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Major banks ready their own mobile payment apps

Written By kom nampuldu on Jumat, 31 Oktober 2014 | 16.01

Several major national and international banks are planning to launch their own mobile payments apps next year.

The banks would be major competitors to handset makers Apple and Google because unlike others pushing mobile wallet technology, such as mobile phone carriers and retailers, they already have an intimate relationship with consumers and know their spending habits.

"Banks all around the world are working on this right now," said James Anderson, senior vice president for mobile and emerging payments at MasterCard.

Anderson didn't name any of the banks, but said MasterCard is already in conversations with them on how to add mobile payment capability to the existing apps that millions of consumers already have on their phones.

The most likely way will be through a technology called host card emulation, that was introduced in Android 4.4 "KitKat" and allows software apps to emulate the secure element chip found on some bank cards and the iPhone 6. Using software means wider compatibility with phones than if a dedicated chip was required.

The mobile payments market had been relatively quiet until recently. Google Wallet and Softcard, a competitor backed by cellular carriers, were in the market but consumer awareness and interest appeared to be low.

That changed with the launch of Apple Pay on October 20. A million cards were activated in the first three days of use and early adopters have praised its ease of use: users just need to hold their thumb over the iPhone 6 fingerprint reader and bring the device near a terminal for payment to be made.

As a result, competitors are planning their attack. Next year CurrentC, backed by some of the biggest retailers in the U.S., will launch and companies like PayPal are also hoping to expand their footprint in stores.

But an app from a bank might have an edge because it removes a potential hurdle to adoption: unease among consumers that at a third-party is getting access to details of purchases they make.

Apple has stressed that it doesn't see any of the purchases made by its users but Google's system is set up so that all payments run through the company's servers—giving the company an additional layer of information into the lives of its users.

A bank already has access to this information because of its nature and is presumably trusted by its customers. If a customer has a banking app on their phone, it would suggest they also have faith in the bank's online security system.


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Samsung attacks Chinese rivals with new mid-range Galaxy phones

With Chinese vendors coming out with high-spec phones at affordable prices, Samsung is hitting back with two handsets sporting "metal unibody" designs that'll be targeting consumers in China with mid-range prices.

Samsung announced Friday the Galaxy A5 and the Galaxy A3, a pair of Android smartphones. China was the only market the company specifically named of the "select markets" where the phones will be available starting November. The Korean electronics giant wouldn't give an exact price, but said the devices would be "mid-range additions" to its smartphone portfolio.

In its announcement, Samsung highlighted the metal and slim design of the phones. Previous Samsung handsets have often come in plastic casings, a design choice that has become a frequent complaint among critics as rival vendors including Apple and HTC have incorporated aluminum into their flagship devices.

But now even Chinese vendors are making phones with sleek metal frames, and eating away at Samsung's market share in the country.

Once, the Korean electronics giant had consistently led the Chinese market as its biggest smartphone vendor. But in this year's second quarter it was ranked fifth, behind four Chinese companies, including Lenovo and Xiaomi, according to research firm IDC.

IDC is still working on finalizing its third quarter smartphone market data for China. But globally Samsung's market share dipped during the period, while Xiaomi rose to become the world's third largest smartphone vendor on strong sales in China.

Samsung's earnings have also taken a hit. In this year's third quarter, the Korean company's operating profit from its mobile devices division fell year-over-year by 74 percent.

To re-energize it's smartphone business, Samsung said on Thursday it plans to focus more on developing less expensive phones, and using better materials such as metal frames in its high-end devices.

Both the Galaxy A5 and the Galaxy A3, built with metal casings, seem to reflect those plans. The Galaxy A5 is the thinner of the two at 6.7 mm, and has 4G connectivity, in addition to a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, a 5.0 high-definition Super AMOLED screen, and a 13-megapixel rear camera. It has 16GB of internal storage, a micro SD slot for more memory, and 2GB of RAM, along with a 2,300 mAh battery.

The Galaxy A3 has lesser specs, including a smaller 4.5-inch display with a 960 by 540 screen resolution. It still comes with a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, but has a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera, 1GB of RAM, and a 1,900 mAh battery.

Both run Android 4.4 and have a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

China is the world's largest smartphone market, making it an important arena for Samsung to compete in. But increasingly, Chinese vendors are releasing more and more affordable devices, undercutting Samsung, which has historically tried to command a premium price on its products, said Bryan Ma an IDC analyst.

Among those Chinese vendors threatening Samsung is Xiaomi, which announced its newest flagship phone, the Mi 4, in July. The phone has a metal frame, a 5-inch HD screen, 3GB of RAM and a 3080 mAh battery, all for the starting price of only 1999 yuan (US$326), or less than half of what it takes to buy Samsung's Galaxy S5 in China.

By using metal unibody designs, Samsung's new A5 and A3 phones will at least offer more flash than its previous devices, Ma said. But the company will probably have to do more than compete only on price to beat its rivals in China.

Xiaomi, for example, not only offers affordable phones, but has built up a large and loyal fan base by engaging with customers through its online activities, Ma said. "They have a near religious following that constantly gives them feedback. Does Samsung have that emotional punch?" he said. "Just putting out a cheaper phone is one of the many ingredients you need."

Samsung did not disclose the other markets where the phones would be available from November.


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FCC's Wheeler said to mull hybrid approach to net neutrality

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission appears set to reclassify broadband so that it comes under the agency's authority, but without explicitly prohibiting special access deals between broadband and content companies, according to a news report.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is mulling this hybrid answer to the knotty "net neutrality" issue, and his proposal would still require a vote of the full five-member commission, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Broadband providers may also challenge in court the move to give the FCC more authority.

Supporters of the principle of equal access to all Internet traffic have pressed the FCC to reclassify broadband as common carrier under the Communications Act. Title II of the Act already defines telephone companies as common carriers, and requires them to deliver service at "just and reasonable" rates and interconnect with each other.

By extending its authority, the FCC would keep residual rights to block any deal it considers uncompetitive, the Journal said.

The FCC adopted in 2010 the Open Internet Order, which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against content providers or applications for network access.

The net neutrality issue came to the forefront in January this year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit largely overruled the Open Internet Order in a lawsuit brought by Verizon. The court said the FCC has "general authority" to regulate how broadband providers deal with network traffic under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deals with promoting innovation and competition.

Wheeler proposed in May a plan that would allow "commercially reasonable" traffic management, but would not reclassify broadband.

Under the new plan said to be under consideration by the FCC chief, the back-end broadband service, through which broadband providers serve as a route for websites to distribute content, would be classified as a common carrier to give the FCC the authority to monitor agreements between content and broadband providers, WSJ said.

The FCC could not be immediately reached for comment.

The plan is, however, likely to face legal challenges. In a submission Wednesday to the FCC earlier this week, Verizon warned that "any effort to reclassify broadband Internet access service would have significant legal vulnerabilities." Supporters of the Title II route to resolve the current debate have assumed that the FCC has the broad authority simply to declare broadband Internet access service to be a common carrier telecommunications service, it added.

U.S. lawmakers have also looked at the various options available to the FCC to ensure net neutrality, some of which are similar to the one said to be under consideration by Wheeler.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, wrote to the FCC earlier this month, suggesting a "light-touch" reclassification plan, that would not enforce the entirety of Title II regulations, but would at the minimum enforce a section which makes "any unjust or unreasonable discrimination" unlawful.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wrote this month letters to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Charter Communications, asking them to take a stand against fast lanes on the Internet. "Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system of 'haves' and 'have-nots,' controlled by a small number of corporate gatekeepers, would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history," the Vermont Democrat wrote.

Verizon said in a public response Wednesday that it "is on record numerous times as saying that it has no plans to undertake the hypothetical 'paid prioritization' business model." The FCC has authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to ban forms of paid prioritization that it believes could be harmful to competition or consumers, it added. Comcast and AT&T are also reported to have promised in replies to Leahy not to have Internet fast lanes.


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Microsoft enters smartwatch market with $200 Microsoft Band

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 30 Oktober 2014 | 16.01

Wednesday night Microsoft confirmed what we all expected—that it too, has a smartwatch that it wants you to wear 24/7, for work and for play, called the Microsoft Band.

Looking as much like a hospital bracelet as anything else, the $200 Microsoft Band features a rectangular, 320 x106 TFT display that hovers over your wrist. Sensors—a continuous optical heart monitor, GPS, UV sensor, and more—track your activity while on the move and at rest, and send the data to what Microsoft calls the Intelligence Engine, aka Cortana's little brother. The Band is then designed to work with third-party apps developers, including MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Starbucks—which has developed a "payment" app of sorts.

In all, Microsoft is calling the Band its flagship device of Microsoft Health, a reboot of sorts for a health initiative it tried to establish with products like HealthVault. If you choose, you can store the data the Band collects in HealthVault and share it with your medical provider. Otherwise, Microsoft sees the Band, and Health, as a new way to collect data about you that it can use to improve your day.

microsoft band 1 Microsoft

Microsoft hopes its Microosft Band is equally adept for work and play.

How? Initially, Microsoft sees the Intelligence Engine as supplying suggestions on how long to recover from a workout, for example. Over time, the Engine will apparently be able to comment on whether eating breakfast will make you run faster and more effectively. It's unclear how the Engine will feed data into Cortana, but she's there: you'll be able to ask Microsoft's digital assistant to add calendar entries, for example, or dictate a text. And, of course, the Band will notify you about upcoming appointments, as your Windows Phone already does.

"Imagine you've set the goal that you want to get fit and lose weight as part of your exercise routine," Zulfi Alam, general manager  of Personal Devices at Microsoft, said in a statement. "Based on your burn rate and exercise over one week, we will soon be able to auto-suggest a customized workout plan for you. As you follow that plan – or if you don't follow the plan – our technology will continue to adjust to give you the best outward-looking plan, like a real coach would do."

Why this matters: A number of fitness bands already track your activity, even sleep. Fewer still, though, deliver messages calendar invites. And, barely any smartwatches beyond the Big Three—Apple, Google, and now Microsoft—provide any intelligence that helps you anticipate and plan your day. Microsoft's Intelligence Engine and Cortana appear to be the pair of intelligent technologies that Microsoft hopes will inspire you to plunk down $200, rather than opt for the aesthetics of the Apple Watch or Google's ecosystem.

But Band isn't Microsoft exclusive: apps will allow it to work with Apple iPhones (the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus running iOS 7.1 or later), Android (4.3 or 4.4) and Windows Phones (with the Windows Phone 8.1 Update). Those apps leaked out earlier on Wednesday.

microsoft band 3 Microsoft

The Microsoft Band talks to Windows Phone, iOS, and Android.

Microsoft promises that the Band will last about 48 hours on a single charge, with functions like GPS lowering that somewhat. It will charge in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, it's not waterproof, so swimmers will have to look elsewhere. But it will repel "splashes" and will work from 14 degrees up through 104 degrees.

Specifically, the Band will include an optical heart rate sensor, a 3-axis gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, an ultraviolet light sensor, a galvanic skin sensor, and a capacitive sensor. The watch will monitor your heart rate 24/7, and assess whether you've been sleeping well.

The band will record data without a data connection, then beam it your phone via Bluetooth. It won't make calls, but it will flash messages, emails, and even Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. And, of course, there's a microphone, to trigger Cortana. There's no speaker, however, so Cortana's information will be passed along via the screen.

microsoft band starbucks Microsoft

A small numer of app developers have signed on to support the Microsoft Band. Here is the Starbucks app.

For that matter, Microsoft seems to want you to wear the Band with the screen hovering over the inside of your wrist. Whether that's a limitation of the sensors or a design aesthetic remains to be seen.

Naturally, Microsoft hopes that the Band itself will become a platform, with third-party app developers coming together to add to its own capabilities. In addition to the Starbucks app—you can tell the Band to display your Starbucks card info, which can be scanned—Microsoft has struck partnerships with MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper, and Gold's Gym. Gold's even will construct custom workouts, which Microsoft hopes the Band will be able to adapt as it learns more about you. 

All in all, you'll find a lot of crossover between the features the Band offers and what other fitness bands and smartwatches offer. But the $200 Band is also available now, in three different sizes to fit different wrists. Microsoft also seems to be taking a page from Google in that it's promising that the Band will improve over time, specifically as it learns more about you.

With the Microsoft Band, Microsoft appears to want to play seriously in the health market, while also providing a tool for your workday. It remains to be seen, however, whether Microsoft will leverage its other technologies—its Xbox game console comes to mind—to enhance its capabilities further. On paper, however, the Band certainly appears to be in the lead pack of smartwatches.


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Samsung eyes cheaper smartphones as profit plunges

Samsung plans to focus on cheaper smartphones and flexible displays for high-end phones after its third-quarter profit plummeted by nearly 50 percent amid intense competition from Chinese rivals making low-cost handsets.

The low-end smartphone market is still growing rapidly, and the company aims to exploit the opportunity by improving cost competitiveness, said Kim Hyun-joon, the head of the company's mobile communications segment said during an earnings conference call on Thursday in Seoul. Samsung also aims to differentiate its high-end products with flexible displays and new materials such as metal frames.

The world's largest smartphone maker saw its market share drop to 23.8 percent in the third quarter from 32.5 percent a year ago, while Xiaomi rose to the third place after second-ranked Apple, according to IDC.

Samsung's net income fell 49 percent to 4.2 trillion Korean won (US$4 billion) in the July-to-September period from 8.2 trillion won a year ago. Operating profit dropped 60 percent to 4.1 trillion won compared with 10.2 trillion won a year ago. Revenue was 47.45 trillion won, in line with an earlier guidance report.

"Tough competition leaves some uncertainties in our smartphone business for the Q4 earnings," Robert Yi, Samsung's head of investor relations, said during the earnings conference.

Samsung sold 102 million handsets and 10 million tablets in the quarter, and a similar level of shipments is expected in the fourth quarter, Yi said. Samsung shipped 79.2 million smartphones in the period, according to Strategy Analytics.

"Samsung continues to face tough competition from Apple at the higher-end of the smartphone market, from Xiaomi and Huawei in the middle-tiers, and from Lenovo and others at the entry level," Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, wrote in an email.

Korean rival LG, the world's fourth-biggest smartphone vendor, sold a record 16.8 million devices in the quarter, taking a 5 percent global share, according to Strategy Analytics. Brisk demand for LG's flagship G3 phone boosted overall shipments in the third quarter, LG said.

Analysts earlier noted that an estimated inventory of 40 million Galaxy smartphones in sales channels is worrisome as it is an indication of the growing appeal of rival, high quality Android devices on the market.

"The smartphone market is maturing globally, and it is undeniable that Samsung smartphone's competitiveness has eroded to some degree," Do Hyun-woo, an analyst at Mirae Asset Securities, wrote in a research note. Samsung's strategy of targeting the mid- and low-tier segment is promising and the market has expectations for its flexible displays, Do added.

Samsung's semiconductor business was one ray of light in the earnings results as memory chip sales rose about 24 percent to 7.9 trillion won in the quarter from a year earlier. Samsung said early this month it would invest about $15 billion to build a chip manufacturing plant in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.


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Nintendo targets new health business with sleep sensor

Nintendo has been stimulating people with video games for decades, but now it wants to help them sleep better.

The Japanese gaming giant on Thursday gave a few details of its plan to enter the healthcare business with a device that can sense how well users sleep.

The Quality of Life (QOL) Sensor sits by a user's bedside and monitors body movements, heart rate and breathing via radio waves. The non-contact unit then sends the data it gathers to cloud-based servers for analysis. Users can then access results that show their sleep and fatigue levels.

The system will also automatically make recommendations such as getting more exercise or changing one's diet. The information would be made available on "smart devices," Nintendo said, without elaborating whether that would include smartphones. However, dedicated video game systems could also be used to improve users' quality of life, it said.

"Fatigue and sleep are themes that are rather hard to visualize in more objective ways," Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told a management policy meeting. "At Nintendo, we believe that if we could visualize them, there would be great potential for many people regardless of age, gender, language or culture."

The company is partnering with ResMed, a U.S.-based manufacturer of machines to help treat sleep apnea, to help represent sleep and fatigue data in a meaningful way for users.

While it won't be available until 2016, the QOL Sensor would be part of a services-based health business that Nintendo hopes could be even larger than its gaming empire, which has drawn criticism for failing to embrace the popularity of smartphone gaming over traditional consoles.

Nintendo suggested its games and QOL businesses could benefit from synergies such as making health monitoring enjoyable.

"We have various kinds of know-how in making experiences fun and something that users want to continue, so we'd like to put efforts into this," a Nintendo spokesman said.

On Wednesday, the 125-year-old Kyoto-based company reported a surprising net profit of ¥14.3 billion (US$132 million) for the six months to Sept. 30, up from a profit of ¥600 million a year earlier.

It attributed the strong performance to the global rollout of "Mario Kart 8" and improved sales of its Wii U console, leaving unchanged its forecast from May that sees a net profit of ¥20 billion for the year to March 31, 2015.


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China's Xiaomi defends itself from Apple copycat claims

Written By kom nampuldu on Rabu, 29 Oktober 2014 | 16.01

Facing claims that the company lifts too much from Apple, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi defended its design philosophy and said the whole industry is constantly innovating on the ideas of the competition.

"Our designers, our engineers, are inspired by great products and by great design out there. And frankly who in today's world isn't?" Xiaomi vice president Hugo Barra said on Tuesday.

Barra made the comment while speaking at The Wall Street Journal's technology conference, where he added, "Point me to a product in our industry, a new product that came out that had completely unique design language. You're not going to be able to find one."

Xiaomi, which began selling Android smartphones in China three years ago, has quickly risen to become one of the country's top handset makers, and is already embarking on a global expansion.

But the company has continually faced criticism that it steals ideas from Apple, with some in the media dubbing it the "Apple of China." Xiaomi's newest handset, for example, has a similar exterior design to Apple's previous iPhones.

Earlier this month, Apple's design head Jonathan Ive was asked his thoughts on Xiaomi, and how the company's products are similar to Apple. "I don't see it as flattery, I'm just talking about this issue in general. I actually see it as theft," he said.

"The first thing I think isn't, oh that was flattering," he said, adding, "I think it's really straight forward. It really is theft and it's lazy. And I don't think it's OK at all."

On Tuesday, Xiaomi's Barra said the Chinese company admired Apple's products and went as far to call the iPhone 6, "the most beautiful smartphone ever built."

"I'm a huge Apple fan, Apple is the world's design mecca," he said. But he added that the U.S. tech giant also lifts ideas from competitors, including those used in HTC products and Google's Android OS.

"I think it's fascinating that Apple took existing ideas that were very good, added their twist of innovation on top, and in many cases they actually made those ideas better," Barra said.

"So this idea of building upon great ideas and adding a twist of innovation is what they do. It's what we do," he added.


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Ambulance drones could bring defibrillators in minutes

Someone has collapsed on the ground from cardiac arrest and there's no defibrillator around. What to do? Summon an ambulance drone.

A graduate student at Delft University of Technology in Netherlands has created a prototype drone that can autonomously navigate to a location in minutes and deliver a defibrillator, a device that can help reestablish normal heart rhythm.

Product engineering student Alec Momont of the university's Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering created the drone, which has three rotors and an on-board defibrillator.

The drone would basically be like a mobile version of an automated external defibrillator (AED), which are lightweight, portable, battery-operated devices often found in shopping malls, transport stations and convention centers.

The prototype also has a webcam so that people on the scene of a cardiac arrest can communicate with emergency personnel and follow instructions about how to care for the patient.

The 4kg drone has a carbon-fiber frame and 3D-printed micro-structures. It can navigate via GPS and finds its way to a location using a caller's mobile phone signal. It can fly about 100 kilometers per hour and is able to carry another 4kg worth of payload.

The main merit of the prototype is that by flying over roads, it could get life-saving equipment to a patient before emergency services arrive when every minute counts, according to the university.

"The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient inside a 12 square km zone within one minute," Momont said in a release. "This response speed increases the chance of survival following a cardiac arrest from 8 percent to 80 percent."

A YouTube video shows a dramatisation of how the drone would be used, with a woman picking it up at the entrance to a building where her father has collapsed.

The drones would cost 15,000 euros (US$19,074) each and could help treat some of the roughly 800,000 people who suffer cardiac arrest in the EU every year, according to Momont.

One obstacle to implementation is that Dutch law currently forbids autonomous drones. Another is that the device's ability to avoid obstacles in its path must be improved.

Still, Momont believes the machines could be helping people within five years and is working with partners including Ghent University Hospital and the Amsterdam Ambulance Service.


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Ruckus hopes to raise a rumpus in the small-business Wi-Fi market

Very small businesses—on the order of 1 to 10 employees—don't have IT departments to manage their network infrastructure. Responsibility for tech support typically rests with that one employee who has just enough tech savvy to get by. And when you're talking sole proprietorship, that person is often you, the proprietor. So you buy consumer networking gear because it's inexpensive, it's widely available, and it's easy to install.

Ruckus thinks it has a better solution for you. It's introducing an all-new series of Wi-Fi products under the Xclaim brand that it says will bridge the gap between complex, high-priced enterprise network equipment and simple, low-cost consumer gear.

Ruckus also developed an app called Harmony to make it easier for non-techies to set up and manage a network. Harmony includes a wizard-driven setup routine, it reports on the access point's health, and it provides real-time stats on the entire network's performance. The free app is available now for iPhone and Android smartphones, and Ruckus is working on a version for the iPad.

Ruckus Xclaim Ruckus

Ruckus developed a smartphone app to help users install, configure, and manage its Xclaim Wi-Fi access points.

There are currently four products in the Xclaim line: three indoor access points and one outdoor model. These are all 2x2 models, meaning they support two spatial streams for transmitting and two for receiving. All four support IEEE 802.3af power-over-ethernet, so you don't need an AC outlet near where you install them.

Ruckus includes a power injector in the box, which you insert between the router and the ethernet cable that connects it to the wireless access point. The injector uses the same Ethernet cable to carry the electricity the AP needs to operate. That eliminates the need for a wall wart at the AP, and a surge protector to protect it from power spikes.

The Ruckus Xclaim Xi-1, $89, is a selectable dual-band 802.11n AP ("selectable" means it will operate on either the 2.4- or the 5GHz frequency band, but not both at the same time). The $149 Xclaim Xi-2 is an actual dual-band 802.11n wireless AP, so it can support discrete wireless networks on both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands simultaneously. The $199 Xclaim Xi3 moves up to the faster 802.11ac standard and also operates discrete networks on both the 2.4- and 5GHz bands. The final AP in the Xclaim lineup, the $299 Xo-1, is a weatherized dual-band 802.11ac model designed for outdoor use.

Ruckus Xclaim Ruckus

The Xclaim Xo-1 802.11ac Wi-Fi access point is enclosed in a weatherized enclosure to protect it from the elements. 

If you decide to buy an Xclaim product, don't toss your existing router—consumer or otherwise—on the scrap heap. The lineup announced today includes only wireless access points (APs). You'll still need a router to share your Internet connection among several devices, to direct traffic on your network, and to perform the other functions that a router handles. If you're using an integrated router/gateway provided by your Internet service provider, you'll just need to turn off its wireless function before connecting an Xclaim AP to it.

Xclaim-series access points can be purchased from online retailers, from a limited number of value-added resellers (VARs), or directly from Ruckus. Ruckus expects some Internet service providers might also be interested in reselling the APs to their customers.

Tech support will be available through online forums, but Ruckus has no plans to offer telephone tech support. VARs would also provide limited tech support to their own customers. Ruckus offers two-year warranties on the indoor models and a one-year warranty on the outdoor AP.

How do you manage your small-business network today? Are you using consumer-class gear or something more robust? Do you handle your IT needs, do you have an IT person on staff, or do you have a contractor handle the job? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.


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Microsoft opens Office 365 to programmers

Written By kom nampuldu on Selasa, 28 Oktober 2014 | 16.01

Extending Office 365 functionality to third-party developers, Microsoft has exposed a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) so other companies can add features and capabilities to the online productivity service.

The company announced the new functionality at the TechEd Europe conference, held this week in Barcelona.

The APIs are a way for third-party programs to access the information and capabilities of the online office suite, including those for user mail, files, calendar and contacts.

Microsoft is "clearly trying to keep Office front and center in the new world of mobile devices," wrote Al Hilwa, program director for software development research at IDC. "The approach of moving to APIs is the right strategy for providing extensibility to services like Office 365 in the era of cloud. I would expect that they will keep building on these APIs over time, but they are handling the most important areas in this wave, which relate to email integration."

Microsoft estimated that 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using Office 365 in some form. The company holds about 450 petabytes of information from all of the service's users.

The APIs could be used in a wide variety of ways, Microsoft said. For example, an app for making travel reservations could automatically place the user's itinerary in his or her calendar. A CRM (customer relationship management) app could link its sales information directly to the salesperson's email or files. The APIs are exposed through a REST (Representational State Transfer) protocol.

One early user of the APIs will be cloud service broker IFTTT (If This, Then That), which is used to connect separate cloud services into workflows. Already, the service connects 130 services for its users and plans to hook in Office 365 functionality in the coming weeks.

Over time, Microsoft will offer additional APIs, including those for updating tasks and Yammer activity.

To help developers get started, Microsoft Open Technologies, a subsidiary of Microsoft, has released new Visual Studio software development kits (SDKs) for both Android and the Apple iOS devices. The company has also posted online training for the APIs.

In addition to exposing the APIs, Microsoft has made room on the Office 365 app launcher for new third-party tools. That will allow new third-party apps to appear alongside Microsoft tools, such as Outlook, Yammer or OneDrive. Microsoft has already started working with third parties, including project management service SmartSheet, and authentication service provider DocuSign, to bring their applications to the launcher.

Microsoft has already made some headway in getting developers to add functions to its products and services. Between Office 365 and SharePoint, more than 3.4 million developers have found ways to extend Microsoft software, according to the company. PayPal, for instance, has developed software that allows its users to issue invoices from within Excel. Software provider Poll Everywhere developed a way to incorporate audience feedback directly into PowerPoint presentations.

As an online service, Office 365 acts as both an online extension to the on-premise version of Microsoft Office and a full-fledged collaboration and productivity suite, including email, calendaring, file storage, document sharing and other features.

At TechEd Europe, Microsoft made a number of other announcements around its Azure cloud service and its mobile device management offerings.

For Azure, the company previewed a service, called Azure Batch, that allows customers to easily schedule jobs that may involve thousands of compute nodes. Another service, called Azure Automation, was designed to automate many administrative tasks needed to run complex jobs in Azure that are now done by hand. The company has also stood up an anti-malware service to protect virtual machines from wrongdoing. An update to the Azure Active Directory will allow organizations to make their on-premise applications available to external users.

Microsoft has also updated Intune, a service to help small businesses manage computers and mobile devices. It can now control how users deploy Office 365 on their own devices, as well as control mobile Office apps that the organizations construct themselves. In the first quarter of 2015, Office 365 will also come with some mobile device management (MDM) capabilities, allowing administrators, for example, to wipe corporate data from an employee device.


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