Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mobile DRAM–The Smartphone Component You’ve Never Heard Of–Is Big Business

If you have a new PC, there is a reasonable chance you know how much memory it has. It’s one of the things we have been taught to ask about when we buy a new computer. More memory means the thing runs faster.
However, even most hard core techies can’t tell you how much DRAM is in their phones or tablets. They might know about the flash memory that is used to store apps and music. But most would shrug their shoulders if asked how much memory is in there to power things like video playback and multitasking.
Crack open any smartphone or tablet, though, and you will find significant amounts of DRAM (an acronym that stands for Dynamic Random Access Memory). It is that memory that, as with a PC, allows a computer to handle multiple tasks quickly. On the cell phone side, it also has to perform its task while using as little power as possible. That has created a market for low-power chips–so-called mobile DRAM.
“I call it the silent enabler,” said Mueez Deen, a director in Samsung’s mobile memory unit (pictured above). “Nobody asks for it but you need a lot of it.”
Indeed, the market for such memory has been exploding. Mobile DRAM shipments this year are seen reaching 2.9 billion gigabits, up from 1.7 billion gigabits last year, according to IHS iSuppli. Some of that is due to the rapid growth in the number of smartphones being shipped, while another chunk is due to the fact that the amount of memory needed in each phone is growing. By 2014, smartphones are seen consuming 36 times as much memory as they did last year.
“Mobile DRAM, up until 2009, was kind of a sleepy backwater of the DRAM (market),” said iSuppli’s Mike Howard. “Phones weren’t really doing a lot back then.”
That is clearly changing–and quickly. Today’s smartphone is trying to juggle between desktop-caliber Web browsing, video chat and even 3D gaming–all of which demands ever more memory.
Not that long ago, it was considered ample if a phone had 512 megabits or a gigabit of flash memory. Now, four gigabits isn’t uncommon for high-end smartphones. Some, like the Atrix, pack eight gigabits of flash and smartphones with 16 gigabits are on the horizon, Deen said.
At the beginning of 2009, DRAM chips that were customized for mobile devices accounted for about five percent of the overall market, in terms of number of bits. By the first quarter of last year, its share had tripled. Its share is poised to grow even further as smartphones continue their rapid growth, while PCs tend to grow 10-12 percent a year at best.
Tablets will increase the mobile DRAM market even further. Although smaller in number than smartphones, tablets tend to use even more memory per device. And given the need for good battery life, mobile memory chips are still a requirement. Slates are seen accounting for 3.5 billion gigabits of DRAM in 2014–ten times what they accounted for last year.
For the memory chip makers, mobile DRAM has been a bit of a respite from the roller coaster of the PC memory market, which sinks or swims based on how much capacity is out there. On the mobile side–at least so far–handset makers have been dealing directly with chipmakers, with most of the chips being built to forecast demand, meaning much more stable pricing. Currently, chipmakers are getting anywhere from two to two and a half times as much for mobile DRAM as they would for the same capacity PC chip.
Roughly speaking, Samsung has about half the market for mobile DRAM, according to iSuppli, while Hynix has a quarter of the market, Elpida about 20 percent and Micron around 5 percent.
So, if mobile DRAM is such a big market, why does it never get talked about. In large part, it is because it is invisible to the consumer. It’s not something that gets talked about and handset makers simply choose the amount they think is appropriate for the device they are building. And, unlike a PC, it’s not like users can crack open their phones and add more if they like.
Apple, for example, doesn’t even say how much DRAM is in its new iPad. However, tear-downs reveal it to be 512 megabytes (UPDATE: I initially had my bits and bytes confused here). Interestingly, that amount is half of what is crammed inside rival tablets from HP, Research In Motion and Motorola.
Howard figures that Apple is probably somewhat better able to use its memory given its hardware-software integration and also says the company also is aiming to provide just enough performance while still hitting key price points. (Most iPad rivals tend to have a higher bill of materials than Apple has for the iPad.)
That said, Howard also said that the added memory is giving the other tablets a boost.
“It hasn’t gone to waste,” he said. “The DRAM is definitely adding a lot of performance.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sony's Cyber-shot HX50V claims smallest and lightest 30x zoom crown

Sony's 20-megapixel Cyber-shot HX50V compact superzoom

Given the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and the ever-increasing megapixel count of their onboard camera sensors, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the compact digital camera may have snapped its very last snap. Sony believes that its new Cyber-shot HX50V superzoom will make you think again. Claimed to be the world's smallest and lightest 30x zoom camera currently available, the low light sensitive 20-megapixel camera features both Wi-Fi and GPS, high-speed AutoFocus, optical image stabilization, and boasts an impressive battery life.
The Cyber-shot HX50V compact superzoom features a 24-720mm F3.5-6.3 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens made up of 11 elements in 10 groups. In addition to the camera's 30x optical zoom capabilities, Sony says that its 60x Clear Image digital zoom technology uses pixel pattern matching to give more realistic, higher quality results than systems that use electronic cropping to get closer to a subject.
Complementing the camera's zoom lens is optical SteadyShot and active 3-way image stabilization, which is claimed to be twice as effective as last year's Cyber-shot HX200V model at maximum zoom.
The Cyber-shot HX50V features a 30x zoom Carl Zeiss lens, 20.4-megapixel CMOS sensor and B...
At the heart of the 4.25 x 2.5 x 1.5-inch (108.1 x 63.6 x 38.3-mm), 9.6-ounce (272-g) camera is a 1/2.3-inch Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor with 20.4 effective megapixels, which works alongside Sony's BIONZ imaging processor to offer ISO80 to 12800 sensitivity, and an impressive 10 fps burst shooting at full resolution. Images are recorded to Memory Stick Duo or SD/SDHC in 4:3 aspect at full 5,184 x 3,888 pixel resolution, or 16:9 at 5,184 x 2,920. Built-in Wi-Fi technology can be used for wireless file transfer and remote control.
The HX50V has a 3-inch, 921,000 dot resolution Xtra Fine LCD display panel with five levels of brightness adjustment. Though a pop-up flash module has been included, the camera also has a hot shoe mount – or Mi Shoe – for connecting accessories like an external flash unit, stereo microphone module or electronic viewfinder.
The camera has a hot shoe mount – or Mi Shoe – for connecting accessories like a stereo mi...
Rounding out the notable specs are a dedicated exposure compensation control dial and a PASM/settings dial, micro HDMI and USB 2.0 ports, and a 1240 mAh Li-ion battery that's smaller than those used in earlier models, yet still manages to offer 400 photos per charge. The camera is also capable of 1080/60p high definition video recording in AVCHD Ver2 format, with AC3 stereo audio.
The Cyber-shot HX50V will be available from next month for about US$450. In the meantime, have a look at the SNGL by Sony team walking through the main features in the video below.

Apple wants to use iPhone Bluetooth to locate, interact with cars

A pair of patent filings discovered on Thursday reveal Apple is actively investigating the possibilities afforded by the iOS mobile platform's various wireless connectivity options, including the ability to interact with, and at times control, a Bluetooth-enabled automobile. 

Source: USPTO

The two patents, published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describe Apple inventions for using an iOS device to find a parked car in a parking structure, getting guidance to said car, gathering parking fee information and, once near the automobile, activating vehicle functions like door locks, power windows and the engine starter. 

First, Apple's "Method for Locating a Vehicle" outlines a method in which a mobile device can pair with a vehicle via Bluetooth to determine whether it is in a parked state. If the condition is met, the handset then communicates with a wireless system within the parking structure to determine a parking location before moving away from the vehicle. 

When returning to the parking structure, the mobile device can access the parking structure's location system to request current positioning data. The received information is then compared to the vehicle location already stored on the device to determine a route back to the car. 

In another embodiment, the automobile itself communicates with the parking structure's location system, which logs the car's position and stores the data for later access by a mobile device. This method also allows the parking system to handle guidance and routing directions, which are subsequently sent to a handset upon request. 

Digging deeper into the filing's language, Apple's invention calls for the parking structure to hold an array of wireless sensors that are deployed in such a way as to determine the location of a car and a mobile device. An example would be one sensor per stall, or one per row. The system can use Bluetooth technology to transmit positioning data, as well as guidance data if necessary, to the mobile device. 

Illustration of parking structure.

Further, the parking system can also incorporate cameras, microphones and other sensors to determine whether a car is in a parked state. Such information would include an opened car door, active running lights or engine noise. In some embodiments, a user can manually inform the system that a car is parked by interacting with a digital interface either in the vehicle or on a mobile device. 

Regarding guidance, a handset can receive a map over cellular or Wi-Fi, which can have an overlay of current positioning data much like a GPS navigation system. Indeed, in some examples, GPS can also be used in concert with the parking structure's location data to determine a route back to the vehicle.

As a side note, Apple recently acquired "indoor GPS" firm WiFiSLAM, which developed technology to serve up location data within structures where GPS signals are usually absent. Such systems could be implemented effectively in the utility filing described above. 

In Apple's second car-related patent application, titled "Accessing a vehicle using portable devices," a mobile handset pairs securely with a car over Bluetooth or other suitable method to control various onboard functions. 

The invention is basically a more intelligent replacement for existing automobile personalization systems offered by some manufacturers. These methods usually rely on key fobs, which interact with the car via NFC or radio to open doors, roll down windows, start the engine, and so forth. Instead, Apple proposes a mobile device take the place of a fob to offer enhanced control of the vehicle through wireless protocols like Bluetooth. 

As noted in the filing, the system can support a primary and a secondary mobile device. Both would use proven authentication methods to access the vehicle, thereby allowing said devices to act as a security point in lieu of a key fob. A user can set preferences to cause the system to act automatically, or have greater control by requiring a PIN or passwords before a device unlocks and interacts with the car. 

Some embodiments allow restrictions to be placed on the second mobile device, such as authorization to start the engine only within a given time period, for example between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Further limitations can include speed, entertainment options, number of "uses" allotted and GPS-based fencing, among others.

Besides describing the variety of functions available for operation, much of the patent application focuses on authentication techniques and device-to-car security.

Apple is apparently looking to take advantage of popular "infotainment" systems a number of auto makers include in their vehicles, which usually carry some sort of wireless communications protocol such as Bluetooth. While it is unknown if and when the pair of patent applications will be used in a consumer product, a number of car manufacturers have already signed on to support Apple's "eyes-free" initiative. 

Both of the applications were filed in 2011 and credit Brian J. Tucker, Emily C. Schubert, Jess L. Dorogusker, Joakim Linde; Joakim and Stephen Chick as their inventors.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4 can't handle fast thumb typists (video)

In our Samsung Galaxy S4 review, my colleague Aloysius noted that the phone's built-in keyboard acted strangely when typing fast. The predictive text feature looks like it's unable to catch up to fast fingers, and replaces your mistakes with words you didn't mean to type. For example, if you mistyped "the" as "thr" and tapped on space quickly, the row of suggestions don't refresh quickly enough so you get the word "I". This doesn't happen when I slow down my typing speed drastically by using only one hand. Watch the video above to see the bug in action.
When contacted, Samsung verified that this also occurs on its own test unit, so we know it's not just a bug in this review set. The company will probably fix this in an update, but it's unlikely to come before the launch this weekend. So reasonably fast typists who're buying the Galaxy S4 should turn off predictive text entirely, or alternatively, use a third-party solution such as SwiftKey or Swype in the meantime.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Apple invention creates a secure device-to-device network with just a picture

Apple on Tuesday was granted patent rights to a novel data transfer invention that allows one device to use its built-in camera to take a picture of a second device, and extract a digital handshake key from the image to setup a secure connection.
Digital Handshake

Source: USPTO

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,429,407 for "Digital handshake between devices," which covers the creation of a secure communications path between two devices by using an image to generate a digital handshake key. 

As noted in the patent, modern portable devices like the iPhone can store a wealth of digital content, such as contacts, text documents, video, music, and more. Currently, most users rely on email or direct messaging to transfer said content from one device to another, with copy and paste being an effective, yet tedious, mode of storage.

Other implementations can facilitate a direct communications path between the two devices, leveraging wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to transfer data. However, these methods require the handsets to share a network key, and existing implementations of generating this passkey are limited. For example, in some instances users must generate and type in an identical pass phrase to gain access to another device's content.
Digital Handshake

While a few apps, such as Bump, facilitate key generation when two devices output similar accelerometer data, such as a "bump," the method may not be viable if one device is without a motion sensor. 

Apple's invention instead provides that an image taken of a device will include a key. For example, the second device can display a dynamic key onscreen or have a key embedded in its housing or bezel. Other examples are provided where filters, flash or infrared light can reveal a hidden key. In some cases, a specialized chip is integrated with the camera module to detect and decipher a device key. 
Digital Handshake

Illustration of chassis-located keys.

A process follows that generates a digital handshake key by using the device-provided key or seed with the key captured in the image. This process can support multiple devices, with more dynamically added by using the same initially generated key. For added protection, a device can require a user-generated code to connect. 

Further, if there are multiple devices in a captured image, a device can intelligently parse out which is requesting a key through location, distance and content displayed onscreen. 
Digital Handshake

Once the two devices are connected, they can share content based on an open program, or an app that is not running. The patent holds that some or all of the content being displayed can be transferred, depending on user preference.

The language notes that in some embodiments, the digital handshake can merely serve as an authentication system, granting a device access to secured information. An example is provided in which a user's identity can be confirmed when purchasing goods, such as prescription medication.

Apple's camera-based digital handshake patent was first filed for in 2010 and credits Marcel Van Os and Caroline Cranfill as its inventors.

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Yahoo iOS app launches, integrates Summly's technology

Yahoo has launched a new version of its flagship iOS app, one that brings a redesigned interface as well as integration of popular news summarization service Summly's technology.
When Yahoo purchased Summly in March for an estimated $30 million, the company revealed that Summly's team would be rolled into Yahoo's own. The impact of that acquisition can be seen now in Yahoo's mobile search technology, CEO Marissa Mayer said Monday in a post to Yahoo's corporate blog.

The new Yahoo mobile app uses Summly's natural-language algorithms and machine learning to deliver quick summaries of news stories in a user's feed. The app now also personalizes story feeds based on a user's interest and gives users the ability to select topics they want more stories about. 

Summly is one of the higher profile acquisitions Mayer has made since taking over the Internet giant in June of 2012. Tasked with sparking growth in a company said to have grown stagnant, Mayer has aligned Yahoo on the mobile axis, calling for revamps of existing apps and products even as the company shutters underperforming projects. 

Reportedly, Yahoo is looking to tie itself more closely to Apple, as the two companies have discussed greater integration between their products. Such collaboration could take the form of Yahoo News and other web properties coming preloaded in iOS devices, with a heavier focus on Siri integration.

Version 3.0 of Yahoo's iOS app is available in the App Store. The 15.9MB download is compatible with the iPhone 3GS or above, third-generation iPod touch or above, and the iPad. It requires a device running iOS 5.1 or later.