Posts Tagged ‘Smartphone’

Google Vice President for Android Joins Chinese Smartphone Maker Xiaomi

August 29th, 2013

Google Inc.’s vice president in charge of Android will join Xiaomi, a little known Chinese smartphone startup, in a sign of the growing influence of China’s device makers.

Hugo Barra will help with a new push by Xiaomi – pronounced sheow-mee-to develop its international business and be responsible for its strategic cooperation with Google, the Silicon Valley company said Thursday. Xiaomi, based in Beijing, has grown quickly in the world’s largest smartphone market by offering devices with top hardware specs on the cheap. Typically its smartphones cost belowUS$325, though its most recent smartphone sells for $130.

Unlike other Chinese smartphone makers like Huawei Technologies Co. and Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific (Shenzhen) Co. – which sells Coolpad branded phones – Xiaomi has made waves with its marketing flare. When it first introduced phones in the summer of 2011, the company offered a limited number online, which led to the phones selling out quickly. Meanwhile co-founder and investor Lei Jun has drummed up interest with hyped product releases.

Though the Xiaomi makes little money off the hardware it sells, its business model revolves around software and service offerings, as well as accessories. The company, which uses its website as its primary sales platform, offers an array of accessories from multi-colored batteries and casings, to hats and even dolls of the company’s rabbit mascot. It also now offers a set-top box, which streams licensed Internet content for the television and is integrated with the software it runs on its phones, which are based on Google’s Android operating system.

The strategy has helped the company–which was founded just three years ago by well-known Chinese investor Mr. Lei and former Google employee Lin Bin– grow its revenue quickly. In 2012, only its second year selling phones, Xiaomi sold more than 7 million phones and generated revenue of 12.65 billion yuan ($2.05 billion). In the first half of this year the company said it has already sold more than 7 million handsets, and is aiming to sell 20 million in 2013.

The success has drawn the attention of investors. Last week, the company confirmed that Xiaomi’s most recent round of fundraising valued it at $10 billion – nearly as much as Chinese computer giant Lenovo Group Ltd.’s $10.1 billion market value. Nonetheless, some analysts have wondered about the valuation, pointing out that the non-existent margins from the company’s hardware sales and stiff price competition in the Chinese market could make it difficult to turn big profits in the coming years.

The hiring of Mr. Barra also shows Xiaomi has ambitions to grow beyond China. In April, it made its first foray into markets outside of the Chinese mainland, selling its phones in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In a press release accompanying Mr. Barra’s hiring, a Xiaomi spokeswoman wrote, “after Hugo joins the team, it’s possible we will take another step in expanding the territory of our international business.”

In a statement posted on Google’s social networking platform, Mr. Barra wrote, “I’ll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally…I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem.”

On Thursday, a Google spokesman also confirmed Mr. Barra’s departure, saying in a statement, “we wish Hugo Barra the best. We’ll miss him at Google and we’re excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem.”

Mr. Barra’s departure comes after Andy Rubin, who was in charge of the Android operating system at Google, also stepped down earlier this year.

In the second quarter, Xiaomi had a 5% share of China’s smartphone market according to research firm Canalys, which tracks sales in the country. By comparison, Apple Inc. had a 5% market share, while Lenovo had 12%. Samsung Electronics Co. was the biggest vendor with an 18% share.

Yang Jie contributed to this article.


New Smartphone Software Predicts Users’ Mood

August 8th, 2013

The smartphone could end up moonlighting as a mood ring in addition to its job as a computer. MoodSense, a new software package in development by Microsoft Research and Rice University in Texas, doesn’t rely on a camera to capture your smile or a microphone to hear you scream in anger. Instead, it predicts moods from what you do with your phone.

Lin Zhong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, saw mood as an important factor in how people interact with one another. “For example, when we deal with a spouse, it’s very important to gauge [his or her] mood to make sure you have a smooth relationship,” he told ABC News.

But asking someone about their mood or even saying how you feel out loud could be considered intrusive and even rude. “It’s become a little obnoxious to tell people [on Facebook or Skype] whether you’re feeling great or sad,” said Zhong. “If a computer can do it automatically, it’s a more socially acceptable way to share your mood.”

Zhong and graduate student Robert LiKamWa developed MoodSense to track how smartphone users spend their time across different activities such as email, websites and phone calls. Every couple of hours, the software asks users to rate both their happiness and their activity level on a scale of 1 to 5. Eventually, MoodSense gathers enough data to predict how users feel according to their recent activity. After the orientation period, the researchers said MoodSense could predict a person’s mood with 93 percent accuracy.

Shiny Happy People Have a Site to Call Their Own

Md. Munirul Haque, a computer science postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, also developed mood prediction software, called IRENE. IRENE, however, used either a phone camera or a webcam to take a snapshot and predict what mood users were in, which he acknowledged had its problems. “People can easily fake their moods in their pictures,” he wrote in an email. “But it is highly improbable to fake mood through hundreds of activities being done in a smartphone.”

Zhong sees the software package as a way to avoid awkward moments in digital conversations. “When someone is calling, they’ll know the person’s mood beforehand and be able to better handle that call,” he said. In addition, MoodSense will also create an API that will broadcast moods the same way GPS devices broadcast location. App developers can use the API and incorporate mood-based functions into their software.

Ultimately, it’s up to the smartphone developers to decide whether or not they want MoodSense as part of their software package. “I hope it will be available in a couple of years,” said Zhong. “But I’m only a professor. I’m not the VP of Microsoft.”


Help at hand for sufferers of digital burn-out

June 25th, 2013

Tired of checking your smartphone every few minutes for new emails, likes or retweets? Do you spend more time looking at your device than chatting to your date? Are you close to a digital burn-out?

Fear not, an increasing number of options are available for those seeking to detox from technology, from wallpaper that blocks wi-fi to Internet-free holidays and software that forces you off addictive sites.

“People connect all the time, everywhere, in every position — lying down on their bed, at the restaurant, in the waiting room,” says Remy Oudghiri, a director at French polling firm Ipsos and author of a book on the subject.

More and more people own devices that allow this. In the United States, over half of adults now have a smartphone, while more than a third own a tablet computer.

“This sudden surge in connection possibilities, after the initial period of enthusiasm, prompts every user to reflect on how to continue to enjoy life while taking advantage of their connection. How to avoid becoming dependent,” Oudghiri said.

French researchers have come up with one solution, creating a special type of wallpaper that blocks wifi, which materials company Ahlstrom is busy developing further with the aim of putting it on the market next year.

Spokesman Robin Guillaud says there has already been significant interest in the invention. Schools in particular have made enquiries, keen to prevent students from spending too much time hooked to their smartphones.

According to an Ipsos survey, nearly a third of French people now feel the need to disconnect, with similar trends recorded in other countries.

Separate research from the same firm found that in 2006, 54 percent of the French population felt people spent less time together due to the advent of new technologies, a figure that leapt to 71 percent last year.

Companies have latched onto this lassitude, particularly in the tourism industry where some hotels and resorts offer digital detox packages.

The upmarket Westin hotel in Dublin, for instance, gives guests the option to surrender their smartphones and tablets on check-in and provides them with a detox pack that includes a tree planting kit and a board game.

But it comes at a price — 175 euros ($230) per person per night.

Other firms are offering more in-depth packages to really get away from it all. The US-based Digital Detox organises tech-free retreats to remote places in the United States or escape destinations such as Cambodia.

“Some of it is marketing”, said Thierry Crouzet, a blogger who went cold turkey and disconnected for six months.

“There are loads of places that are tranquil. No need to book a tour operator that takes you to the North Pole.”

The 49-year-old wrote a book about his experience called “I unplugged”, after suffering from a digital burn-out that saw him so craving technology that he would sometimes check his email, blogs and Twitter at night.

“I see a lot of blogger friends who are easing off. Nearly everyone gradually takes breaks. We’re realising that at the end of the day, it (technology) doesn’t nourish us,” he said.

But Crouzet admits that as a blogger who was going to write a book about his experience, it was easier for him to disconnect than it is for thousands of people who rely on email for work.

As a result, some companies are implementing measures to try and relieve employees from being contactable 24/7.

German car maker Volkswagen, for instance, in 2011 decided to stop sending emails to thousands of employees’ Blackberrys between 6.15 pm and 7:00 am.

And for those who just cannot resist Facebook, Twitter or Google+, the website offers software that disables a list of distracting sites provided by the customer for a specified time period.

When all else fails, Internet rehabs are starting to spring up, such as reSTART, which bills itself as the first retreat centre programme in the United States.

According to its website, most of those they treat are between 18 and 28, and have checked in because they have had difficulty finishing college due to their Internet use, or establishing and maintaining off-line relationships.

The programme aims to teach participants about healthy eating, getting good sleep and how to address difficult emotions head-on rather than escape online.

The jury is out, however, as to whether those hooked on technology suffer from an actual addiction.

“I wouldn’t use the word addiction, I’d use the word dependence,” said Oudghiri.

“And it’s not the same dependence as drug dependence as you can free yourself of it more easily.”


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