Will 2015 be the year that the "connected home" hyped at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas finally establishes itself in reality?
What's significant this time around is the role played by the Internet of Things, says Mark Hachman at PC World. He names some names to look out for: EchoStar in home automation, Intel with new Broadwell PCs, Ford's new entertainment system, and Samsung in "just about everything."
Google's play in the connected home space is getting a boost at CES, where the company -- which acquired net-connected thermostat startup Nest a while back -- said it has added 15 new products to its third-party "works with Nest" program. Those include smart door locks, lighting controls, sleep monitors, IP telephones and even a ceiling fan, reports Hachman's colleague Michael Brown. Google says that there are more than 5,000 developers working on connecting their products to Nest.
CES has also become a showcase for automotive tech, and on Sunday Nvidia took the wraps off a new "mobile super chip" that the company is aiming at truly self-driving cars. Agam Shah of IDG News Service reports that the new Tegra X1 is like a supercomputer-in-a-car, with processing power to help recognition of objects, signs, images and lanes, and also aid cars in parking themselves.
General Motors is coming out with a range of new OnStar services that use the 4G LTE connectivity it's building into cars. At CES, it touted new predictive maintenance alerts, starting simple with battery, starter motor and fuel pump, reports PC World's Melissa Riofrio, but it will expand coverage over time, the automaker said. Moving on to slightly more "Big Brother" technology, it's linking up with the Progressive insurance company to offer a smart driver assessment program that evaluates driver habits over 90 days. And finally, the AtYourService program helps connect drivers to various partner restaurants, parking locations, and coupon services.
What about the most-talked-about category of consumer device in the past year, wearables? More than 500 vendors are showing off some kind of wearable computing gear at CES, writes Computerworld's Matt Hamblen, whether that means chips embedded in clothing or smartwatches and smart glasses. Even if only 10 percent of those companies make it, that's 50 potentially healthy firms in the space.
One wearable prototype on display is a pair of smart glasses from Osterhout Design Group (ODG). They feature the classic Wayfarer sunglasses design and weigh in at 125 grams. That's heavier than most shades, writes Tim Hornyak, but that's the cost of providing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, stereoscopic HD displays, accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes, high-speed autofocus camera, stereo audio, as well as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS connectivity. ODG suggests uses like watching 3D movies in bright sunlight, playing interactive 3D games and navigating with heads-up directions while keeping one's hands free.
In tech news beyond CES, Apple is the target of a lawsuit by two Florida men who allege that it misrepresents the amount of storage available to owners of 16GB iPhones and iPads, since about 20 percent of the available space is taken up by the operating system and pre-installed apps. They want the judge to designate the suit a class action, reports Computerworld's Gregg Keizer. The suit also complains that Apple then pushes consumers to pay for iCloud premium plans when they run out of space, offering to "sell that capacity in a desperate moment, e.g., when a consumer is trying to record or take photos at a child or grandchild's recital, basketball game or wedding," the lawsuit reads.
With another year rife with huge credit-card data breaches just behind us, it now appears that U.S. banks aren't planning to take advantage of the full security available in the next generation of payment cards due to replace the magnetic stripe cards used by most consumers in the country. The Wall Street Journal reports that so-called "chip-and-PIN" cards used elsewhere in the world will be more like chip-and-signature cards in the U.S. -- because banks don't want to inconvenience consumers by making them remember a four-digit code. While the cards would be more secure if they required the codes, the chip technology makes stolen card data less useful to counterfeiters, the Journal says. One company that will use full-on chip-and-PIN in its store-issued cards is retailer Target, badly burned in one of the highest profile, and biggest, thefts of credit card data.
China's first online-only bank has started pilot operations, the Financial Times reports, saying the move reflects "the government's hope that a new crop of privately owned lenders will expand access to finance for small-scale borrowers." WeBank is part of a joint venture led by Tencent holdings, known for the popular WeChat messaging and social networking app. The FT says that Tencent plans to exploit its "troves of user information to evaluate credit risk of small borrowers."
Ride-hailing app Uber has apparently responded to rape charges against its drivers in two U.S. cities by adding a safety checklist, the Chicago Sun Times writes. So far the checklist is available to users only in Boston and Chicago. The app now displays a driver photo and license plate number and a message "urges customers to verify that the photo and license plate match their driver," the Sun-Times reports.
Check out video of Parrot's new in-car system: Nick Barber is at CES and shows how it integrates your smartphone with your car's infotainment system.
One last thing:
One last thing: What's worse than having your files held for ransom by cybercriminals? When it happens to your mom. Read Alina Simone's tale of paying ransom in bitcoin to save her mother's data.