremely difficult and costly, if not impossible, to recover the data using standard forensic methods,” the report said.

The document was sent to security staff at some U.S. companies in an email that asked them not to share the information.

The FBI released the document in the wake of last Monday’s unprecedented attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which brought corporate email down for a week and crippled other systems as the company prepares to release several highly anticipated films during the crucial holiday film season.

A Sony spokeswoman said the company had “restored a number of important services” and was “working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate the matter.”

The FBI said it is investigating the attack with help from the Department of Homeland Security. Sony has hired FireEye’s Mandiant incident response team to help clean up after the attack, a move that experts say indicates the severity of the breach.

Hackers used malware similar to that described in the FBI report to launch attacks on businesses in highly destructive attacks in South Korea and the Middle East, including one against oil producer Saudi Aramco that knocked out some 30,000 computers. Those attacks are widely believed to have been launched by hackers working on behalf of the governments of North Korea and Iran.

Sony may have been targeted by North Korea for releasing a film called “The Interview”.

The movie, which is due to be released in the United States and Canada on Dec. 25, is a comedy about two journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The Pyongyang government denounced the film as “undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war” in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June.

The FBI report said some of the software used by the hackers had been compiled in Korean, but it did not discuss any possible connection to North Korea.

Apple to suffer on iPad sales

gala_appleApple sales of the iPad are likely to fall because people buying its products are moving to larger iPhones and those are cannibalising the market.

That’s according to the research unit of Digitimes which estimates that shipments of iPads will fall to about 55 million units in 2015, way down from sales during this year.

Other researchers believe that the iPad market has reached maturity in the so-called developed markets, and people are unlikely to buy a new and expensive tablet when their current iPads are powerful enough for most purposes.

But there’s a silver lining to every cloud and the research outfit believes that a combination of Sony exiting the notebook market and Apple cutting prices will see Macbook shipments growing by 15 percent next year.

Apple is expected to release a 12.9 inch iPad during 2015 and also ship 12.2-inch “Retina” displays but that won’t do very much to stem the decline of its very profitable iPad lines.

Meanwhile, Apple, as we reported elsewhere today, is toying on when to release its iWatch for the best possible selling period.

Sony makes electronic bow tie

Don Ameche and his famous bow tieJapanese electronics giant Sony is toying with making watches and bow ties using e-paper.

The watch, called the FES (Fashion Entertainments)  Watch, has 24 design patterns, according to a report on the Wall Street Journal.  You can switch between the designs by using different gestures.

Sony apparently wants to make electronic paper a new kind of fabric.

Products may well be available as soon as May next year, the Journal said.

The fashion in the tech business is wearables, and a whole host of vendors is trying to hype up the concept – from Apple to Google.

There’s no indication as yet of how much your e-paper bow tie or e-paper watch will cost.

Sony saved by expelling the Welsh

hollow-crown-welshIt seems that getting rid of its Welsh CEO Howard Stringer has been good for the struggling Japanese outfit Sony.

Sony reported a second-quarter operating loss which was a lot narrower than the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street had predicted. Part of the reason was that the PlayStation 4 games console reduced the impact of its sluggish smartphone division.

Everyone expected a loss after Sony took an impairment charge of $1.58 billion on its mobile division but the fact that it was not grim was being seen as proof that the restructuring announced in May by Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida is working.

Sony’s operating loss reached $77 million in July-September, compared with the $1.47 billion estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The company posted a net loss of $1.22 billion for the quarter and held its full-year net loss forecast at $1.07 billion.

Sony upped its operating profit forecast for its gaming division to $300 million for the year after shifting 3.3 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the second quarter, moving it further ahead of rival Xbox One, made by Microsoft.

Weighing on electronics was the mobile division, where Sony lowered its smartphone sales outlook to 41 million handsets from 43 million, compared with 39 million last year.

Yoshida, the CFO, said the company would greatly shrink its smartphone business in China, where it has been squeezed by nimble local rivals like Xiaomi, while the incoming chief of the mobile division, Hiroki Totoki, would focus on improving carrier relationships.

Yoshida said a weaker yen was a negative for Sony as it loses 3 billion yen for every yen the Japanese currency falls against the dollar.


Battery will warn you before it explodes

Picture, Stanford UniversityScientists at Stanford University claim to have developed a so-called “smart” lithium ion battery that warns people before it overheats and bursts into an inferno.

The scientists claim that the early warning system uses a very thin copper sensor deposited on top of a conventional battery separator.

The use of such a device is clear, following a recent accident where a person’s smartphone burst into flames while she was using it.

Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science at Stanford, said: “Our goal is to create an early warning system that saves lives and property.  The system can detect problems that occur during the normal operation of a battery, but it does not apply to batteries damaged in a collion or other incident.”

Last year Boeing grounded its 787 Dreamliner fleet after batteries caught fire.  Then there was the famous incident in 2006 when a Dell notebook caught fire in Japan.

But while the odds of batteries catching fire are one in a million, said Cui, hundreds of millions of computers and smartphones are sold every year.

The smart separator will alert people when it’s time to change their batteries, just in case.

Sony bemused at PS4 success

PS4Even the marketing people at Sony can’t work out why its PS4 is selling so well.

Sony is cleaning Microsoft’s clock in the console wars despite the fact that the two products are pretty much the same spec with the same price.

It has sold more than 10 million PS4 consoles have been sold in the nine months since launch. It’s a bigger number than anyone anticipated, and even  the president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, doesn’t know why.

He was a bit nervous because he did not completely understand what’s happening. Sony has had marketing people look into this early success, and have found that a lot of PS4 owners did not own a PS3, or any last-gen console at all.

He said that normally when you see a great sales number, instinct tells us we should be concerned about future sales. If Sony sold this number of units at this stage in the game there would be no more consumers it can sell to in the future.

It seems that is not the case and a lot of the PS4s are being flogged to those who have never owned one of Sony’s consoles in the past.

It does not answer the question why, but according to our nephew it is because the Xbox does not have as many good games as the PS4 yet.

Sony kills ebook reader

additional-oxford-dodo-bookSony has confirmed that it will not make any more eBook readers, not even in Japan where it can still sell them.

There will never be such a gizmo with the catchy title PRS-T4 and the Sony Reader PRS-T3 will be sold until it runs out. Since that was launched last autumn and only in the EU, Sony could not have have many left.

Sony pioneered the idea of an E-ink ereader in 2004 when it launched the Sony Librie in 2004.

The company worked with E-ink and Toppan Printing Co of Japan for several years to develop the first generation of the 6″ screen which was used in the Librie, and later the Sony Reader, Kindle, Nook, and other ereaders.

Sony released the first 6″ screen, it also followed it up with several cutting edge devices. It was also the first to adopt Epub, and to combine an E-ink screen with a touchscreen and a frontlight.

But Sony was largely aced by the Nook-Kindle price war in June 2010 and lost out in the price drop that followed.


Console shipments to rebound this year

gamer-sexWith the imminent rollout of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, we didn’t exactly need serious research to conclude that console shipments would go up this year, but thanks to the IDC, we’ve got a few figures, too.

IDC predicts console shipments in 2013 will be “marginally higher” than the 2012 total of approximately 33 million units. This year will also mark the end of a four-year slide in console shipments.

The true impact of the PS4 and Xbox One, or Xbone, will be felt next year. Nintendo’s new Wii U hasn’t done very well this year, due to a lack of compelling games, but the competition is expected to do just fine.

The research also suggests Sony will take the lead, as its console is somewhat cheaper and users don’t seem too thrilled by some of Microsoft’s policies. IDC also expects game revenue derived through connected console channels to exceed PC prepaid revenue this year.

“The number of online console gamers around the globe is on pace to exceed 165 million by 2017,” said Lewis Ward, Research Manager, Gaming at IDC. “As a result, the opportunity to sell these gamers digital assets through Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4 online storefronts will grow substantially in the next several years.” Ward adds that the Chinese government’s recent decision to lift the ban on consoles should lead to millions of additional hardware bundle sales for the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony within three years.

The introduction of new consoles just in time for the holiday season will obviously have a knock on effect on sales of console related accessories and peripherals, not to mention retail games.

However, it is worth noting that higher demand for consoles is not expected to have much of an impact on the PC gaming market. Recent research indicates that PC gaming is doing just fine and spending is growing by a CAGR of 3 percent. Console and PC gaming are no longer vying for the same consumer base and they are developing in parallel, without much in the way of cannibalisation.

Next-gen consoles will struggle

ps4The next generation of games consoles are expected to pass 133 million shipments in their first five years on the market, slightly down from 140 million for the previous generation.

ABI Research noted that, although the console refresh – with Microsoft’s Xbone and Sony’s PS4 – should inject some life into the market, niche consoles nibbling at their heels could shake it up and encourage more innovation than the big three would like.

New platforms, such as niche Android devices like Ouya and even Nvidia’s curiosity Project Shield, will promote different approaches to gaming. According to a report, new entrants will be able to raise existing platforms like Windows and Android as well as bridging the divide between fixed and mobile gaming.

We could even see low cost consoles emerging out of current generation technology in the $99 or less bracket.

According to senior ABI analyst Michael Inouye, without a shift in strategy Nintendo may suffer – as the casual gamers stick to mobile devices and Wii U pricing fails to bring about the success of the Wii.

Meanwhile, if China – which is mulling lifting a console ban – opens its borders to the big players, there could be a short term boost of current generation consoles, though this is not expected to alter next gen shipments too much.

Practice director Sam Rosen said ultimately, the future of console makers depends on balancing compelling content with competitive pricing.

“Without solid titles and first party franchises, platforms will have a difficult time finding traction, streaming media is not enough when low-cost smart set top boxes are readily available,” Rosen said. “While we don’t anticipate a drop-off in game console households, barring significant changes to less developed console markets in Asia and Latin America, there isn’t a great deal of growth opportunity beyond the current installed base”.

Android consoles stumble

nvidia-shieldSony, Microsoft and Nintendo have rolled out their latest generation consoles and although they feature very impressive hardware, some analysts are already saying that they could be the last generation of big consoles on proprietary operating systems.

Sales of mobile consoles have also taken a hit, as more and more consumers traded them in for smartphones and tablets. It’s nothing new, we saw the same trend with personal media players and compact cameras.

However, if mobiles are indeed cannibalising consoles, isn’t it time for smartphone makers to capitalize on the trend? Google seems to think so. Late Thursday several reputable outlets reported that Google is indeed working on some sort of Android console. It is apparently loosely based on the Nexus Q, a streaming device which flopped before it hit the market. Google is starting to take hardware quite seriously. A couple of years ago it only sold a single product, the developer friendly Nexus smartphone series. However, over the past 12 months Google also introduced two Nexus tablets and Google Glass. Let’s not forget about the company’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, either.

On the other hand, it must be said that Google’s idea is anything but original. Kickstarter sensation Ouya is about to hit the market, after a couple of delays. Based on Nvidia’s old Tegra 3 chip, the Ouya was envisioned as a homebrew Android console with a $99 price tag. The first reviews weren’t impressive, but then again this is hardly surprising given the nature of the project.

Nvidia also entered the fray with Project Shield, a handheld console based on the much more powerful Tegra 4 SoC. It’s a bit bigger than Sony’s or Nintendo’s handhelds, but it also has a unique trick up its sleeve. It can be used to stream PC games, but the feature is still not ready for prime time. It has a 720p screen and a $299 price tag, but yesterday Nvidia announced that Shield would be delayed by a few weeks due to a mechanical fault.

The delays illustrate that Android consoles are bound to face a number of teething problems. Android still lacks truly compelling games designed to attract hardcore gamers. Most Android games are made with the casual gamer in mind, and with relatively poor hardware. However, hardware shouldn’t be an issue in the long run. Mobile chips are evolving at a much faster pace than their PC counterparts. New SoC designs like the Snapdragon 800 and Tegra 4 feature vastly improved GPUs and they are capable of delivering a pleasant gaming experience at 720p and even 1080p, with some caveats. The level of detail still can’t come close to PC or console games, regardless of what spinners would have us believe. Although a 1080p game could look lovely on a 4.8-inch smartphone, it wouldn’t be much to look at on a 40- to 50-inch television.

Software might be a tougher nut to crack. Piracy is rampant on Android and even if that wasn’t a problem most users prefer casual games on the go, rather than big budget games that can generate plenty of revenue to pay for the eye candy needed for 1080p televisions. Attracting big developers won’t be easy, but someone has to make the first step and in this case it seems as if Nvidia has the best chance of getting some devs on board, as it is trying to get the best of both worlds, with PC streaming on a portable Android console with pretty good hardware. To make Android consoles truly attractive, developers must start coming up with titles specifically designed to make good use of physical controllers and fast chips used in such devices. The one size fits all approach, used to develop tablet and smartphone games, just won’t work. With next to no Android consoles on the market, this won’t happen anytime soon.

If Android consoles do take off, and we believe they will, sooner or later, the gaming market could be in for a frugal surprise. An average high-budget Xbox game costs about $60, yet the Ouya is priced at $99 and the Shield should sell for $299. This is a massive difference that won’t go unnoticed in emerging markets, or in the West for that matter. The Play Store could also democratize the market, allowing small outfits with good ideas to publish their games with ease, ending up with a runaway hit. Such success stories are not uncommon in the iOS and Android universe, as the market is not dominated by huge developers with endless budgets. The openness also means other software can be developed and put to good use, transforming Android consoles into proper home entertainment centres, capable of handling rudimentary computing, thus putting even more pressure on the embattled PC market.

All this leaves us with a very interesting emerging market, with plenty of pitfalls and opportunities for all involved. As tablets and smartphones mature, hardware makers will start exploring smaller niches. Samsung already has Android cameras and a strange phone-camera hybrid with a zoom lens. Smaller outfits are building dirt cheap Android sticks and some are experimenting with other form factors, like gaming tablets.

Although the first generation of Android consoles doesn’t seem too impressive, the market will be anything but boring over the next few years.

Apple tops US PC satisfaction list

dellsigA survey of 10,000 US consumers has pointed to Apple and HP taking the top end of the satisfaction ratings for the computing segment in a Temkin Experience study. At the bottom of the rankings were Sony and Lenovo.

The survey looked at three areas of customer satisfaction, that is, functionality, accessibility, and the emotional reaction to the use of their product across different industries, including with computing.

Acer, Apple, Compaq, Dell, eMachines, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba were included. According to the survey, personal computers have been making steady gains in customer satisfaction – the average experience rating has increased to 60 percent for this year, up six percent from 54 percent in 2011.

Apple’s enormous popularity in the States put it on top for computing, reaching 134th place of any brand across every industry at 64 percent customer satisfaction. That is slightly below its 2012 rating at one percent less, however, it pipped other computer makers to the spot with top feedback for the accessibility and emotional categories. HP was second, beating Apple in functionality, and scoring 62 percent overall.

Of the PC brands, Dell scored the biggest improvement from 2012 with an increase in six percentage points. Sony and Lenovo however were the lowest ranked PC brands, both scoring 54 percent – not dismal, but showing significant declines for the segment. Sony scored poorly on functionality and accessibility, while Lenovo users were just not that attached to their machines with a low rating for the emotional category. Overall, ratings for PCs were 13th out of the 19 included industries.

The full ratings can be found at Temkin’s website, here.


HTC struggles to stay afloat despite top notch products

htc-quietly-going-underHTC was one of the first smartphone makers to cash in on the Android craze a couple of years ago, but the good times are long gone and if its fortunes don’t turn around soon, it might be up for sale, or worse.

Back in 2010 and the first half of 2011, HTC was the darling of tech hacks and investors alike. It was posting strong sales, with triple digit revenue growth for four consecutive quarters. However, it has been downhill ever since.

On Wednesday HTC announced that its sales in February dropped a whopping 44 per cent year-on-year and 27 per cent compared to January. At the moment, HTC’s market cap is roughly one fifth of what it was in mid-2011.

So what on earth went wrong, and what led to HTC’s annus horribilis last year?

It wasn’t the products. Last year HTC decided to focus on fewer phones, which seemed like a logical step for a small outfit, as it could allocate its resources more efficiently and turn itself into an upmarket brand. The resulting One series phones got stellar reviews, but the positive vibe did not result in strong sales. HTC’s flagship One X featured a better screen than its arch nemesis, the Samsung Galaxy S3. It also looked a bit nicer and its build quality was vastly superior. In terms of hardware and software, it was on a par with Samsung’s S3 juggernaut. The same is true of other HTC phones.

For years HTC was viewed as a geeky smartphone brand with excellent but somewhat dull products. It tried to shake off this perception by introducing a bit more flare to its smartphone designs and then there was the ill-conceived Beats Audio deal. Clearly, it didn’t help. Worse, Samsung’s approach of flooding the market with countless Galaxy models worked like a charm. Instead of diluting the Galaxy brand with cheap, plasticky phones, Samsung managed to get more brand recognition than Google’s Android OS. Galaxy has become synonymous with Android, and then some.

HTC’s new flagship, dubbed One sans suffix, is already getting great reviews. It features a 4.7-inch 1080p display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 processor, which is the fastest currently available mobile chipset, along with an innovative Ultrapixel camera and a new dual-membrane microphone. It ticks all the right boxes and should be able to take on anything Samsung, LG or Sony could throw at it.

Sadly though, that is not enough. HTC simply can’t sell its gear or get its message across. It lacks the resources of consumer electronics giants, so it can’t market its products as effectively and it can’t get sweetheart carrier deals like big players. What’s more, smartphones have already gone mainstream and HTC simply lacks the brand recognition of more consumerish brands. Geeks might love HTC phones, they can get very positive reviews, but mainstream consumers just don’t care. They don’t read tech sites and they buy Samsungs instead.

So although HTC pioneered Android phones and although it still has excellent products, it could get the unflattering distinction of being the first Android smartphone maker to go out of business, in the middle of a mobile boom and with very little fault of its own.