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Apple, like Google, to hire full-time security guards in Silicon Valley

Written By kom nampuldu on Rabu, 04 Maret 2015 | 16.00

Apple will replace a number of contract security positions with direct hires for its Silicon Valley operations, amid widespread demands from contract workers like drivers and security guards for better working conditions at tech companies.

The move by Apple comes in the wake of growing concerns about inequality in Silicon Valley, arising largely from the gentrification and high-costs in the area driven by the influx of hi-tech employees.

In October, Google said it would employ on its payroll security guards, rather than have them placed by a contractor, shortly after a report in August by community labor organization Working Partnerships USA that highlighted the poor working conditions of janitors, security guards and other contract staff, supplied by third-party companies, that are used extensively by tech companies in the valley.

"We will be hiring a large number of full-time people to handle our day-to-day security needs," an Apple spokeswoman wrote Tuesday in an email. "We hope that virtually all of these positions will be filled by employees from our current security vendor and we're working closely with them on this process."

Apple has been under pressure previously to improve the working conditions of contract workers. The decision to hire people directly for key onsite security roles was the result of a comprehensive, year-long review of its security program, according to the company. It did not comment on why it had changed its policy on hiring security guards.

The company's decision was welcomed by United Service Workers West, which described it as "a victory for Silicon Valley security officers who are rising up to fix the imbalance in our economy by securing dignified, full-time work and respect on the job." The organization, a part of the Service Employees International Union, claims to represent over 40,000 janitors, security officers and other property service workers in California.

Apple, Facebook and other tech companies are also facing demands for better working conditions from shuttle drivers. Drivers of Compass International, the contractor which has service agreements with tech companies like Apple, Yahoo, eBay, and Zynga, last week decided to unionize with Teamsters Local 853 in San Leandro.

Last month, Loop Transportation drivers, who transfer Facebook employees to and from the company's Menlo Park campus, reached an agreement with the contractor that, besides other benefits, could increase their average pay to US$24.50 an hour from the current $18 an hour. The agreement was sent to Facebook for approval as the paying client. They drivers had in November voted to be represented by the Teamsters.

Silicon Valley's 'invisible' workers do not share in the success of the tech industry, which they labor daily to keep running, the Working Partnerships USA report said. Tech companies in the valley were charged with using underpaid black, Latino and immigrant contract workers as landscaping workers, janitors, cooks and security guards.

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Apple in settlement talks with car battery maker A123 Systems

Apple is in talks to settle a lawsuit filed by electric-car battery maker A123 Systems, which has charged the iPhone maker with poaching five of its employees to set up a new battery division.

The lawsuit has added fuel to reports that Apple is getting into the electric-car business.

Apple filed a motion Tuesday that requested the court for more time to file its response to A123's motions as it and the five engineers charged "are exploring potential resolution of this matter."

A123 alleged in its complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts that the engineers had worked at its System Ventures Technologies division in Waltham, Massachusetts, which does research and development in the area of lithium-ion battery technology.

Since June last year, Apple went on "an aggressive campaign" to poach A123's employees and otherwise raid the company's business in connection with Apple's plans to set up a competing large-scale battery division, according to the complaint, which alleged that Apple had also targeted employees with experience in A123's battery business at LG, Samsung and other companies.

A123 said it was filing the suit to prevent its ex-employees from using or sharing proprietary information, and also to prevent Apple from hiring more employees from A123. It also asked for an unspecified amount in damages.

The judge has extended the deadline for Apple to respond to March 11, according to court records.

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Alibaba enters US cloud market, signaling global ambitions

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group is making a push into the U.S. cloud computing market, where it's expected to run into competition from Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft.

Alibaba subsidiary Aliyun is already the biggest cloud player in its home market, and on Wednesday, it opened a data center in California, its first data center outside of China.

The U.S. business will first focus on attracting Chinese enterprises based in the country, before it expands to international customers in this year's second half, Alibaba said in a statement.

No doubt Alibaba will face intense competition in the U.S., where Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are major players. But opening the data center in Silicon Valley sends another message that it wants to be a global company, said Charlie Dai, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Although revenues from the U.S. business may be small at first, Dai added, "I think this is a good move, especially after their IPO. Every investor wants to know whether Alibaba has any huge potential globally."

Last year, Alibaba listed in the U.S., with the world's biggest IPO at US$25 billion. The company runs two of China's largest online retail sites, but in addition, Alibaba has been building up its cloud computing services.

In the public cloud space, Alibaba has over 1.4 million customers in China, where it's competing against Amazon and Microsoft for a share of the market.

To succeed in the U.S., Alibaba will have to find a way to stand out in a crowded market, Dai said. To do so, the Chinese company might choose to highlight its experience in running reliable e-commerce platforms.

Many Chinese businesses are also going global, giving Alibaba's cloud business a potential stream of new customers in the U.S. But not all Chinese tech companies have fared well in the U.S. market.

Back in 2012, networking equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE faced U.S. congressional scrutiny over alleged ties with the Chinese government. Given that Alibaba is based in China, a country often accused of sponsoring hacking attacks, the company's cloud business could also face concerns over how it stores customer data.

Alibaba's use of its own proprietary technology for its cloud business could pose problems, Dai said. "It's totally different from Amazon and Microsoft," he added. "It could be difficult If some customers want to migrate from their old platform to the Aliyun platform."

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Google, Apple $415M deal with tech workers heads for approval

Written By kom nampuldu on Selasa, 03 Maret 2015 | 16.00

A proposed US$415 million settlement between tech workers and Intel, Google, Apple and Adobe Systems is likely to be approved by the judge, according to some of the lawyers in the case.

District Judge Lucy H. Koh in California last year rejected a proposed settlement of US$324.5 million, which she found was too low. The companies are accused of conspiring to prevent the poaching of each other's employees.

The court indicated the judge would approve the new settlement and the official order should be out tomorrow, said one lawyer, after the hearing Monday, on condition of anonymity. A notice will go to class members, and a final approval hearing will be held on July 9, another lawyer said.

The hearing Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose division, was for a preliminary approval. On the court docket online, it is stated that an order regarding the day's proceedings will be filed.

The tech workers, who filed the suit, alleged that Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar had engaged in an "overarching conspiracy" to fix and suppress employee compensation and to restrict employee mobility. The companies put each other's employees off-limits to the other companies by introducing measures such as "do-not-cold-call" lists, according to the workers' complaint.

Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar previously settled with the workers for about $20 million.

The companies settled in 2010 another antitrust case on similar allegations with the U.S. Department of Justice, without admitting wrongdoing. The tech workers said that settlement did not compensate them and filed the suit. About 64,000 workers are represented in the class action.

The case put some of the wealthiest companies and their executives, including the late Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, under the spotlight.

There could be some last-minute wrinkles in the new settlement. Michael Devine, a former Adobe engineer, who had opposed the $324.5 million settlement, wants his payout from the new settlement to be doubled for his efforts in getting the proposed settlement amount increased. That would give Devine $160,000, if approved, and will be twice the payout for the other four named plaintiffs.

On Monday, the court docket entered opposition to the settlement by a class member who demanded a trial.  "I believe this proposal still grossly falls short of the potential lost wages over the period of time in question for the average professional employed in these companies," Michael Gambuzza wrote in a letter to the judge.

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Iran to weed 'moral' crimes from social networks, starting with Facebook

Iran has arrested several Facebook users on charges ranging from insulting religious figures to conducting immoral activities, even as it is said to be talking to Google about setting up operations in the country.

The country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is planning to monitor online crimes within the next two months on other social networks as well, including Instagram, Viber and WhatsApp, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday, quoting a statement from the guards.

Iran is ready to cooperate with Google and other Internet companies to allow them to operate in the country, but if they will play by local laws, IRNA reported Monday.

The country has frequently blocked websites that it considers objectionable though people use technologies like virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around the blocks.

The news agency said Nasrollah Jahangard, Iran's deputy minister of telecommunications and information technology, has been quoted by local media as saying that negotiations are going on with Google to establish a version of its servers in Iran. The country was also said to be negotiating with other U.S. and European Internet companies.

The announcement by the IRGC appears to be directed at the Internet companies to give them an idea of what the government expects from them.

The guards claimed they managed to monitor the activities of 8 million Facebook users, under a surveillance project named Spider, and made several arrests on different charges.

In February, the IRGC's Center for the Study of Organized Cyber Crimes said it arrested 12 individuals and summoned another 24, as their Facebook pages "promote a liberal and open-minded culture, weaken the sacred institution of the family, ridicule religious beliefs and values, promote immoral and unethical relationships, and spread private pictures of young women," according to watchdog organization Freedom House.

Iran's Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi reportedly said in November that the country would have "smart filtering" within six months to weed out Internet content that is found to be offensive or criminal. In September, Police Chief Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moqaddam said that the use of communications technologies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber are "inevitable."

But it is unlikely that some of the large Internet companies will go along with the large-scale filtering proposed by Minister Vaezi.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

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Meet Vulkan, the powerful, platform-agnostic gaming tech taking aim at DirectX 12

The time's are a-changing, and the graphics technology games have used for decades are changing right along. Khronos Group is throwing out nearly 25 years of OpenGL and starting fresh with a powerful new gaming-centric API, Vulkan (previously known as glNext or the "Next Generation OpenGL Initiative") that's built for the next generation of games.

If you follow graphics APIs, you've probably heard some terms tossed around over the last year thanks to AMD's Mantle and Microsoft's DirectX 12: "Faster," "leaner," "closer to the metal."

Get ready to hear them again, because Vulkan is doing all those things. I got the chance to speak with Khronos Group president Neil Trevett late last week, and we ran down the details of Vulkan—what it is, what it's for, and who it's aimed at. (Note: Trevett also works at Nvidia as its VP of Mobile Ecosystem).

Read on for a first look into what's looking like a strong, platform-agnostic competitor for DirectX 12 (and technically Mantle, although Mantle's future is currently...unclear, to say the least). If Valve's Steam Machines take off, Vulkan is the tech that will power them.

Love one another

"It's important that there's an open standard, cross-platform API that is up-to-date and truly modern and is providing state-of-the-art levels of performance," says Trevett.

"The number of platforms that want to use GPUs—it's not just PCs and mobile phones anymore. It's augmented reality systems. It's virtual reality. Cars use GPUs for vision processing. There's such a diversity of platforms coming, if every one of these platforms has its own specific API the world is going to be a very sad place."

vulkan api

Vulkan is a new cross-platform open standard aimed specifically at video games. That's an important distinction, for reasons we'll get into later.

Saying OpenGL is "inefficient" is a bit harsh, but in terms of gaming it's not far from the mark. Not only does it have 25 years of legacy fluff built into it, plus all sorts of baggage due to its usage in non-gaming applications, but the API itself prevents you from taking full advantage of the GPU due to issues like context management, error tracking, and the like. OpenGL controls the GPU the way it thinks you want to use it, not necessarily how you actually want to use it.

Vulkan? "We're calling it an 'explicit' API," says Trevett. "Vulkan lays the GPU out in front of you and you can control it how you wish. You can do things like multithreading much more efficiently, and you get much more flexibility."

That power comes at a cost—namely, a greater likelihood to completely tank the system if you're not careful.

"It will appeal to a different type of developer," says Trevett. "Game engine developers—people like Valve and Epic and Unity—their business depends on getting every last ounce of performance out of cross-platform applications. They want to invest the time and effort to use a tool like Vulkan to extract every ounce from the GPU."

vulkan api 2

OpenGL is dead. Long live OpenGL.

Which brings up something important: What happens to OpenGL? After all, Vulkan used to be called the "Next Generation OpenGL Initiative." It was pitched as a successor to OpenGL, plain and simple. Language like "It will appeal to a different type of developer," sounds more reserved.

"This is one of the key messages here," says Trevett. "Vulkan is nice and new and shiny, but of course it's just at the beginning of its development cycle. OpenGL, they're in their prime. They're enabling access to billions of devices. There's going to be business imperatives that we not just maintain those APIs—we evolve those APIs. For years, probably, to come. We're not abandoning OpenGL."

Got that? While DirectX, Mantle, and now Vulkan tend to get a lot of attention due to their roles in the gaming community, Trevett is quick to draw a line between gaming and other GPU uses—many of which have relied on OpenGL for years because it's a more general-use API.

vulkan api 4

On the other hand, "If we didn't have Vulkan, OpenGL would begin to look more and more out of date for the people who want this kind of functionality versus Mantle and DirectX 12," concedes Trevett.

Vulkan essentially invokes the have-your-cake-and-eat-it adage: Khronos can continue to support those who need a more padded graphics API with a long legacy while still courting game developers who need a more flexible, stripped-down solution.

If Vulkan wasn't created, then the open-standard graphics movement would be beaten into the ground by newer, more powerful technologies like DirectX 12. Steam Machines would be dead before they even got started.

My kingdom for a port

"It's never a perfect world," Trevett jokes, "and of course DirectX is going to be a significant API on Windows, no doubt."

OpenGL, despite its cross-platform abilities, has been battling against DirectX for years now, and that's undoubtedly going to continue with Vulkan. On the other hand, there's good news for Linux gamers who are starting to see more and more big-name games on their open-source operating systems of choice with the promise of Steam Machines hanging in the air: "Porting between Vulkan and DirectX 12 we suspect won't be too hard," says Trevett.

"Porting from DirectX 12 to Vulkan will be easier than porting from DirectX 12 to OpenGL," he continues. "DirectX 12 and Vulkan and Mantle are going to be similar in the next generation. We're all solving the same problem in a similar kind of way."

vulkan api 3

And good news for basically everyone: You probably won't need new hardware to take advantage of Vulkan. Just like DirectX 12, Khronos is hoping to extend compatibility back a few hardware generations, which means you'll potentially notice a performance increase even on your old hardware once the API is officially released and introduced in new games.

"We are setting a design goal. We have a very specific goal," says Trevett. "Any hardware capable of supporting OpenGL ES 3.1 will be capable of supporting Vulkan. That basically means any GPU that can do compute shaders."

On the PC side, that equates to OpenGL 4.3, released in August of 2012. OpenGL 4.3 support extended back to the Nvidia GeForce 400 series and the ATI Radeon HD 5000 series—a.k.a. basically any GPU purchased after late 2009/early 2010. Judging by the Steam Hardware Survey those specs also encompass quite a huge amount of the PC gaming community.

It's early days for Vulkan still, and there's no formal specification yet, but Khronos has managed to get my attention. We'll potentially have more information to share later this week, as Valve and Khronos officially co-present the API to developers at their GDC panel Thursday morning— glNext: The Future of High Performance Graphics (Presented by Valve).

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Sony's Xperia Z4 Tablet is light and has two good cameras

Written By kom nampuldu on Senin, 02 Maret 2015 | 16.01

By putting its flagship tablet on a diet, improving cameras and battery life, Sony wants to bring back some luster to the tablet market.

Unlike HTC and Samsung Electronics, Sony isn't launching a high-end smartphone at Mobile World Congress, but is hoping to make up for that with a new flagship tablet, the Xperia Z4 Tablet.

It has a 10.1-inch, 1600 x 2560 pixel screen and is powered by Qualcomm's octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor. The Wi-Fi version weighs 389 grams while the LTE version is slightly heavier at 393 grams, and both are 6.1 millimeters thick.

In addition to its svelte looks, the tablet also offers up to 17 hours of video playback with the help of a 6,000mAh battery, according to Sony. However, battery life promises should always be taken with a grain of salt.

The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 from Samsung, which will be one of Z4 Tablet's main competitors, has a 7,600mAh battery, but it weighs from 465 grams and is 6.6 millimeters thick. The Tab S has a 10.5-inch screen with the same resolution. The Sony tablet is also lighter than Apple's iPad Air 2, which weighs from 437 grams and is also 6.1 millimeters thick.

To get people to buy a new tablet, Sony is also taking a page from its smartphone playbook by improving the cameras.

The Z4 Tablet has an 8-megapixel main camera, which Sony promises can take good pictures in low light conditions, as well as a 5-megapixel wide-angle front camera. Last year saw smartphone vendors putting more effort into developing selfie-friendly front cameras, and it seems that development is now spreading to tablets.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet is also waterproof and dust-tight. It has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of integrated storage that can be expanded by up to 128GB using an microSD card. It will start shipping globally in June. Pricing wasn't immediately available.

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ZTE's Grand S3 smartphone scans eyes for authentication

ZTE is taking biometric authentication in a new direction with its Grand S3 smartphone, which lets users log into their phones with eye scanning.

By including fingerprint recognition on its iPhones, Apple helped legitimize biometric authentication for phones. But fingerprints aren't the only thing that can be used to authenticate, so in collaboration with EyeVerify, ZTE has integrated retina scanning technology in the customized front camera of the new Grand S3.

For now, the Eyeprint ID feature only controls log-in, but ZTE has plans to expand the feature to work with apps. The underlying technology works by identifying unique vein patterns in the human eye. It doesn't take a picture, but shoots a short video to ensure the right person is trying to access the phone.

In a test, Eyeprint ID worked flawlessly. It takes about a second for it to authenticate a user if the phone is held at the right distance from the face and eyes. The screen goes white when the scanner does its thing, which helps improve performance in low-light conditions Still, using retina scanning to access the phone isn't as quick as entering a PIN code. However, it may be worth the extra time to use Eyeprint ID to access sensitive information, such as banking and other financial apps.

The Grand S3 is in all other respects a normal big-screen LTE smartphone running Android 4.4. It has a 5.5-inch, 1080 x 1920 pixel screen and is powered by a Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor. There are 3GB of RAM and 16GB of integrated storage that can be expanded using a microSD card by up to 64GB. The main camera shoots at 16-megapixels and the one on the front at 8-megapixels.

For now, the ZTE Grand S3 is only available for purchase online in China, priced at 3000 yuan ($480). But ZTE plans to put it on sale in other parts of the world sometime this year, it said.

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Microsoft announces the Lumia 640XL, a poor man's Lumia 1520 phablet

Microsoft's Lumia 640 and Lumia 640XL, announced on Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, add two new midrange phones to the Windows market. By name alone, the two should be nearly identical. But they're not, with the larger Lumia 640XL boasting a slightly more sophisticated set of features. And as you might guess from its name, the Lumia 640XL is large—though Microsoft slimmed down the concept a bit compared to the gigantic Lumia 1520 phablet (which is arguably too big).

Microsoft didn't immediately announce the price of either phone, so we won't know what you should end up paying. But the safe guess is that both will be comfortably priced near the $300 range, with the Lumia 640XL commanding some premium on top of that. It's all consistent with Microsoft's strategy of launching mid-range phones to value-minded consumers.

Why this matters: So far, Microsoft's been happy to let its Windows Phone OS ride as a distinguishing factor, while steadily beefing up its phones' basic capabilities with upgrades like Lumia Denim (which both of these phones will include), as well as apps like Lumia Camera. But it's not a successful strategy—both iOS and Android are pulling away from Windows Phone, whose market share slipped from 3.3 percent in 2013, to 2.7 percent in 2014, IDC said. 

The Lumia 640XL: a phablet for the rest of us

Microsoft helped set the trend toward larger phablets, and the 640XL doesn't disappoint in that regard. But it's no Lumia 1520, either. While the Lumia 1520's 6-inch, 1920x1080 display wowed the eye, the Lumia 640XL takes it down a notch. The Lumia 640XL's screen measures a comfortable 5.7 inches on the diagonal—the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4—but with only a 1280x720 display. Physically, the Lumia 640XL measures 6.2x3.2x0.36 inches (157.9 x 81.5 x 9.0 mm) and weighs a little over 6 ounces (171 grams)—smaller, lighter, and slightly thicker than the Lumia 1520. 

The camera, always a selling point, has also been dialed back. The Lumia 1520 included a 20-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, but the Lumia 640XL includes a 13-megapixel rear camera with no AIS. The Lumia 640XL's selling points are the inclusion of Lumia Camera, as its continuous autofocus makes snappy shots a snap, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera that goes far beyond the original 1520.

Inside, the Lumia 640XL is no slouch. Microsoft's Windows Phone OS and apps don't demand high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, so there's only a Snapdragon 400 (MSM8226) inside, along with 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of flash storage (with a microSD slot supporting up to 128GB cards). The 3,000 mAh battery is good for 37 days of standby time and 24 hours of 3G talk time, the only battery metrics Microsoft supplied. The phone also includes Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC, Miracast, 802.11b/g/n, as well as the SensorCore technology that allows the phone to act as a pedometer.

The Lumia 640: decidedly average

The Lumia 640 is what you'll buy if you want a modern Windows Phone—no more, no less. Nothing about the phone really stands out. The 5-inch, 1280x720 display seems perfectly serviceable, as does the Snapdragon 400, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and microSD slot.  About the only drawback is the 8-megapixel rear camera, sort of the minimum spec for rear cameras these days. (A 1-megapixel camera is on the front.)

The phone measures 5.56x2.84x0.34 inches (141.3 x 72.2 x 8.85 mm), and weighs 5.1 ounces (145 grams).

Microsoft's tag line for the phone is "prepared for anything". A better line might be "prepared for anywhere." Like the 640XL, the 640 comes in either single (U.S.) or dual-SIM configurations for the rest of the world. The Lumia 640 supports an even greater range of frequency bands than the 640XL, however, indicative that Microsoft's really going to push this phone worldwide.

Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to pop the champagne for Windows 10 with new flagship phones—which Microsoft confirmed, in part, in January. But both the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640XL will almost certainly be upgradeable to Windows 10 as well. 

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YouTube for Android update adds video trimming, faster uploads

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 01 Maret 2015 | 16.00

Need to do a little last-minute fine-tuning to that video of your cat before you upload it to YouTube? If you're an Android user, you can now trim your video clips directly from the YouTube app before you upload.

According to the YouTube Creators page on Google+, this new version of YouTube for Android lets you "select the exact frame where the video starts and ends, giving you precise control of your trims in a simple, intuitive way." The app also now shows you a preview of your video before you upload it so you know what you've got.

In addition, YouTube says the new version will upload videos more quickly than it had in previous versions.

This YouTube app update is now available for download from Google Play; there's no word on when iOS users will be able to join in the fun.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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