TechSummit Rewind #014: January 15, 2014

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the TechSummit Rewind, which presses pause on the technology newswire.

SoftKinetic’s 3D scanning solution aims to popularize MakerBot’s printers

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SoftKinetic, the 3D gesture provider of Intel and Ubisoft’s PS4 version of Just Dance 2014, is once again grabbing attention by announcing a strategic partnership with MakerBot at CES 2014. The two companies will work on optimizing SoftKinetic’s time-of-flight depth camera technology for 3D scanning, which will hopefullly popularize MakerBot’s 3D printers. SoftKinetic CMO Eric Krzeslo showed how quickly he could scan a person’s face using his companies’ depth camera. The data was then sent to Volumental’s cloud service, which returned a printer-ready render in a matter of minutes.

SoftKinetic also announced that NVIDIA’s Tegra Note 7 platform comes with their gesture recognition middleware, as well as support for its DepthSense 3D Time-of-Flight USB camera. This means that OEMS or developers will be able to quickly make short-range (“as close as six inches”) gesture control on NVIDIA’s reference tablet design. At this rate, it shouldn’t be long before tablets are controllable from afar — it’s just too much effort to reach over a bowl of noodles to poke the screen.

Box redesigns iOS app for simplicity, speed, real-time search

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Box has countered Dropbox’s revamped iOS app with an app of its own. Its updated cloud storage software centers around an iOS 7-native interface that’s both “simpler and faster” at drawing content. The new app can now preview over 100 file types, and grid views make it easier to find photos and presentations. Box also slipped in real-time searching, a comments sidebar, and the option to copy, cut or move multiple files at once. The app update is available now in the App Store.

Nike launches FuelBand SE Silver Edition, available now for $169

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Nike has announced another limited edition version of its FuelBand activity tracker. The newly-minted Silver Edition, which is part of the Metaluxe Collection, joins the black, pink foil, total crimson, volt and rose gold versions in the Nike+ FuelBand SE lineup.

Other than the obvious addition of a silver plate on the clip, don’t expect any other changes out of the new FuelBand SE. Which is to say, the Silver Edition’s functionality is exactly the same as is found on the cheaper, more colorful Sports Pack — namely, features like tracking daily activities, measuring intensity of workouts and being able to share this information with friends. That being said, the Silver Edition’s geared for folks who prefer a subtler and sleeker version of Nike’s FuelBand SE — and, of course, it is a solid option if gold isn’t your thing.

Illumina HiSeq X Ten can sequence for DNA for $1,000

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Even a decade ago, sequencing a genetic code would set you back around $250,000. Naturally, the target has been to get that figure down to a more reasonable sum, and now a company believes that it can do it for just $1,000. Illumina has announced that the $10 million HiSeq X Ten kit will crank out tens of thousands of genomes annually. Even better, is that the $1,000 figure includes the hefty hardware price — which hopefully will kick off a new era of genetic research. Naturally, the first customers include the Harvard-MIT Broad institute and Regeneron, with the latter planning to use the tech to develop cheaper drugs to heal our ailing bodies.

Apple’s gotta pay for your kids’ in-app purchases: FTC

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Apple has settled with the FTC over a complaint filed by the Commission on in-app purchases made by children without their parents’ consent.

Apple has since modified its billing practices to get express, informed consent before allowing in-app purchases, and refund at least $32.5 million to affected customers, and should it send out less money in settlements, then the difference will go to the FTC.

CyanogenMod Installer comes to the Mac

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Mac users will no longer have to sit on the sidelines while their Windows-using compadres install CyanogenMod with ease. Cyanogen has released an OS X beta for its Installer app, making it easy to flash your Android device with a new ROM from your MacBook.

Alienware’s Steam Machine available now

Alienware Steam Machine
Alienware Steam Machine

The Alienware-made Steam Machine is available now, as the company announced during Valve’s Steam Dev Days in Seattle. Alienware’s black box has some type of Haswell chip insdie, and promises to “perform on par with a gaming notebook.” Outside of that, we don’t know any specifics on the hardware front. The company’s hoping to push this across “several market segments,” which we believe means that it’s configurable to many different spec and price points.

Dell:

“We’re targeting September but haven’t confirmed a final date yet.”

China Mobile iPhone pre-orders in the millions, Tim Cook calls deal ‘a beginning’

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It might have taken a while for Apple and state-owned carrier China Mobile to complete their deal, but it could end up being well worth Cupertino’s time. According to The Wall Street Journal, the partnership extends beyond the carrier offering iDevices in the country and “entails broad cooperation” between the two companies. As you might expect, both camps are remaining numb, but Tim Cook is “incredibly optimistic” about the outcome. Whether the two are working on any big promotional or retail opportunities to catch up to Android in China remains.

Adafruit shows how to make touchscreen camera using Raspberry Pi

adafruit-raspberry-pi-camera

 

If you would like to build your own digital camera (one that’s more sophisticated than Ikea’s cardboard cam), Adafruit will be happy to help you out. They have posted instructions for making a point-and-shoot using little more than a Raspberry Pi, its matching camera module and Adafruit’s PiTFT touchscreen. The resulting device won’t rival any modern point-and-shoot’s quality, but it’s truly usable — you can even slap on a WiFi adapter to upload shots to Dropbox. Whatever your experience with DIY photography, check out the video embedded below:

HP Chromebook 11 with Verizon LTE available now for $379

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HP’s Chromebook 11 is one of the good Chrome OS devices on the market, minus its power adapter, but it hasn’t had a cellular version to please those who want data all the time. That won’t be a problem anymore, as Best Buy has quietly began sales of a model with Verizon LTE. The 4G link boosts the ARM-powered laptop’s price to $379 with the same WiFi-only specs; if you attach it to a shared Verizon data plan, you’ll also receive a $50 rebate. The new version probably won’t sway your opinion on the Chromebook 11, but it’s still one of the cheapest LTE laptops on the market — that’s going to appeal to at least a few budget-conscious road warriors.

If you sign a two-year contract with Verizon, Best Buy can give you the Chromebook 11 for $279.

HP begins smartphone revival with two enormous Android handsets

 

Speaking with re/code, HP’s Ron Coughlin has revealed that the company is getting back into the smartphone business with 6-and-7-inch tablets with voice calling, called the Slate 6 and Slate 7 VoiceTab, respectively. If you’re already reaching for your wallet, you’ll be disappointed to hear that the company is first launching the hardware in India, as Meg Whitman feels that the subcontinent has a demand for oversized phones that over HP can satisfy. In terms of specs, both handsets run Jelly Bean on an unspecified quad-core processor, with 16GB of storage and a microSD card slot that’ll add up to another 32GB of space. There’s a 1280×720 display on the six-incher and a 1280×800 on the seven-incher, but both come with front-facing stereo speakers, a two-megapixel webcam and a five-megapixel primary lens. The company hasn’t announced pricing for either device, or if they’re make their way to the west, but we’ll keep an eye on it for the TechSummit Rewind.

Pandora now recommends radio stations to Android and iOS listeners

pandora-android-alarm-clockPandora is built around personalizing radio to your tastes, but that can only do so much when you’re tired of listening to a station. Thankfully, the company’s Android and iOS apps now recommend new stations. When you’re creating a station or browsing your existing list, you’ll see suggestions for additional artist channels based on both your history as well as thumbs-up ratings for individual songs. If you’ve ever been left longing for new music to stream, you might want to grab Pandora’s latest app update now.

Unity engine arrives on PlayStation Vita

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With PlayStation Vita getting Unity game engine support in an update released today, one of gaming’s most widely used engines is heading to Sony’s latest handheld. That means that it’ll be easier for the dozens of Unity engine games to head to the Vita as well, as well as future developments. It also means that, when games get ported, they’ll have access to the full suite of PlayStation Network features (matchmaking, trophies, etc.); before, many developers took the PS Mobile publishing route, leaving out features enjoyed by many other Vita games.

Unity’s also promising PlayStation 4 support in the near future, which hopefully means that applicable Unity engine games will also have crossbuy support. Stay tuned for more in the TechSummit Rewind.

Netflix planning season 3 of Lilyhammer, new show based on Marco Polo

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Netflix’s exclusive content push continues with news that Lilyhammer is returning for a third season. As usual, Netflix hasn’t released viewer numbers or statistics, but season two’s eight episodes have apparently done well enough to prove another go-around — a good sign for the series that kicked off the service’s fresh content push.

Blackphone promises to be first privacy-focused smartphone

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Geeksphone isn’t exactly a household name, unless you happen to take an interest in Firefox OS, but that might change if privacy is top priority when buying a mobile device. Its new handset will prioritize privacy and security instead of the intrusions that smartphone users usually have to deal with from carriers, advertisers and the occasional government agency (ahem, NSA). This is an Android-based phone with a “top-performing” processor and an unlocked cellular module that’s free of geographical restrictions and compatible with any GSM network. In lieu of carrier bloatware, you’ll receive a skin called “PrivatOS” that allows you to make and receive secure phone calls and text messages, store files securely and browse the web privately through an anonymous VPN — all services that are already available from Silent Circle, which is a key partner in the Blackphone project. The Blackphone is available now.

Vuzik plans to make smart sunglasses you’d actually like to wear

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Although smart sunglasses do exist, they’re seldom fashionable — you won’t impress many people at the beach. If Vuzik has its way, however, these shades will be as fashionable as your favorite label’s eyewear. The company has reached a deal with an unnamed electronics company that could lead to smart glasses that look just as good as “designer sunglasses:” see-through waveguide optics would keep the display relatively subtle. Prototypes aren’t expected before this year, so a finished product is going to take some time. Still, it’s comforting to know that smart sunglasses and style will eventually have a get-together.

Titanfall gets special edition Xbox One controller

Titianfall Xbox One controller

Microsoft and Respawn Entertainment have joined forces to launch a “limited edition” Titanfall-themed Xbox One gamepad, available now for over $60.

Honda’s new EV charger can draw some of its power from the sun

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While your new Tesla is surely green, it doesn’t help much when you plug it into the coal-fired electric grid. Solar energy is a different story, though, and Honda has announced an exterior, wall-mounted plug-in charger that can work directly with EV or plug-in hybrids. The charger switches between standard AC and solar depending on the amount of power produced by the sun, and even work during a power outage. It’ll also allow smart-card metering for commercial applications, tamper-proof locking and smartphone monitoring via WiFi. There’s no timing or pricing yet, but we’ll keep an eye on it for the TechSummit Rewind, because we can’t wait for any opportunity to stick it to big energy.

NASA wants to put your name on spacecraft headed to an asteroid

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Forget about those “name a star” gifts — wouldn’t you rather put your name on a spacecraft that advanced human understanding? NASA certainly thinks so. The agency is teaming up with the Planetary Society to etch your name on chips inside its OSIRIS-REx probe, which will head toward the Bennu asteroid in 2016. While it’s doubtful that any ailens will read your microscopic claim to otherworldly fame, it’ll certainly get the grand tour spending 500 days around Bennu before heading back, and both the decommissioned vehicle and returning sample capsule will have your name on it. You can register your ID now for free; just be patient for your reward.

Starbucks app stores login credentials, location info in plain text

Starbucks App feature better

If you’re concerned about someone getting your personal data, you should sit down — this latest method’s a shocker. Starbucks’ mobile-payment app is saving user data, including email addresses, passwords and your GPS location in plain text. Theoretically, anyone with your phone and a computer can download your private data in under an hour.

Security researcher Daniel Wood first came upon the unencrypted information last year. He downloaded and retested an updated version of the app, which Starbucks claims to use “adequate security measures,” only to find that the same information is still easily accessible. A log file also includes GPS coordinates captured every time you search for a nearby Starbucks store. That just scratches the surface of the global caffeinator’s weaknesses — payments get processed by scanning an on-screen barcode, which can be reproduced and used to drain your account by anyone close enough to photograph your phone.

Sky’s AdSmart brings targeted advertising to your TV

Sky AdSmart

Sky isn’t prepared to sit and watch its business get trashed by Google and co. To get in on the targeted advertising game, the UK broadcaster is launching its AdSmart platform on its set-top boxes. The system works by sending a library of clips directly to your Sky+HD box, which will run during ad breaks in place of the national ads. So, while the rest of the country sees a napkins commercial, you could be watching a pre-downloaded ad for a new phone, for instance. Targeting’s sharpness won’t be on the money, however, because the only information Sky has access to is your postal code and Experian’s records, but hey — perhaps you’ll be clued-in when a local restaurant adds a new item to the menu.

Left Field Labs can make you custom, 3D-printed music box

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3D printing has enabled a nostalgic twist on music before, but not many have been as clever (or tiny) as Left Field Labs’ Music Drop. The project lets you design a music box through a web interface by creating a catchy song loop. Left Field then prints out a finger-powered, tear-shaped machine that plays your tune.

Google Contacts are now starrable, just like in Gmail

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Need a way to easily access that select group of contacts you converse with often without manually creating groups? Well, the same star action that’s used in Gmail to flag important correspondence now appears in Google Contacts. Those folks now affix the gold mark to get added to the “Starred” group for easy access. Android users’ selections will also sync with Android Contacts to stay organized across desktop and mobile.

xPC wants to be your next tablet, desktop, crowdfunding gamble

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After several years of development, ICE Computer’s modular PC design is now almost ready for prime time. The company went to Indiegogo to raise $300,000 and put xPC into production. xPC’s idea is that it’s several devices in one, housing all its main components in a smartphone-sized case: x86 Intel Atom quad-core Bay Trail CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB SSD, WiFi, Bluetooth and webcam. Now, to use what’s inside, you marry it with peripherals like to the xPad 10.1-inch tablet dock (like ASUS’ Padfone range), or the xAdapter dock to turn the xPC into a mini desktop. The company also plans other accessories like the xTop (a xAdapter with external storage) and xKeyboard to complement the xPad, but they weren’t mentioned in the Indiegogo campaign, leaving me to believe that they’ll come later.

ICE Computer’s pitching the xPC as a long-term investment. Thanks to a “open connector architecture,” third parties get encouraged to make other docks and peripherals that’ll work with this and future generations of xPC. You see, the plan is to merely refresh the base hardware, and make a fully functional smartphone/xPC “within the next year. For now, though, a xPC with Windows 8 installed and xAdapter is going for $369 and is available now.

Google Play Movies & TV streaming app comes to iOS, but only works on WiFi

Google Play Movies iOS

iTunes is the de facto virtual storefront for iOS users looking to get their digital media fix, but now Google wants to butt its head into Apple’s relative monopoly. The internet giant dropped an iOS version of its Google Play Movies & TV app on the App Store, giving users an alternate media library to browse. Just like Amazon’s Instant Video app, there’s no support for buying or renting on the device itself, to avoid Apple taking a cut from it. Users will need to pick out their content on another platform like your desktop PC or Android, and then flick through their selections for streaming (only over WiFi as of this writing). Version 1.0.1 also brings Chromecast support, but no AirPlay option for Apple TV users.

Steam Controller drops touchscreen, adds physical buttons

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Valve’s Steam Controller has dropped its touchscreen and added some physical buttons before going up for sale on Steam and in retail. It’s unclear where the buttons will be, but reports state that they’ll be the standard d-pad and A/B/X/Y configuration.

According to attendees at Steam Dev Days, a “ghosting” mode replaces the touchscreen (which presumably shows a visualization on-screen of however the buttons get mapped). Valve also has an API to help devs integrate the Steam Controller into their games, which can apparently support 16 players at once.

We’ll have more details as we hear it in the TechSummit Rewind.

 

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Author: Andrew Okwuosah

I am a technology junkie with a love of writing. Follow me everywhere at about.me/andrewokwuosah

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