Amazon to Stop Selling Nest

Nest DoorbellThese “product wars” are getting silly!

Amazon to stop sales of all Nest products as battle with Google intensifies

AppleInsider – By: – “Citing sources familiar with the matter, Business Insider reports Amazon informed Nest in a conference call late last year that it would not sell the firm’s newest products, which includes devices like the Nest Cam IQ and forthcoming Hello video-enabled doorbell.

Amazon said the decision came ‘from the top’ and had nothing to do with Nest’s product quality, leading some Nest employees to speculate it was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who made the call, the report said.

In response, Nest has resolved to discontinue dealings with Amazon, meaning currently available items like the Nest Security Camera and third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat will disappear from Amazon’s digital shelves once existing stock runs dry. A source said Nest wants to present customers its entire lineup or nothing at all, the report said.

The move comes as Amazon looks to leverage its prominent market position to push into the connected home space. Riding on a wave of success from its Alexa virtual assistant ecosystem, the e-commerce titan recently purchased connected doorbell and security device manufacturer Ring.

Ring’s Video Doorbell and outdoor Floodlight Cam both compete against products from Nest, though Amazon’s decision does not smack of anticompetitive behavior. The online retailer currently sells a number of similar devices from various manufacturers.

It is Amazon’s ongoing battle with Google that might be to blame. Google this month announced plans to absorb Nest into its Google Home division, a strategy it says will ‘supercharge’ Nest’s mission to create a more ‘thoughtful’ home.

‘By working together, we’ll continue to combine hardware, software and services to create a home that’s safer, friendlier to the environment, smarter and even helps you save money — built with Google’s artificial intelligence and the Assistant at the core,’ Google SVP of Hardware Rick Osterloh said in a blog post.

Amazon’s Alexa and Echo series of speakers is challenged by Google Assistant and Google Home, which multiplied last year with the release of Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.

In line with its recent decision to ban new Nest products from its site, Amazon does not carry Google’s Home line, Chromecast hardware or Pixel smartphone. Likewise, Google in December blocked YouTube compatibility with Amazon’s FireTV platform and Echo Show device.

Amazon is in a precarious position as it both courts and competes with major tech companies. The firm had a similar tiff with Apple.

In 2015, Amazon yanked Apple TV from availability, saying the device was removed because it did not ‘interact well’ with Amazon Prime Video. At the time, the company refused to develop a Prime Video channel for Apple TV, assumedly due to Apple’s mandated 30 percent cut of content sales.

Most recently, however, Amazon reinstated sales of Apple TV in December and released a Prime Video app for tvOS.

Today’s report suggests the same thawing of relations could happen with Google, as Amazon plans to reboot Chromecast sales in the near future. Whether the olive branch is enough to get YouTube working on FireTV — and ultimately Nest products back on Amazon shelves — remains to be seen.”

Rumor: New Macbook Air?

This is a “maybe”… but it would be a smart upgrade.

Apple is reportedly planning to release a cheaper MacBook Air later this year

The Verge – By: Andrew Liptak – “Apple hasn’t done much with its ultra-thin MacBook Air in recent years, opting to slim down some of its other offerings instead. But the computer is reasonably popular, and according to Apple analyst KGI Securities (via 9to5Mac), the company is reportedly planning to release a cheaper model at some point in the second quarter of 2018.

According to 9to5Mac, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects that Apple will release a 13-inch MacBook Air ‘with a lower price tag,’ later this year, and that the lower price could help boost Apple’s laptop sales.

While the line celebrates its tenth year in 2018, the line has largely only received incremental updates, the last of which came last summer, when Apple updated it with a faster 1.8GHz Intel processor. Apple currently sells the MacBook Air for $999.

The report also says that Apple will likely refresh its AirPods, and that the HomePod has been met with ‘mediocre’ demand.”

Amazon Pays a Billion for Ring

Ring Video DoorbellI saw Ring debut on “Shark Tank” – Boy! They really missed this one! Fox Business Channel reports that Amazon will pay one BILLION for the company!

Amazon is buying smart doorbell maker Ring

TechCrunch – By: Greg Kumparak – “With Nest’s first smart video doorbell right around the corner, Amazon is busy buying up the competition.

After acquiring Blink just two months ago, Amazon is now acquiring Ring, makers of the self-titled Ring doorbell (plus a bunch of other security gear, like solar security cameras, floodlight cams and an in-home alarm system).

GeekWire broke the rumor this afternoon, and we’ve just received independent confirmation.

Details on the deal are still pretty light; the financial terms of the deal, for example, haven’t trickled out just yet. Update: Reuters is reporting, via tweet, that the sale price was more than $1 billion. The company had raised around $209 million to date, according to Crunchbase.

This acquisition makes plenty of sense. Amazon has already built a few connected cameras of its own — but hardware is, as they say, hard, and that’s not going to change. With nearly a dozen solid products to its name, the Ring team has proven themselves more than capable of building hardware (and I’m sure its array of patents doesn’t hurt, either.) With Amazon, Google, Apple et al. all duking it out for physical space in and around your home, someone was going to make a big offer — and I’d be surprised if Amazon was the only bidder in the mix. Plus, who on earth is responsible for more doorbell presses than Amazon?

(Fun bit of trivia: Ring debuted to the world on Shark Tank back in 2013, then known as ‘DoorBot.’ They wanted $700,000 for 10 percent of the company, but no one took the deal.)

Google Assistant Will Identify Languages

Google Home MiniThis is pretty cool!

Google Assistant will soon detect what language you’re speaking in

The Verge – By: Jacob Kastrenakes – “Google Assistant is getting some important language upgrades this year. By the end of 2018, Google says it’ll be able to understand and speak 30 languages, enough to cover 95 percent of Android users. And sometime later this year, the Assistant won’t be limited to speaking one language at a time. It’ll automatically detect your language each time you speak and respond in kind. So if you’re multilingual, you’ll no longer have to pick only a single language to use with the Assistant.

The Assistant launched widely this time last year, but it was only available in one language — English — at the time. It now supports eight languages — French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese — so Google has 22 more to add over the next 10 months. Nick Fox, product lead for Assistant, says the company doesn’t plan to stop at 30. But 30 offers enough coverage that the team feels comfortable saying Assistant has ‘really gone global at that point.’

Among the new languages will be Danish, Dutch, Hindi, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai. They’ll be added ‘in the next few months.’

Being able to switch between languages on the fly is a big improvement, too. Previously, you had to completely change Android’s language settings in order to change what language the Assistant was in, which essentially meant you were stuck speaking only one language since switching was a hassle. One thing the Assistant still can’t do, though, is decipher multiple languages in the same sentence; it’s still one language at a time. The multilingual feature will be limited to English, French, and German at launch but is supposed to expand to more languages ‘over time.’

Expanding to 30 languages also helps the Assistant catch up to the one area it really lagged behind Siri. Apple’s voice assistant currently supports 20 languages, several of which are in a number of different dialects (there are nine for English, for example). Siri also works in Cantonese and Mandarin, major languages Google has yet to add.

In addition to the new language features, Google is also announcing the launch of routines and some new integrations for Assistant. It’s going to begin working with Android hardware manufacturers to integrate Assistant with their devices, so it’ll be able to launch specific camera features, for instance. Google’s going to start working with phone carriers so that the Assistant can be used to check your current data usage and other plan details.”

Dropbox Has an IPO!

DropboxThis actually makes me want to get in on the Stock Market! I am a big Dropbox fan!

The Dropbox IPO filing is here

TechCrunch – By: Katie Roof – “It’s official, the Dropbox IPO filing is here.

Going public is a huge milestone for Dropbox and has been one of the most anticipated tech IPOs for several years now. The cloud storage company has been around since 2007 and has raised more than $600 million in funding.

We knew that it had already filed confidentially, but the company has now unveiled its filing, meaning the actual IPO is likely very soon, probably late March.

The company says it will be targeting a $500 million fundraise, but this number is usually just a placeholder.

The filing shows that Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenue last year. This compares to $845 million in revenue the year before and $604 million for 2015.

The company is not yet profitable, having lost nearly $112 million last year. This shows significantly improved margins when compared to losses of $210 million for 2016 and $326 million for 2015.

Dropbox has been cash flow positive since 2016.

Dropbox, which has a freemium model, says it has 11 million paying users, just a small fraction of the more than 500 million registered users who use its cloud services for free.

Its average revenue per paying user is $111.91.

The big question is whether the company will achieve the $10 billion valuation it raised in the private markets. Part of its success will be measured relative to Box, which went public in 2015 and will be considered a comparable.

The prospectus warns of the competitive landscape.

‘The market for content collaboration platforms is competitive and rapidly changing. Certain features of our platform compete in the cloud storage market with products offered by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, and in the content collaboration market with products offered by Atlassian, Google, and Microsoft. We compete with Box on a more limited basis in the cloud storage market for deployments by large enterprises.’

Box CEO Aaron Levie chatted with us on our ‘Equity’ podcast, sharing his immediate reaction to competitor Dropbox’s filing.

With the filing we see that the largest shareholder is Sequoia Capital, which owned 23.2 percent of the overall shares outstanding. This is a large stake. Accel owned 5 percent overall.

Founder and CEO Drew Houston owned 25.3 percent of the company.

The company is listing on the Nasdaq, under the ticker ‘DBX.’

Others vying to go public soon will keep an eye on the performance of Dropbox. Investors place weight on the ‘IPO window,’ and view recent debuts as a test for appetite for tech listings.

Spotify is gearing up to go public around the same time, but will be shunning the traditional IPO process by listing without doing a fundraise.”

Intel and AMD Face Lawsuits!

LawsuitsUh oh! The chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak!

First Intel, now AMD also faces multiple class-action suits over Spectre attacks

ZDNet – By: Liam Tung – “Intel rival AMD is also facing a number of class-action lawsuits over how it’s responded to the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws.

As The Register reports, four class-action complaints have been filed against the chip maker seeking damages on behalf of customers and investors.

The suits follow a warning from AMD in late January that warned investors that it is ‘also subject to claims related to the recently disclosed side-channel exploits, such as Spectre and Meltdown, and may face claims or litigation for future vulnerabilities’.

Intel revealed last week that it now faced 32 class-action lawsuits over its handling of the Meltdown and Spectre issues and three additional lawsuits over alleged insider trading.

AMD chips aren’t affected by the Meltdown attack but, like Arm and Intel, its processors have the same design flaws in its use of speculative execution that enable the Spectre attacks.

Three of the four cases represent customers who’d bought AMD processors. The complaints note that AMD continued to market its processors as high-performance chips despite knowing that this level of performance was unattainable without exposing users to the Spectre attack, and that mitigations would slow down performance.

‘Plaintiff and members of the Class would not have purchased or leased — or would have paid substantially less for — AMD processors (or devices containing AMD processors) had they known of the Spectre defect and the reduction in processing performance associated with efforts necessary to mitigate the substantial security risks presented by the Spectre defect,’ reads one complaint.

The shareholder complaint seeks damages on behalf of anyone who bought AMD shares in the year leading to January 11, 2018, the date AMD admitted its processors were vulnerable to both variants of the Spectre attacks and its share price fell by 0.99 percent. Following the first media reports of the flaws AMD suggested it wasn’t vulnerable at all.

Another of the customer complaints calls out AMD’s marketing for the high-performance Rizen Threadripper 1950X and 1920 processors which were launched in July and August 2017.

AMD said they delivered ‘uncompromising performance’. Google’s Project Zero researcher Jan Horn is said to have told AMD about the flaws in early June 2017.

‘Despite its knowledge of the Spectre Defect, AMD continued to sell its processors to unknowing customers at prices much higher than what customers would have paid had they known about the Spectre Defect and its threat to critical security features as well as on the processing speeds of the devices they purchased,’ the complaint reads.

Two of the law firms have also filed class-action lawsuits against Intel, similarly alleging it is profiting from products that it knows are defective and don’t perform as advertised.”

Intel to Release Firmware to Combat Spectre

Spectre and MeltdownAt least they are addressing it! Kudos to them!

Intel’s new Spectre fix: Skylake, Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake chips get stable microcode

ZDNet – By: Liam Tung – “Customers running machines with newer Intel chips can expect to receive stable firmware updates for the Spectre CPU attack Variant 2 soon.

Intel says it has given PC makers a new set of microcode updates that mitigate the branch target injection Spectre attack on its 6th, 7th, and 8th generation Intel Core chips.

It also has new updates for its latest Core X-Series and Intel Xeon Scalable and Xeon D processors for datacenters.

‘We have now released production microcode updates to our OEM customers and partners for Kaby Lake- and Coffee Lake-based platforms, plus additional Skylake-based platforms,’ Intel vice president Navin Shenoy said on Tuesday.

The updates signal that Intel is making progress on reissuing stable microcode mitigations for the Spectre attack revealed by Google on January 3.

Intel on January 22 said it had identified the root cause of unexpected reboots on updated Broadwell and Haswell chips and advised PC makers to stop deploying its mitigations for the Variant 2 attack.

It initially said the reboots were only occurring on Broadwell and Haswell processors but later admitted its patch was also causing stability issues on Skylake and Kaby Lake chips.

Dell, HP, and Lenovo paused their respective BIOS updates while Intel worked on stable fixes. Microsoft also released an out-of-band patch to disable Intel’s fix on systems it had been installed on.

Earlier this month Intel released new microcode for several Skylake chips but didn’t disclose the status of Broadwell and Haswell chips.

It now has updated its guidance with the current status of microcode updates for various generations of chips, which now indicates that fixes for Broadwell, Haswell, Sandy Bridge and some Ivy Bridge chips have reached beta. It also has production updates available for Apollo Lake and Cherry View and Bay Trail chips.

The chip giant last week revealed it is facing 32 class action lawsuits over the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, and additional lawsuits over alleged insider trading.

Intel last week published a new whitepaper explaining how Google’s software-based fix for Variant 2 called Retpoline works. The search company found Retpoline doesn’t cause the performance overhead that Intel’s earlier mitigations did.

‘There are a number of possible mitigation techniques for the branch target injection Spectre variant 2 exploit. The Retpoline mitigation technique presented in this document is resistant to exploitation and has attractive performance properties compared to other mitigations,’ Intel notes in the paper.”

A 30TB Solid State Drive!

Samsung SSDWow! 30 TB on an SSD in your computer! That is like having a whole datacenter at your fingertips!

Samsung unveils world’s largest SSD with whopping 30TB of storage

The Verge – By: James Vincent – “Samsung has unveiled the world’s largest solid state drive — an unassuming-looking bit of kit that boasts a whopping 30.72 terabytes of storage. It’s the most storage ever crammed into the 2.5-inch form factor, and is designed for enterprise customers looking to move away from the mechanical parts of your standard disk-based hard drive.

The PM1643 is built from 32 sticks of 1TB NAND flash packages, each of which contains 16 layers of 512Gb V-NAND chips. That’s enough space to hold 5,700 HD movies or roughly 500 days of non-stop video, and offers twice the capacity of the former largest SSD — a 16 terabyte drive also released by Samsung back in March 2016. (Seagate has made a bigger 60 terabyte SSD, but that was in the more spacious 3.5-inch form factor, and was ‘demonstration technology’ that doesn’t seem to have ever gone on sale.)

The new Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drive offers impressive sequential read and write speeds of up to 2,100MB/s and 1,700 MB/s. That’s about three times as fast as the average SATA SSD you’d find in a consumer desktop or laptop, like Samsung’s own SSD 850 EVO. And the drive is robust too, with Samsung offering a five-year warranty that’s good for one full drive write per day.

When exactly the PM1643 will go on sale and for how much isn’t known, but Samsung says now it’s got this form factor settled it’ll expand its range of SAS SSDs later this year, with 16.36TB, 7.68TB, 3.84TB, 1.92TB, 960GB, and 800GB versions to come. As Samsung executive VP of memory sales Jaesoo Han said in a press statement, the company will ‘continue to move aggressively in meeting the shifting demand toward SSDs over 10TB.’

Don’t expect to see 30TB SSDs turning up in laptops or desktop PCs anytime soon of course. But new biggest-ever storage components like this are always trailblazers, and create downward pressure on prices in the consumer market. Now if only we could get a terabyte’s worth of storage in our phones.”

Microsoft Edge Can Be Pwned!

Edge vs. ChromeAnother reason I am sticking with Chrome!

Windows 10 security: Google exposes how malicious sites can exploit Microsoft Edge

ZDNet – By: Liam Tung – “Google’s Project Zero team has published details of an unfixed bypass for an important exploit-mitigation technique in Edge.

The mitigation, Arbitrary Code Guard (ACG), arrived in the Windows 10 Creators Update to help thwart web attacks that attempt to load malicious code into memory. The defense ensures that only properly signed code can be mapped into memory.

However, as Microsoft explains, Just-in-Time (JIT) compilers used in modern web browsers create a problem for ACG. JIT compilers transform JavaScript into native code, some of which is unsigned and runs in a content process.

To ensure JIT compilers work with ACG enabled, Microsoft put Edge’s JIT compiling in a separate process that runs in its own isolated sandbox. Microsoft said this move was ‘a non-trivial engineering task’.

‘The JIT process is responsible for compiling JavaScript to native code and mapping it into the requesting content process. In this way, the content process itself is never allowed to directly map or modify its own JIT code pages,’ Microsoft says.

Google’s Project Zero found an issue is created by the way the JIT process writes executable data into the content process.

Its ‘ACG bypass using UnmapViewofFile’ allows a compromised content process to predict which address a JIT process is going to call VirtualAllocEx() next, and for the content process to ‘allocate a writable memory region on the same address JIT server is going to write and write an soon-to-be-executable payload there’.

Google reported the medium-severity issue to Microsoft in mid-November and published details of the bypass yesterday as it had passed its 90-day deadline.

Microsoft confirmed the ACG bypass in a response to Google at some point to February’s Patch Tuesday. It appeared to have been aiming to fix the issue by then but found it to be ‘more complex’ than initially thought. It’s now targeting Patch Tuesday in March for a fix.

‘The fix is more complex than initially anticipated, and it is very likely that we will not be able to meet the February release deadline due to these memory management issues,’ Microsoft said.

‘The team IS positive that this will be ready to ship on March 13, however this is beyond the 90-day SLA and 14-day grace period to align with Update Tuesdays.'”

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