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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Apple Discontinues Its AirPort Router Line
9to5Mac reports that Apple is officially exiting the wireless router business and selling off its remaining inventory of AirPort products. This includes the AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and both models of the AirPort Time Capsule. "We're discontinuing the Apple AirPort base station products," Apple said in a statement to 9to5Mac. "They will be available through Apple.com, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last." From the report: While the news is disappointing for fans of Apple's routers, the end of the AirPort line is no surprise either. Bloomberg reported back in November 2016 that Apple had disbanded the team responsible for developing Apple's routers, and in January 9to5Mac was first to report that Apple Stores started selling third-party. At the time, Apple told us that its AirPort line would remain -- with the mesh Wi-Fi routers adding a solution for larger homes: "People love our AirPort products and we continue to sell them. Connectivity is important in the home and we are giving customers yet another option that is well suited for larger homes."

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The Smartphone Sales Slowdown is Real
Earnings reports from Samsung and Qualcomm on Wednesday suggest a serious industrywide slowdown in smartphone sales. Samsung's report is especially telling, since it also makes displays and other components for Apple. From a report: The smartphone business is an incredibly crowded space, so a slowdown could lead to even steeper price competition. That's a potential short-term boon for consumers, but could put the hurt on a whole host of technology companies. Samsung's take: Its written outlook was terse and brief, but damning. Of its own phones, it said "[p]rofitability in the mobile business is expected to decline quarter-over-quarter due to stagnant sales of flagship models amid weak demand and an increase in marketing expenses to address the situation." Similarly, it cautioned of weak demand in its display and chip businesses, which supply components for both Samsung and its phone rivals, including Apple. Qualcomm's take: The phone chip giant also predicted a slowdown, cutting its forecast for 3G and 4G smartphones.

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Robot-Launched Weather Balloons in Alaska Hasten Demise of Remote Stations
The National Weather Service is choosing automated launchers over human employees to deploy weather balloons in Alaska. From a report: Last Thursday, just before 3 p.m., things began stirring inside the truck-size box that sat among melting piles of snow at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska. Inside, software ran checks on instruments to measure atmospheric temperature, humidity, and pressure; a tray slid into place; and a nozzle began filling a large balloon with gas. Finally, the roof of the box yawned open and a weather balloon took off into the sunny afternoon, instruments dangling. The entire launch was triggered with the touch of a button, 5 kilometers away at an office of the National Weather Service (NWS). The flight was smooth, just one of hundreds of twice-daily balloon launches around the world that radio back crucial data for weather forecasts. But most of those balloons are launched by people; the robotic launchers, which are rolling out across Alaska, are proving to be controversial. NWS says the autolaunchers will save money and free up staff to work on more pressing matters. But representatives of the employee union question their reliability, and say they will hasten the end of Alaska's remote weather offices, where forecasting duties and hours have already been slashed. "The autolauncher is just another nail in their coffin," says Kimberly Vaughan, a union steward in Juneau. Once deployed across the state, the $1.2 million machines, built by Finnish company Vaisala, will save about 8 hours of forecaster time a day -- and about $1 million a year at NWS, Susan Buchanan, an NWS spokesperson says.

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As More Users Complain About Poor Keyboard in Current MacBook Pro Lineup, Critics Say Apple Should Consider Recalling the Device
Last year, a report outlining what it described as a major flaw in Apple's current MacBook Pro lineup became a talking point in the industry. The issue was that a piece of dust could render keys on the MacBook Pro lineup useless, and that Apple had no idea how to fix it. Casey Johnston, writing for The Outline: MacBook Pro's keyboard keys stopped working if a single piece of dust slipped under there, and more importantly, that neither Apple nor its Geniuses would acknowledge that this was actually a problem. Today, Best Buy announced it is having a significant sale on these computers, marking them hundreds of dollars off. Interesting. Still, I'd suggest you do not buy them. Since I wrote about my experience, many have asked me what happened with the new top half of the computer that the Apple Geniuses installed, with its pristine keyboard and maybe-different key switches. The answer is that after a couple of months, I started to get temporarily dead keys for seemingly no reason. Again. Longtime widely respected commentator Jason Snell says, "I know that we Apple-watchers sit around wondering if Apple will release new laptops with new keyboards that don't have these issues, but Apple's relative silence on this issue for existing customers is deafening. If these problems are remotely as common as they seem to be, this is an altogether defective product that should be recalled."

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Snapchat Takes a Second Try at Spectacles
Snapchat is launching an updated version of Spectacles, its glasses with an embedded camera, and says its first version of the smart glasses sold over 220,000 units. From a report: That first version also caused the company to take a nearly $40 million write-down in the third quarter due to excess inventory. But instead of scrapping its hardware unit, the company is pressing ahead. Snap "listened to our customers and our community and incorporated every part of their feedback," said Mark Randall, Snapchat's vice president of hardware. The new version costs $150 -- $20 more than the prior version. They come in three new colors (onyx, ruby, and sapphire), are water resistant and can take photos and videos in high definition. Plus the content transfers much faster.

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iOS 11.3.1 Fixes Bug Where Third-Party Screen Repairs Made iPhone 8 Touchscreens Stop Working
The latest version of iOS 11.3.1 includes a fix for an issue where people who use third-party repair services to replace their displays had their devices become unresponsive. According to release notes, "iOS 11.3.1 improves the security of your iPhone or iPad and addresses an issue where touch input was unresponsive on some iPhone 8 devices because they were serviced with non-genuine replacement displays." Gizmodo reports: Retailers and customers alike suspected that Apple was deliberately letting the issue and other malfunctions that arose from replacing other components go unresolved in some sort of ploy to pressure customers into paying for officially licensed repair services that are more expensive. It's possible that some users indeed were forced to shell out a fair chunk of change to Apple for official repairs, in which case they might justifiably be angry that this was an issue that could be resolved with an update. iOS 11 was notoriously buggy after its release, and Apple has devoted so much effort to bug-fixing that this year's iOS 12 update will reportedly have fewer new features. Though Apple says the 11.3.1 fix will work, it also warned people to please not use third-party repair shops: "Note: Non-genuine replacement displays may have compromised visual quality and may fail to work correctly. Apple-certified screen repairs are performed by trusted experts who use genuine Apple parts. See support.apple.com for more information."

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E-Waste Innovator Will Go To Jail For Making Windows Restore Disks That Only Worked With Valid Licenses
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: California man Eric Lundgren, an electronic waste entrepreneur who produced tens of thousands of Windows restore disks intended to extend the lifespan of aging computers, lost a federal appeals court case in Miami after it ruled "he had infringed Microsoft's products to the tune of $700,000," the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Per the Post, the appeals court ruled Lundgren's original sentence of 15 months in prison and a $50,000 fine would stay, despite the software being freely available online and only compatible with valid Windows licenses: "The appeals court upheld a federal district judge's ruling that the disks made by Eric Lundgren to restore Microsoft operating systems had a value of $25 apiece, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Microsoft license. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit initially granted Lundgren an emergency stay of his prison sentence, shortly before he was to surrender, but then affirmed his original 15-month sentence and $50,000 fine without hearing oral argument in a ruling issued April 11." All told, the court valued 28,000 restore disks he produced at $700,000, despite testimony from software expert Glenn Weadock that they were worth essentially zero.

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A Study Finds Half of Jobs Are Vulnerable To Automation
The Economist reports of a new working paper by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses the automatability of each task within a given job, based on a survey of skills in 2015. "Overall, the study finds that 14% of jobs across 32 countries are highly vulnerable, defined as having at least a 70% chance of automation," reports Economist. "A further 32% were slightly less imperiled, with a probability between 50% and 70%. At current employment rates, that puts 210 million jobs at risk across the 32 countries in the study." From the report: The pain will not be shared evenly. The study finds large variation across countries: jobs in Slovakia are twice as vulnerable as those in Norway. In general, workers in rich countries appear less at risk than those in middle-income ones. But wide gaps exist even between countries of similar wealth. Differences in organizational structure and industry mix both play a role, but the former matters more. In South Korea, for example, 30% of jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 22% in Canada. Nonetheless, on average, Korean jobs are harder to automate than Canadian ones are. This may be because Korean employers have found better ways to combine, in the same job, and without reducing productivity, both routine tasks and social and creative ones, which computers or robots cannot do. A gloomier explanation would be "survivor bias": the jobs that remain in Korea appear harder to automate only because Korean firms have already handed most of the easily automatable jobs to machines.

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Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Electric buses were seen as a joke at an industry conference in Belgium seven years ago when the Chinese manufacturer BYD showed an early model. Suddenly, buses with battery-powered motors are a serious matter with the potential to revolutionize city transport -- and add to the forces reshaping the energy industry. With China leading the way, making the traditional smog-belching diesel behemoth run on electricity is starting to eat away at fossil fuel demand. The numbers are staggering. China had about 99 percent of the 385,000 electric buses on the roads worldwide in 2017, accounting for 17 percent of the country's entire fleet. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters -- the equivalent of London's entire working fleet, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance. All this is starting to make an observable reduction in fuel demand. And because they consume 30 times more fuel than average sized cars, their impact on energy use so far has become much greater than the than the passenger sedans produced companies from Tesla to Toyota. For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. This year, the volume of fuel buses take off the market may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day, about as much oil as Greece consumes, according to BNEF.

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Samsung Announces 970 PRO and 970 EVO NVMe SSDs
hyperclocker shares a report from AnandTech: Samsung has announced the third generation of their high-end consumer NVMe SSDs. The new 970 PRO and 970 EVO M.2 NVMe SSDs use a newer controller and Samsung's latest 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory. The outgoing 960 PRO and 960 EVO were first announced in September 2016 and shipped that fall, so they have had a fairly long run as Samsung's flagship consumer SSDs. Compared to its predecessor, the 970 EVO promises a small improvement in sequential read speed, and a more substantial boost to sequential write speed for all but the smallest 250GB model. Peak random access performance is also substantially improved, but again the 250GB model gets left out, and is actually rated as slower than the 960 EVO 250GB. The warranty on the EVO has been extended from three years to five years, and the write endurance ratings have been increased by 50% to retain almost the same drive writes per day rating. The 970 PRO's performance specs aren't too different from the 970 EVO. Many of the ratings are the same, and the ones that differ are mostly better by just 3-11% for the PRO. There are just two major exceptions to this. First, the PRO doesn't rely on SLC write caching so it can maintain its write speed far longer than the EVO. Second, the rated write endurance of the 970 PRO is twice that of the EVO, going from just over 0.3 Drive Writes Per Day to 0.6 DWPD. Neither of these are an important factor for ordinary consumer use cases, but they help the 970 PRO retain some shine as a premium product.

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Instagram Launches 'Data Download' Tool To Let You Leave
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Two weeks ago TechCrunch called on Instagram to build an equivalent to Facebook's "Download Your Information" feature so if you wanted to leave for another photo sharing network, you could. The next day it announced this tool would be coming and now TechCrunch has spotted it rolling out to users. Instagram's "Data Download" feature can be accessed here or through the app's privacy settings. It lets users export their photos, videos, archived Stories, profile, info, comments, and non-ephemeral messages, though it can take a few hours to days for your download to be ready. An Instagram spokesperson now confirms to TechCrunch that "the Data Download tool is currently accessible to everyone on the web, but access via iOS and Android is still rolling out." We'll have more details on exactly what's inside once my download is ready.

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YouTube Says Computers Helped It Pull Down Millions of Objectionable Videos Last Quarter
YouTube says it has successfully trained computers to flag objectionable videos. In the last quarter of 2017, the company reportedly pulled down more than six million of these videos before any users saw them. The news comes from a brief aside in Google CEO Sundar Pichai's scripted remarks during parent company Alphabet's earnings call today. "He said YouTube had pulled down more than six million videos in the last quarter of 2017 after first being flagged by its 'machine systems,' and that 75 percent of those videos 'were removed before receiving a single view,'" reports Recode.

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Surface Phone Speculation Spurred By New Phone APIs In Windows
Microsoft has been rumored to be working on a "Surface Phone" for years now, with little concrete evidence that such a device actually exists. "But the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview has given new fuel for the speculative fire, it has a set of new APIs for cellular phones," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Windows has had integrated support for cell modems since Windows 8, but this has been restricted to supporting data connections. Telephony -- dialing numbers, placing calls -- has always required either Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile. This has made the full Windows 10 unsuitable for a phone. That may be changing. Windows 10 build 17650 -- a preview of Redstone 5, the next Windows update after the delayed April update -- includes some telephony APIs. The new APIs cover support for a range of typical phone features: dialing numbers and contacts, blocking withheld numbers, support for Bluetooth headsets and spearphone mode, and so on and so forth. There also looks to be some kind of video-calling support, suggesting support for 3G or LTE video calling.

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Amazon Has a Top-Secret Plan to Build Home Robots
After making smart speakers a household product (at least to some), Amazon seems to have found its next big consumer product: robots. Amazon is building smart robots that are equipped with cameras that let them drive around homes, Bloomberg reported Monday. These robots could launch as soon as next year. From the report: Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone. The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like "Software Engineer, Robotics" and "Principle Sensors Engineer." People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees' homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

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Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb?
"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure. As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it. What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?

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