AT&T launches push-to-talk service for iPhone


AT&T Inc. on Monday said it’s adding a walkie-talkie-like application to the iPhone for its corporate customers, replicating a hallmark feature of the Nextel network, which is being shut down this summer.

A push-to-talk feature is available on some non-Nextel phones from Sprint, Verizon and AT&T, but this is the first time it’s available on the iPhone in the U.S.

With push-to-talk systems, the user pushes a button to broadcast a voice message to a group _ in the case of the AT&T app, of up to 250 people. This type of service has been popular for work sites and first responders.

Sprint is shutting down the Nextel network this summer because it doesn’t support high-speed data traffic. It’s trying to get as many Nextel users as possible to switch to Sprint phones with push-to-talk capability, but it’s competing with Verizon Wireless and AT&T.


Dallas-based AT&T said the push-to-talk function won’t work just by downloading the app _ the company has to work with its corporate customers to integrate it.

AT&T shares rose 40 cents to $35.85 in morning trading. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $32.71 to $39.


Aaron Paul, Drake promote EA video games at E3


Drake and Aaron Paul are bringing some star power to the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

The rapper and the “Breaking Bad” co-star appeared on stage Monday at Electronic Arts’ E3 presentation to promote games from the video game publisher. Drake hyped the next edition of the soccer simulator “FIFA 14,” while Paul teased the racing game “Need for Speed: Rivals.”

Paul, who is starring in a film based on the pedal-pumping “Need for Speed” series set for release next spring, arrived on stage in the custom Ford Mustang his character drives in the film.

“Just like the game, we’re looking to give you an adrenaline rush that puts you on the edge of your seat,” Paul said while introducing footage from the movie.


However, the celebrity attendees didn’t garner the biggest reaction at EA’s event at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. That was reserved for the moment when “Battlefield 4” executive producer Patrick Bach revealed that 64 players were on stage behind a screen. The mob then proceeded to engage in a multiplayer match of the upcoming military shooter.

“Rivals” and “Battlefield 4” are adding companion apps that allow players to affect online games from mobile devices.

Electronic Arts Inc. concluded Monday’s presentation by revealing that it’s working on a sequel to the 2008 free-running action game “Mirror’s Edge.” A video teased it was “coming … when it’s ready.”






Comcast’s new X2 platform saves TV shows online


Worried about filling up your DVR? The nation’s largest cable TV provider, Comcast Corp., is rolling out a new TV platform that does away with the hard drive and saves your TV shows online.

Comcast unveiled the platform, called X2, on Tuesday at the annual gathering of cable TV companies, The Cable Show. The system takes its name from the X1 platform that it introduced last year, and will be available to customers later this year.

The update is akin to a new operating system for cellphones or computers and will also work on X1 set-top boxes through an optional update delivered over the Internet. Comcast also unveiled a small set-top box for secondary TVs in a home. It is a third the size of a normal set-top box.

X2 is one of many offerings from cable TV companies that seek to improve the living room experience. Time Warner Cable Inc. showed off an updated channel guide with personalized recommendations that it plans to roll out on new set-top boxes this year.


Cable and satellite TV companies have faced criticism for offering hundreds of channels while providing clunky guides that make it difficult to find shows. As they seek to keep customers, cable providers are updating channel grids. Newer guides do a better job of showing off what’s available on-demand, what’s saved on the digital video recorder, and what’s on live TV.

The X2’s channel guide acts more like a website than traditional channel guides. Customers can customize the view to include weather and road traffic apps. Program listings include movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a “buzz” meter showing how many posts from Twitter a particular show is getting each hour. The guide also displays video from the Web, and includes voice-enabled search results for the first time.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated the new guide’s search ability by saying, “Find Don Cheadle.” The guide pulled up 25 movies and TV shows featuring the actor as well as videos from the Web.

“The whole look and feel is meant to be easy, personal, smart, fast and fun,” Roberts said. “And I think we’re just scratching the surface.”

The company says that because its new guides rely on Internet technology, they can be changed as easily as updating a website. Comcast has updated its guide 1,200 times since the X1 set-top box was introduced in May 2012. Its new guide will work on tablet computers and smartphones as well.

Comcast, with 21.9 million TV subscribers, expects to save money in the long run with its X2 platform by eliminating the hard drive from digital video recorders. Executives also said it would help TV network operators by giving them the chance to insert TV commercials into shows that customers have saved online.

That ad-insertion technology represents a shot at Dish Network Corp., which irked broadcasters with its Hopper DVR because it automatically strips commercials from prime-time shows for playback later.

“You notice we don’t skip commercials here,” said Comcast’s chief technology officer, Tony Werner.

Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second largest cable TV company with 12.1 million TV subscribers, also this week conducted private showings of the guide it plans to test in New York, Los Angeles and Syracuse, N.Y., this fall before rolling it out to new customers and its top-tier subscribers this year.

Its guide also uses Internet tools for easy updating from afar.

It recommends shows based on a user’s history and what they’re searching for; allows people to browse shows by genre and title; and adds cover art to everything. One channel surfing function displays cover art of what’s playing on half a dozen channels in either direction on the lineup. Flipping through the channels scrolls through cover art until you settle on a channel to watch.

Time Warner Cable’s updated set-top box has a 1 terabyte hard drive capable of saving 150 hours of high-definition content. Smaller boxes are also being prepared for other TV sets that use the central DVR on the home network.

“It’s about making a seamless and frictionless experience for customers to more easily find the shows they want,” said Alix Cottrell, group vice president of video for Time Warner Cable. Cottrell said the company expects the improved guide to help increase TV usage “dramatically” as well as make customers more satisfied.

Customer retention is seen as increasingly important for the cable TV industry, which has lost about 10 million TV subscribers in the United States over the last decade _ down to 56.4 million in 2012, from 66.9 million in 2001, according to research firm SNL Kagan.

Most of them have switched to satellite companies such as DirecTV or Dish, or gone with TV services from phone companies including Verizon and AT&T, lured by promotional prices and fancier interfaces. Overall, the number of pay TV subscribers across all providers has been steady at about 100 million U.S. homes.

Sony wins opening battle in console war


Sony’s new-generation PlayStation 4 console has scored an opening skirmish triumph overMicrosoft’s Xbox One at the  E3 game conference in Los Angeles.

Sony and Microsoft each hosted distinctly different private events on Monday (US time) to spotlight their new champions in the long-running console wars.

Both companies showcased blockbuster games, but Sony triggered unbridled cheers with assurances it would not interfere with sales of used titles or require internet connections for play.


The points were in sharp contrast to Microsoft, which designed Xbox One consoles to check-in on the internet once every 24 hours for games to work, and set conditions on used games.


Sony also priced PS4 at $549 as compared to the $599 Microsoft said it will charge for Xbox One consoles when they are released in November.

“Clearly, Sony won the battle of the day,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

“The price point is going to be a big factor,” he continued. “At a minimum, it is a poke in the eye because Sony is just cheaper.”

Blau responded that the price divide widens when taking into account that Xbox One console owners must subscribe to an internet service, because the device requires an online connection if users want to play.

He cautioned that it was still too early to tell which console would prove more popular because hardware and games, no matter how slickly they were presented at the media events, have yet to get into people’s hands.

“Overall, they are both strong platforms,” Blau said.

Microsoft fired the opening shot with a media event providing more details about the Xbox One home entertainment hub it revealed in May.

“Xbox One is designed to deliver a whole new generation of blockbuster games, television and entertainment in a powerful, all-in-one device,” said Microsoft president of interactive entertainment Don Mattrick.

The beefed-up hardware is powered by software that allows for instant switching between games, television and internet browsing.

Kinect motion and sound sensing accessories accompanying the consoles recognise users; respond instantly to commands spoken in natural language and even detect a person’s pulse.

Sony fired back with the first look at its new PS4 console, promising to combine its film, music, television and game strengths in a powerhouse home entertainment box.

“This is a completely new platform and, in many ways, represents a completely new PlayStation,” said Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House.

“We are more than ever capitalising on the vast network of Sony divisions.”

The PS4 will launch with beefed up offerings at Sony online movie and music services as the console moves to expand into a complete home entertainment centre while remaining true to hardcore gamers.

Sony will use the technology of recently acquired cloud gaming company Gaikai to launch a service next year that lets people use PS3 or PS4 consoles to play blockbuster games in the cloud in real time.

More than 140 games are in development for the PS4, with at least 100 of the titles due out in the year following the consoles release, according to Sony Computer Entertainment US president Jack Tretton.

He promised that Sony had no plans to stop people from being able to play used games, and that PS4 consoles did not need to be connected to the internet if people preferred to go it solo.

“When a player buys a PS4 disk they have the right to use that game; trade it in; lend it to a friend, or keep it forever,” Tretton said.

Microsoft has sold some 77 million Xbox 360 consoles since they hit the market in late 2005. Console rival Sony has sold about the same number of PlayStation 3 consoles, which was introduced a year later.

Meanwhile, Nintendo sold nearly 100 million Wii consoles, which became hits due to innovative motion-sensing controls after their debut in 2006. But demand for Nintendo’s recently released Wii U consoles has been disappointing.

While next-generation consoles will dominate E3, digital play has changed considerably from when their predecessors arrived.

Smartphones and tablets have powered a boom in games available for free, with money made from ads or in-game purchases.

“Both media events talked about the changing business models but there wasn’t big news,” said Blau, who predicted console and mobile games would increasingly intersect as play adapts to new gadgets and lifestyles.

Tech giants urge transparency on government security


Tech companies have urged the US government for greater transparency on requests for data from security agencies.

Google has asked the US government to let it publish details on national security requests in its transparency report, a request that was later echoed by Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft.

Google sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, the company wrote in a blog post. The letter, included in the post, asked for the ability to report aggregate numbers of national security requests.


By asking to publish the number of security requests, Google is seeking to “show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,” David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, wrote in the letter.

“Google has nothing to hide,” Drummond’s letter said. Transparency will “serve the public interest without harming national security”, he said.

Computer giant Microsoft and social networks Facebook and Twitter soon followed suit.

“Permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues,” Microsoft said in a statement. “Our recent report went as far as we legally could and the government should take action to allow companies to provide additional transparency”.

Facebook’s statement came just hours after those of Google and Microsoft.

“We would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond,” Facebook said in a statement.

“We urge the United States government to help make that possible by allowing companies to include information about the size and scope of national security requests we receive,” the company said.

Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel, said in a statement that the microblogging service supports Google’s efforts.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are among nine internet companies that have come under scrutiny following disclosures in the Guardian and Washington Post of their roles in a National Security Agency data collection program named PRISM.

The Obama administration confirmed the existence of classified programs to collect data on US residents’ telephone calls and foreign nationals’ internet activity on June 6.

Obama defended the practice, saying the government’s efforts are “modest encroachments” on privacy legally authorised by Congress and important to thwarting terrorist attacks.

Academics and security experts say there’s a broad range of ways to harness the systems of the largest technology providers to monitor email, photos and video chats on the web.

Google said it complies with valid legal requests and doesn’t give the US government unfettered access to users’ data. Google said that by publishing data about the requests in its Transparency Report, it will be able to prove to users that their data is mostly protected without harming national security. The report tracks requests for user data from courts and governments worldwide.

Facebook, Yahoo! and Microsoft said they hand over data to the government only when required by law to do so. AOL, Apple and all released statements saying they’ve never heard of the government monitoring program, called PRISM, and don’t give the government direct access to servers without a court order.

Apple: treading the technology tightrope


Apple has long been the company to beat – at the forefront of revolutionary technology trends in music, media, computing, hardware and software. Indeed, the Californian iPod-inventor has, at times,

seemed like the only place pushing market-disrupting innovation over
the past decade.

Today, however, Samsung, Google, Motorola – and yes, still Apple – are competing for the headlines. So while the direct descendants of 2007’s iPhone are still hugely important products, there’s now exciting news in other areas. Motorola is wondering whether we will be able to interact with products via tattoos. And Google thinks we might be able to unlock digital devices simply by looking at them in a certain way.

On Monday, however, Apple is set to make what could be seen as its most significant announcement since the iPad. At the Moscone West Conference Center in San Francisco, the company will unveil changes to the software used by millions of people across its products. The perception among technology aficionados in some quarters, is that this is the make-or-break release for Apple: either it shows it can keep up with the pack, or it proves it has lost its mojo.

This is not how the business has always fared. A quick look at the most-read tech stories on reveals an interest in Apple that no other company can match through its own endeavours. BP, for instance, needed an unprecedented catastrophe to generate the same level of international fascination. When Apple founder Steve Jobs died – tragically early as a result from cancer – the news was top of bulletins around the world. The company still hovers around the most valuable on the planet.

The trouble now, of course, is that there’s nowhere to go but down. If you’re number one, the challenge is only how long you can stay there in the face of global competition. It’s only innovation that keeps Apple where it is and, when you become the incumbent, retaining the cool that attracts crucial talent becomes ever more difficult.

In truth, the announcement of iOS7 is quite unlikely to be radical. Not because Apple is suddenly afraid of innovation, but because the company is painfully aware of its duty of care to existing users. The worst that could happen would be to frighten people – not so much into the arms of other manufacturers, as to doubting their trust in Apple. That could affect how consumers think about buying apps, music and – in the future – TV, too.

So where does that leave iOS in practice? It remains the most profitable platform for application developers and it is also still the only place to go for really beautiful apps (those that might be the successors to coffee table books).

But Apple must do more than give it a lick of paint – if for no other reason than avoiding the accusation that it values style over substance. It needs to introduce changes that fundamentally allow consumers to do more, whether that’s seeing the time of their next train on their home screen or checking the news headlines without opening an app or pulling down a window.

Introducing any of those changes, though, will further complicate an operating system that is founded on simplicity. Apple has a tightrope to walk and the world is watching.

No other company has such a unified base of users – so many people with the same operating system and so many unfamiliar with any other software. That means on Monday we should expect evolution, not revolution. But with so much pressure, resisting the big bang approach may yet prove to be the bravest approach.


CIOs need to manage Tech and Innovation to utilize big data


CIOs must realize that innovation needs to go well beyond the technology used to manage big data, according to Gartner, Inc. To get maximum value, enterprises will need to seek and embrace innovation in the way business problems are analyzed with big data.


“Big data requires an enterprise to embrace innovation on two levels,” said Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner. “First, the technology itself is innovative. Second, enterprises must be willing to innovate in the way they do decision support and analytics. This second reason is not a technology challenge, but rather a process and change management challenge.


“Big data technologies bring innovative ways of analyzing existing business problems and opportunities. New data sources and new analytics can improve the enterprise in ways that have never been leveraged before.”


Big data’s ability to analyze unstructured data, large volumes and disparate sources leads to innovative opportunities. In most cases, there has been very little precedence for the ways big data can add value to an enterprise. It was never possible to run these kinds of analyses or access these new types of data. Seeking value from big data technologies requires innovative thinking and a willingness to accept and trust these sources and methods.


CIOs should treat big data projects as innovation projects that will require change management efforts. The business will need time to trust new data sources and new analytics and enterprises should start small with pilots that put full transparency on the data, the analytics and the resulting insight.


However, big data isn’t just about the large sources of external data, such as public social network data. Creative CIO thinking can unearth valuable information sources already inside the enterprise that are underused.


“Perhaps CIOs feel more comfortable starting with internal data sources, because the thinking is that much of it is already being managed by ITV,” said Mr. LeHong. “However, in many cases, these internal data sources are not controlled by IT at all. For example, call center recordings, security camera footage and operational data from manufacturing equipment all represent potential internal sources of data to investigate, but they are usually not under the control of IT.”


Therefore, CIOs and their teams will need to work with the business to fully understand the pockets of data that are available. With some creative thinking, even data that is already captured data can be made richer. Enterprises that use big data technologies can afford to keep the full, raw data, building up rich sources of data that can provide new insight. However, CIOs will need to ensure that there is always a clear business purpose and outcome for storing this new data.


Internal data has an additional advantage. It is a good starting point for big data projects because the enterprise already owns the data, and it may be easier and/or less costly than accessing external data sources. Also, compared with external sources, the enterprise will be more likely to trust the internal data because it comes from enterprise systems, logs and other enterprise assets.


Some enterprises have used big data technologies to make existing analytics faster. Although technology may enable faster speed, getting business value from that speed often requires process changes.


Gartner research shows that early adopter enterprises that implemented faster analytical capabilities changed their processes to get the maximum benefit from the speed. For some enterprises, the speed in analysis provides the ability to include a full week of sales data when running analytics, such as price/promotion/markdown optimization. In the past, because these optimizations would take a day to run, Sunday’s sales data often did not make it into the calculations. Now, with the ability to run the optimizations in minutes, enterprises can include the full week’s data — making their optimizations immediately up to date with market activity.


“CIO’s must ensure that big data projects that improve analytical speed always include a process redesign effort that aims at getting maximum benefit from that speed,” said Mr. LeHong. “Before pursuing big data investments, ensure that the evaluating team has a clear understanding of how faster analytics will lead to an improved business outcome — and build this into the business case.”