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For Android folks, the idea of third-party keyboards is ancient news. If you’re an iOS loyalist, especially one who’s tired of Apple’s not-so-helpful autocorrect feature, the arrival of keyboard choices in iOS 8 feels worthy of a ticker tape parade.

Released Wednesday, iOS 8 offers lots of new features without drastically changing the look and feel of the software. A great way to start exploring the features is by downloading or updating apps that utilize new functionality in iOS 8. Here are five to get you started.

SwiftKey

Well known to Android users, SwiftKey is a free iPhone/iPad app that provides a nice alternative to Apple’s default keyboard, which was also updated for iOS 8. The big deal here is the ability to type words by swiping your finger across the keyboard from one character to the next without stopping. The motion connects the characters into a string that forms the word you want. For example, if you want to type the word “quit,” you start by touching the “q” character, then swing over (without lifting your finger) to “u,” next “i,” and finally, “t.” During this process, possible words that match your character selections show up just above the keyboard. It takes some getting used to, but I suspect I’m going to use SwiftKey a lot.

(I had to reboot my iPhone 5s before it recognized the SwiftKey keyboard. Also worth noting: Nuance offers an alternative called Swype for one dollar.)

Travel Guide by AFAR, OpenTable, Yahoo Weather

The iOS “Today” menu, which is accessed by swiping down on the iPhone screen, can now include Notification Center “widgets” from third-party apps. (Here again, Android users have long been familiar with widgets, but they’re new to iOS.) A lot of apps already support this new feature, and it gives them another home on users’ devices. I installed or updated the following three apps to test the new widget feature:

* Travel Guide by AFAR. San Francisco-based AFAR magazine has a bit more bite and insight than glossier competitors such as Travel + Leisure. Its iOS app now puts a cool widget in your Today menu that’s organized with five topical tabs: Eat, Drink, Do, Shop, and Stay. Each option has a thumbnail image accompanied by business name and distance from your current location. It’s a cool way to get quick recommendations.

* OpenTable now displays upcoming reservations in the Today menu, which, when tapped, take you to the OpenTable app where you can quickly change or cancel a reservation or get directions to a restaurant.

* Yahoo Weather conveniently displays a thumbnail image of current weather conditions for your geographic area along with current conditions, temperature information and a quick forecast.

Messages

Apple updated its iOS apps with new features, of course. Its Messages update is particularly interesting. The revised app makes it easy to record audio messages or take photos and video, which can then be embedded in your messages. You can also share your location on a map with message recipients. When the upcoming Mac OS X Yosemite is released, you’ll be able to start a message on your Mac and finish it on your iPhone or iPad, or vice versa. (Yosemite is already available as a beta download. The final version is expected on Oct. 22.)

(itnews.com)


As the iPhone 6 series hits store shelves and users’ pockets, professional opinions have been generally positive, if not breathlessly impressed. The overall reaction is probably best characterized as a “eh, they’re pretty good.”

Not, of course, that this has stopped anyone from devoting several thousand words at a time to saying so. In-depth reviews have been plentiful and extensive. Fine details have been pored over. Comparisons made. Phones fondled, pockets stuffed.

The lack of a strong reaction, either positive or negative, to the iPhone 6 series is largely due to the fact that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus don’t introduce a lot of revolutionary new features — there are hardware updates aplenty, of course, but they’re generally incremental upgrades, bringing Apple’s top-end devices into relative parity with the latest from Samsung, et al.

And of course, a lot of the reaction has been focused on the devices’ size. The iPhone 6 is Apple’s first foray into the big-phone territory dominated by Samsung and other Android OEMs, while the iPhone 6 Plus goes even further, into the world of the phablet. The size issue is particularly interesting to examine from a long-time iPhone user’s perspective, as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber writes:

“I’m not yet completely sold on 4.7 inches as a replacement for 4.0 as the standard iPhone size, but give me a few more weeks and I suspect I will be. I love the old iPhone size so much, and I’ve spent so much time with it, that it’s going to take longer than a week to adjust to a new size — especially so when I spent half the week using the ginormous iPhone 6 Plus.”

Gruber and many others point out that Apple has introduced small but important tweaks designed to keep the larger screen size from being a headache for one-handed users — the “reachability” feature lets users tap a control to move buttons and other screen items near the top of the display closer to the bottom, for example. The Daring Fireball blogger says that the 6 series is still not as easy to use single-handed as its predecessors, however.

Reviewers who were either neutral or positive on the size question, however, were more impressed by the 6 series. USA Today tech columnist Ed Baig was wowed by the iPhone 6 Plus’ display, construction and generally high level of polish:

“These are the phones Apple devotees have been waiting for: iPhones that measure up to what’s fast becoming the new normal — the large, modern smartphone display. Count me among those glad they’re here.”

Even more impressed than Baig was Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Topolsky, who said that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus “might be the best phones ever made. Period.” While he found the 6 Plus to be a bit too outsized for regular daily use — a not-uncommon point of view, it must be said — Topolsky praised the smaller model as being essentially the perfect size.

Other techie notables like Re/Code’s Walt Mossberg echoed much of this praise, saying that the iPhone 6 is “the best smartphone that money can buy.”

MacWorld’s Jason Snell didn’t go quite that far, but he did emphasize that the big new iPhones instantly make Apple competitive with its most formidable rivals.

“Make no mistake: The most important new thing about the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is their size. While their processors run faster and their cameras focus more exactingly, the real story is that these are larger phones with larger screens,” he wrote. “Samsung and other competitors have showed that there’s an audience for extra-large phones–and that’s now an audience that can buy an iPhone. That’s the whole point.

With the exception of the new form factor, no other single feature of the new iPhones seemed to particularly wow multiple reviewers. David Pierce, of the Verge, summed up a common thread among many reviews by writing that “everything is better, and nothing is different.”

(itnews.com)


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission needs to create explicit rules that tell broadband providers what traffic management techniques they can and cannot use if the agency has any hope of enforcing its proposed net neutrality rules, some advocates told the agency Friday.

The FCC needs to reclassify broadband as a common-carrier, public utility service in order to have a firm regulatory foundation to take net neutrality enforcement actions, representatives of Kickstarter and Mozilla said during an agency forum on net neutrality enforcement.

The FCC needs strong prohibitions against broadband providers selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic, said Susan Crawford, a visiting intellectual property professor at Harvard Law School. She called on the FCC to pass net neutrality rules pegged to Title II of the Communications Act, a section of the law that has focused on requirements for common-carrier telephone companies.

“Consumers are really collateral damage in some Titanic battles between these terminating [broadband] monopolies at the interconnection points and edge providers,” said Crawford, a longtime net neutrality advocate. “The government is the only entity that can take on these companies.”

The FCC’s mission is to protect the public trust, and that focus trumps the profit motive of a handful of large broadband carriers “every time,” Crawford added. “The only reason to water down very strong net neutrality rules under Title II would be to serve the commercial interests of the carriers,” she added.

Earlier this year, after a U.S. appeals court threw out parts of the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new rules that would allow broadband providers to engage in what he called “commercially reasonable” network management. Advocates of strong rules have criticized Wheeler’s proposal, saying it would allow broadband providers to selectively slow Internet traffic and charge Web content providers for priority traffic handling.

Representatives of two broadband trade groups opposed calls for the FCC to adopt public utility-style rules, saying the dozens of regulations in Title II would create a long and expensive process for net neutrality complaints.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable broadband providers, supports “reasonable” net neutrality rules at the FCC, but the agency should focus on adopting overarching principles and enforcing violations on a case-by-case basis, said Rick Chessen, the NCTA’s senior vice president for law and regulatory policy.

The FCC needs to be flexible with enforcement as Internet business models change, instead of adopting “prophylactic, prescriptive rules,” Chessen said. “We don’t know which way this fast-moving Internet is going,” he said. “We don’t know how it’s evolving. We don’t know what it’s going to look like two months from now, let alone two years from now.”

New traffic management rules would pose “significant real” costs for the approximately 3,000 small wireless ISPs across the U.S., added Stephen Coran, a lawyer representing the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. WISPs have “no record of bad behavior” related to net neutrality, he said.

The FCC can recognize the value of small ISPs by “not saddling them with a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach that will increase costs, deter investment, stifle innovation and slow the deployment of critically important broadband service,” Coran said.

Coran called for “regulatory certainty” that defines reasonable network management practices that ISPs are allowed to use, and he called on the FCC to require “good faith” negotiations between groups complaining about potential net neutrality violations and ISPs before a formal complaint can be filed.

In its 2010 rules, the FCC “created a vast, grey area where it’s very difficult to quantify the risk and assess the risk,” he said. “If you’re a small ISP, and you’re looking for money, and the banker says, ‘I see you have this net neutrality complaint, tell me what that means,’ I can’t sit there and say it’s a $1 problem or a $1 million problem.”

Title II regulation is needed because of the market power and resources of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Communications and Time Warner Cable, countered Michal Rosenn, the lone corporate lawyer at Kickstarter. Many Web-based services don’t have the money to engage in protracted net neutrality fights with the largest broadband providers, she said.

Without strong net neutrality enforcement, broadband providers could drive Web startups out of business before the FCC rules on case-by-case violations, she said.

“Unlike the carriers, or even companies like Netflix, we don’t have billions or even millions of dollars and hundreds of lawyers to devote to just making sure we can get our product out there,” Rosenn said. “The imbalance of power here is so enormous that our ability to even exist is based on these rules, and based on the ability to have strong, bright line rules.”

(itnews.com)


Increasingly stiff competition in the database market has claimed another victim, as InfiniDB has ceased operations effective immediately with plans to file for bankruptcy.

“The company and technology have developed over the past several years and there have been numerous technology achievements and business success stories with our customers,” InfiniDB CEO Bob Wilkinson said in a statement issued Friday. “But as a startup on the leading edge of technology, business can be challenging especially as differentiation in the market is murkier and competition from bigger entities increases.”

Although InfiniDB’s leadership spent some months “exploring all possible investment options that could take the company forward,” the effort was fruitless, Wilkinson said.

“InfiniDB has worked closely with our partners to alert them of this change,” he added. “Our goal is to make this a smooth transition where they can continue to leverage their solutions built with the InfiniDB platform.”

The InfiniDB database, which uses a columnar store and MPP (massively parallel processing) for high-speed analytic workloads, is available in an open-source version hosted on GitHub. However, community pages InfiniDB had hosted “will no longer be active or supported,” Wilkinson said.

There is one potential silver lining for InfiniDB customers, in that SkySQL is poised to offer support services for the platform, according to the statement.

Formerly known as Calpont, InfiniDB “went through multiple technical strategies,” said analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research. “Indeed, they started out as a SQL-on-a-chip company.”

However, “there’s a huge difference between having some good ideas for a DBMS product and having a product that is sufficiently mature and flexible to be competitive,” Monash said.

Open-source software projects often thrive or fade away depending upon the amount of corporate backing they receive.

The chance of another vendor becoming a major InfiniDB project sponsor and building a commercial open source business around it is “not impossible, but unlikely,” Monash said. “In more or less its current form, it doesn’t have a great functionality-maturity trade-off.”

(itnews.com)


The IEEE is embarking on an ambitious effort to build a overarching architecture for the Internet of Things, spanning a multitude of industries and technologies.

IEEE P2413, which the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers officially started work on in July, would form a framework for interoperability among connected devices and related applications in home automation, industrial systems, telematics and all other sectors that are expected to use IoT in the coming years. While leaving room for differences across those industries, the standard would allow for sharing of data across IoT systems, according to Oleg Logvinov, chair of the IEEE P2413 Working Group.

“The activities in the Internet of Things today are disjointed,” Logvinov said Thursday at the IEEE Standards Association IoT Workshop in Mountain View, California.

IDC analyst Michael Palma, who also spoke at the workshop, counted seven industry groups plus the IEEE that are working in this area. They include enterprise-level bodies such as the Industrial Internet Consortium and more consumer-focused efforts such as AllJoyn.

“What they need is the Rosetta Stone to make everything talk and work together,” Palma said.

IEEE is a powerful international body that’s set the standards for, among other things, Ethernet and wireless LANs. But the P2413 Working Group, which first met in July, doesn’t want to replace existing IoT groups. Rather it aims to create a standard architecture so IoT systems for all industries can work together.

“They need a place where they can come together and move forward as a scalable, unified platform,” Logvinov said. “That type of unification can be enabled only by a global, international standard.”

Logvinov and others at the event compared today’s IoT to a group of islands. To form the greater whole that IoT can be, there’s a need for bridges between those islands and eventually a merging into one land mass that can house the equivalent of a big city, they said. The benefits of bringing different areas of IoT together could include economies of scale, lower hardware prices and future applications as yet unimagined.

That problem exists in a nutshell in the medical equipment industry, according to Dr. Julian Goldman, director of medical device interoperability at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The makers of various types of devices for monitoring patients’ health don’t design their products to share data or even acknowledge one another, so doctors can’t get as good information as they might, he said. For example, measurements taken by a blood oxygen sensor on a patient’s finger can be affected by the actions of a blood-pressure monitor that squeezes the patient’s arm, but the systems don’t automatically account for that effect, Goldman said.

“If we don’t look at the lessons today in health care, the Internet of Things is not going to be an Internet of Things, it’s going to be a pile of things,” Goldman said.

The P2413 group hopes to define the basic building blocks of IoT systems that are common across industries, Logvinov said. Among other things, it hopes to turn the information coming from different platforms into commonly understood data objects, he said. It hopes to finish the standard by 2016, a goal that Logvinov acknowledged is ambitious.

A standard that spans IoT will be hard to build, but so will IoT itself, which may represent the next phase of the industrial revolution, he said.

“It’s worth the effort,” Logvinov said. “It’s worth trying to build.”

There are too many vendors and groups pushing overlapping specifications for IoT, said Michael Holdmann, executive vice president of sales, marketing and strategy at Coversant, in an interview at the forum. Coversant sells communications software that’s used in some IoT systems today.

“People are just trying to do things that are already out there,” Holdmann said.

He welcomes the P2413 effort but said it will be important for the group to coordinate with other organizations. In time, people trying to use IoT will demand some kind of order, he said. “The market is going to drive the standards bodies to cooperate.”

Coordination with other organizations, including ETSI (the European Telecommunications Standards Institute), ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the machine-to-machine group oneM2M, is part of the P2413 game plan, Logvinov said. There are currently 23 vendors and organizations represented in the P2413 group, including Cisco Systems, Huawei Technologies, General Electric, Oracle, Qualcomm and the ZigBee Alliance.

(itnews.com)


In their first day of trading, shares of Alibaba stock opened at US$92.70 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, an increase of more than 35 percent over the $68 initial public offering price.

The firm raised $21.8 billion in its U.S. IPO, making it one of the largest IPOs ever. It’s close to the historic $22 billion raised by the Agricultural Bank of China in 2010, and beats the $18 billion raised by Visa in 2008.

Alibaba shares didn’t begin trading until at least a couple hours after the opening bell. Listed under the symbol BABA, Alibaba shares were trading slightly lower around $90 in the early afternoon.

Alibaba is an e-commerce behemoth in China, but it’s looking to grow its business internationally, perhaps beyond e-commerce in the pursuit of new consumer data.

The company was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma. Two of its largest consumer shopping sites are Tmall and Taobao, though it recently opened a new online shop in the U.S. called 11Main.

(itnews.com)


TwitPic, the image-hosting company that two weeks ago said it would shut down after a trademark dispute with Twitter, has apparently been acquired, keeping its service alive.

“We’re happy to announce we’ve been acquired and TwitPic will live on!” the company said Thursday in — and why not — a tweet.

TwitPic said it will provide more details when it can disclose them. It didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company said earlier this month that it would be shutting down Sept. 25, after Twitter demanded it abandon its trademark or risk losing access to Twitter’s API (application programming interface).

Since 2008, TwitPic has provided a platform that lets people share their photos and videos on Twitter. Its service has become less relevant over the years as Twitter made it easier to upload photos directly.

(itnews.com)


Facebook has always been based on identity. Unlike other social networks, which let you pick pseudonyms and have varying degrees of anonymity, Facebook holds you accountable to reality. You are your name. It’s how people find you. But now the network’s commitment to real names is being tested–and not just by popular anonymous apps.

Facebook recently began cracking down on well-known San Francisco drag queens who use their performer names on the network instead of their birth names, going so far as to delete profiles, which has caused widespread outrage in the city’s LBGTQ community. Facebook reps met with some of the affected drag queens and city Supervisor David Campos Wednesday night, but it doesn’t look like the network will be changing its policy any time soon.

That’s unfortunate. It isn’t just drag queens who eschew their birth names on the network. There are plenty of reasons you might want to use a different moniker or a variation on your given name. What if you have a stalker or a crazy ex? What if you’re trying to escape an abusive situation? What if you don’t want prospective employers evaluating your Facebook instead of your job application? Sure, you could lock down your account’s privacy settings, but now that you can no longer hide your account from Facebook’s search, people can still find you, message you, and send you friend requests.

For drag queens and transgendered Facebook users, names aren’t about hiding; they’re expressions of identity. Regardless of why you choose a name other than the one you were assigned at birth, you shouldn’t have to provide legal documentation to Facebook to use that name. The network earlier this year announced more gender options after meeting with LGBTQ advocacy groups and figuring out that the male-female binary was excluding many of its users. That policy doesn’t extend to names, apparently.

The network’s solution for drag performers is to create separate fan pages or use their drag names as aliases. But that’s not good enough. I know plenty of people who use made-up names to avoid being found in search, but they’re not drag queens so Facebook doesn’t bother them. A Facebook rep told TechCrunch that an algorithm had found the drag queens, causing the mass crackdown, but a user on Secret is taking credit for reporting users, making the situation seem even nastier.

Facebook has restored the deleted profiles, but is requiring all drag queens to start using their real names within the next two weeks. There’s also some talk of another meeting, perhaps with people who have more power at Facebook, but it doesn’t look like the network plans to change its policy. Drag queens are now waging a social media campaign against Facebook using the hashtag #MyNameIs.

If Facebook is examining anonymity in response to popular apps usurping its place in the phones of teens, the least it can do is look at its real names policy and see how it can make the network more inclusive. Your identity is more than your birth name.

(itnews.com)


Samsung on Thursday announced price reductions and updates for its Knox security and management software for IT shops and a free My Knox service that is directly available to professionals using ActiveSync.

My Knox can be installed on a user’s Galaxy S5 or Galaxy Note 4 smartphone without an IT administrator’s involvement to set up a My Knox User Portal to remotely find, wipe and lock a device, according to a Samsung blog.

With My Knox, professionals can synchronize emails, calendar events and contacts between desktop computers and mobile devices, Samsung said. It creates a virtual Android partition within the mobile device that has its own home screen, launcher, apps and widget.

“If you are looking for a free security solution that ensures your privacy while providing the simplicity of having a secure workspace for email and apps that is managed by you, look no further than My Knox,” Samsung’s blog says.

Samsung also posted a separate blog that details its new Knox Premium and Knox Express services for IT admins to deploy cross-platform mobile security companywide.

Knox Premium for large enterprises will cost $1 per user, while Knox Express for small and medium businesses will be free. Cloud support for Knox tools had been priced as high as $3.60 per user, but Jae Shin, vice president of the Knox Business Group, recently said the price would soon go down.

“Knox Premium will be attractive to businesses because of its low cost and it will address concerns that Knox is expensive and not affordable,” said Shreyas Sadalgi, senior vice president of business development at Samsung Knox partner Centrify. He spoke in a recent interview.

Samsung described Knox Premium as a “complete mobility management solution” that includes Knox Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM), which is cloud based for easy deployment. It works across other device platforms besides Android, but Samsung didn’t say which ones. It also comes with online technical and phone ticket support.

Knox Express will also have Knox EMM, and will have an online portal for IT admins with support for Samsung and other Android and iOS devices, Samsung said.

Centrify provides the cloud-based identity and access management features of Knox EMM.

(itnews.com)


Few CEOs have been as consistently entertaining as Larry Ellison. Love him or hate him, you can depend on him to liven up a speech with a put-down, a faux pas or a zinger for a competitor. Reporters joke that his public relations staff must take a lot of Xanax before he takes the stage. You never know what he’s going to say next.

Ellison, who’s 70, stepped down as Oracle’s CEO on Thursday. He’ll still be executive chairman and CTO, so it’s unlikely we’ve heard the last of him yet. But to mark the end of an era, here are some of our favorite Ellison quotes, culled from various appearances.

A shareholder once asked Ellison why he needed two company presidents, Mark Hurd and Safra Catz.

“I just figured two’s better than one. Seriously, it’s a large company. We have a separation of responsibilities.”

Another shareholder complained it was too hard getting information about Oracle’s annual meeting.

“We love people to come to our annual meeting. We even have cookies.”

Oracle’s rivalry with Salesforce.com has been a constant favorite.

“You can check in, but you can’t check out. I like to think of it as the roach motel of clouds.”

Part of the animosity with Salesforce is that Ellison thinks he doesn’t get enough credit for “inventing” cloud computing. He was an early backer of NetSuite, one of the first cloud companies, but the mantle is often given to Salesforce’s Mark Benioff.

“I think I started the first cloud company,” he told an audience in San Francisco in January. “It’s called NetSuite. It’s a year older than Salesforce.com.”

The theme came up again at All Things D two years ago.

“I started NetSuite. NetSuite was my idea. I called up Evan Goldberg and said, ‘We’re going to do ERP [enterprise resource planning] on the Internet, software as a service.’ Six months later, Marc Benioff, finding out what NetSuite was doing, kind of copied it.”

Ellison has something to say about any competing technology that comes along.

“For those who think Hadoop is going to replace Oracle, they couldn’t possibly understand what Hadoop is. It’s batch processing. If you want to know someone’s phone number [in Hadoop], come back the next day.”

But his favorite target is German applications giant SAP.

“Ninety-nine percent of their business is ERP, and they haven’t rebuilt it for the cloud. They haven’t even started. It’s very hard for me to think of SAP as a competitor.”

Oracle is waging a legal battle with SAP, which admitted a former subsidiary stole its intellectual property. Ellison tried to subpoena SAP’s former CEO, Leo Apotheker, who was later CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but Apotheker was conveniently out of the country. It was too much for Ellison to pass up.

“We subpoenaed him for the SAP trial and he was on the lam. The HP board sent him to Bolivia to talk to customers. Then they sent him to Mongolia to talk to customers, just out of reach of the federal subpoenas.”

“The board figured out, we should have left Leo in Mongolia. Because when he came to California, it really got bad.”

HP’s decision to replace Hurd with Apotheker is another favorite.

“I’m speechless. … HP had several good internal candidates … but instead they pick a guy who was recently fired because he did such a bad job of running SAP.”

He’s immensely proud of the security of the Oracle database.

“Mr. Snowden never could have gotten into an Oracle database,” he said in January.

On trying to imitate his old friend Steve Jobs:

“To model yourself after Steve Jobs is like, ‘I’d like to paint like Picasso, what should I do? Should I use more red?'”

(itnews.com)

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