As demand for college graduates with technical degrees soars, new majors are emerging that are hybrids of computer science, information systems and computer engineering.
Penn State University, for example, created the College of Information Science and Technology a decade ago as an interdisciplinary program that combines engineering and business courses. The college offers three bachelor's degrees: a B.S. and a B.A. in Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and a B.S. in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA).
Demand for students who complete the more rigorous B.S. degrees is high.
"Around 78% of last year's graduates were placed in May 2012," says Mary Beth Rosson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at Penn State's College of Information Science and Technology. "Starting salaries for IST majors averaged $60,500 and $59,200 for SRA majors. The placement rate for students who did the dual major - IST and SRA, which is easy to do - was 91.6%, definitely giving them a high value. Around 40% of our students did get a signing bonus."
Rosson sees less demand for the B.A. program both from students and recruiters.
"It's an experimental program. We have had it for a few years, but we haven't gotten much uptake on it," Rosson says. "We designed it to be flexible, so you could double major in biology or history and IST. But it's been difficult to get it going."
Recruiting for Penn State's IST grads is strong this year, with 50 companies trekking out to the main University Park campus for interviews. Altogether, Penn State has about 800 undergraduates pursuing IST and SRA degrees.
"Our top companies in terms of numbers of hires are Price Waterhouse Coopers, Delloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One, Cognizant, Freddie Mac and Northrup Grumman," Rosson says. "A lot of our students go into consulting type of positions. Our students are very business savvy because they have two or three internships."
Rosson says techie teens who love math, algorithms and mastering computer processes should focus on computer science, while those who like working with people should consider a major like information sciences and technology.
"If you want to work with computing technology in the context of people and problems, that's why you want to come here," Rosson says. "Our programs emphasize the human, social and cultural context of computing....Recruiters love our students because they are ready to work. They're problem solvers, they're good in groups, and they have good communications skills."
Seagate today announced upgrades to its 2.5-in. laptop hybrid drives and released its first 3.5-in. desktop hybrid drive.
Hybrid drives combine a relatively small amount of NAND flash with traditional spinning disks along with firmware that determines where data resides on the disk based on application performance requirements.
Because the hybrid drives use spinning disk, they can provide terabyte-plus capacities, but because of the NAND flash, they can offer performance similar to solid-state drives (SSDs) with price points approaching traditional hard disk drives.
As part of today's release, Seagate also announced it will no longer sell its hybrid drives under the Momentus XT name and will now use the brand SSHD (solid-state hybrid drives) to better reflect the technology.
Seagate's SSHD hybrid drive family.
The drives represent Seagate's third generation of 2.5-in. hybrid drives. The release includes a new version of its standard laptop hybrid drive and 7mm-high "Thin" SSHD, designed to fit smaller laptops, such as ultrathin notebooks.
One notable change to the 2.5-in. line is that Seagate is now using 5400 rpm spinning disk, versus the 7200 rpm spindles of its previous generation drives. But, even with the slower spindle speeds, the new Seagate Laptop and Laptop Thin SSHDs boast performance that's as much as 40% faster than previous generations, and can add as much as 30% to total system performance -- regardless of the processor inside the system, according to David Burks, Seagate's director of global marketing.
To boost performance in the slower spindle speed drives, Seagate deployed a new NAND flash subsystem, using upgraded write caching algorithms that automatically write all high-priority data directly to flash. In past generations, all data was initially written to spinning disk and then migrated to flash as performance metrics required, Burks said.
"[The firmware] constantly monitors every block of data and evaluates it as to whether it's boot information or data frequently used by the operating system or an application. At the same time, we also evaluate the data based on what its impact is on system performance if it's stored on hard disks versus the SSD portion of the drive," Burks said.
For example, Burks said, if the data consists of long, sequential blocks, there is no benefit in storing it on the NAND flash, whereas random data consisting of short -- 4KB and 8KB -- blocks can benefit from the low search latency of the solid-state memory.
The new Seagate Laptop and Laptop Thin SSHDs come with 8GB of NAND flash. The drives come in single-platter 500GB or dual-platter 1TB capacities.
Burks said Seagate is working with Intel, which created the specifications for ultrabooks, in order to get their hybrid drives into more models of the ultrathin laptops. Currently, some ultrabooks contain separate NAND flash and hard disk drives in order to achieve Intel's low threshholds for fast boot-up and data sleep-to-active-mode times.
Seagate's new 3.5-in. desktop SSHD
Seagate's first desktop hybrid drives will come in 1TB and 2TB capacities and will use a 7200rpm spindle speed. Other than size, everything else about the Desktop SSHD line is the same as Seagate's notebook SSHDs.
"What we're trying to do here is simplify the number of platforms we have to engineer and support," Burks said.
As with the 2.5-in laptop drives, the new Desktop SSHD line will use Seagate's Adaptive Memory software to identify and store only the most critical data a system needs to go fast. The Desktop SSHD serves up high performance without a high price tag.
Seagate's 2.5-in. laptops will mainly be sold to system manufacturers, with some sales coming from channel distributors. In contrast, the 3.5-in. Desktop SSHDs will be sold exclusively through channel distribution partners, Burks said.
Desktop system manufacturers like to see a new technology proved out in the market before incorporating the technology into their computers, an issue that affected Segate's first and second-generation hybrid drives, Burks said.
"We expect a similar reaction with our desktop hybrid drives, and because we'll be the only ones with them for at least a year, we believe the channel is probably the best venue for them, and a lot of healthy business exists in channel for desktops," Burks said.
"Our customers want the highest storage capacity with the ability to access their data easily and quickly," Fredrik Hamberger, vice president of Hewlett-Packard's consumer PC business, said in a statement. "Integrating Seagate's SSHD solution into our rapidly growing portfolio of industry-leading PCs will offer our customers a superior experience while running multiple applications."
Without releasing pricing, Burks said the SSHDs would carry a $15 to $20 price premium over standard hard drives of similar capacity. For some idea of pricing, Seagate's second generation Momentus XT hybrid drive with 750GB of capacity retailed for $245.
If we're not there yet, we are quickly approaching the Samsung Era in handheld electronics.
The Korean giant sells more mobile phones, and more smartphones, than any other company. It competes in all markets, from the high-end down, and is pouring its record profits into expansion and advertising. Samsung is now among the most valuable brands on the planet.
Samsung rose to prominence by out-grinding rivals in commodity markets, and it approaches phones and tablets the same way, by quickly pumping out handsets with incremental tweaks and improvements.
The question now is whether Samsung can innovate, if it can deliver the kind of totally new devices that rival like Apple has.
There is no question about Samsung's ability to compete in many markets at the same time. Last week the company announced a new Galaxy Note tablet with an 8-inch display, and reports say its next Note smartphone will have a 6.4-inch screen.
This means that Samsung's smartphones and tablets will probably soon come in one-inch intervals at every size from 4 to 11.6 inches. These are sold at various specs for different markets and price points, meaning the company has many dozens of devices in play around the world.
"They are literally competing in all segments at all times, even competing with Apple before a product comes out," said Andrew Rassweiler, an analyst at IHS iSuppli. "Samsung has a horse in every race."
And Samsung's breadth has not come at the cost of its thoroughbreds. Its flagship Galaxy S line is the first to truly challenge the iPhone for dominance in high-end smartphones. It also revealed last week that it will soon unveil the Galaxy S IV, just 10 months after the S III was launched.
The company is wildly profitable and successful. Recent data show that Samsung is easily the world's dominant phone maker by units shipped and the global leader in smartphones. If you see a random person with an Android device, chances are it is a Samsung.
The company, however, has built this success directly on its history as a component maker, where it rose to prominence the same way. As Samsung Electronics was building momentum in the global mobile phone industry in 2004, then-CEO Jong-yong Yun expressed his feeling toward the devices in an interview:
"Speed is the key to all perishable commodities from sashimi to mobile phones. Even expensive fish becomes cheap in a day or two."
For Samsung, phones are not the "revolutionary product" that Apple promised when it launched the first iPhone. The company does not aim, as Steve Jobs once said of Apple, to "make our hearts sing."
Globally and in this article, "Samsung" refers to Samsung Electronics, the flagship firm of the Samsung Group, a massive chaebol, or Korean conglomerate, that runs everything from fashion brands to health care.
The group's electronics unit was originally founded in 1969 to make appliances like refrigerators and TVs, and was eventually merged with its semiconductor business. DRAM is where Samsung had its first real international success -- it started years behind rivals in the U.S. and Japan, but steadily outworked them, gaining ground with each chip generation until it took the technology lead in the early 1990s.
Long-time Samsung watchers say this intense focus on small, steady technical improvements is still the company's core approach.
"Samsung never comes up with any new products. It improves it and comes up with the next generation of product -- much better and much cheaper, and much faster," said Sea-Jin Chang, a professor of business policy at the National University of Singapore, who wrote a book about the company's emergence over now-struggling Sony.
"Samsung's success comes from this DRAM experience, because it was the first business they actually made any money in," he said.
The company's consumer electronics are now its largest source of profit. But it is still the world's dominant producer of components like NAND flash memory and DRAM, LCD screens and mobile processors.
Samsung still approaches both businesses the same way, Chang said. The "digital sashimi" philosophy holds across all of its product lines.
As with the semiconductors used in memory and screens, which gradually increase in complexity with each generation, the current wave of smartphones and tablets can be seen as a steady progression. Each new model gets thinner, with better screens and faster processors, plus hardware add-ons such as NFC (near field communication) chips, but the overall concept doesn't change.
"Samsung is like the Japanese companies when they were at the their peak, pumping out tech products for cheaper and cheaper," said Hiroyuki Shimizu, an analyst at Gartner.
Shimizu said one way out of this spiral is software, but Samsung has had little success in developing its own. The company has largely abandoned its Bada OS, first announced in 2010, and is almost entirely dependent on Android for core content like maps, apps and video.
"Samsung emphasizes speed and execution. But this is contradictory to creativity. If you want speed and execution, you don't expect to create something new," said Chang. "Software is more individual and requires out-of-box thinking."
Still, Samsung has opened up new segments of the smartphone market.
While it has yet to create an entirely new type of device, its ready supply of components makes it easier to gamble on new slices of the market. When it launched the original Galaxy Note in 2011, a phone with an oversized 5.3-inch screen, the device's marketing phrase was "Phone? Tablet? Its Galaxy Note!"
Samsung later said it sold 10 million units of the "phablet" in nine months, creating a new sub-category, and is now gearing up for its third iteration of the device. A host of rival companies, including Korean competitor LG, Asus and Huawei, have since announced their own oversized phones, and IHS iSuppli now estimates that 60 million phones with screens 5 inches and larger will ship this year.
"It's a shotgun approach," said Rassweiler of IHS. "The best way to test it is to build it and see if they come."
Samsung's ability to make most core hardware components in-house, and its deep pockets, mean it can gamble on devices like the Note. They also give it a massive advantage over competitors.
When you make calls or flick the screen of an iPhone, the bits produced take a virtual tour around the tech world -- the screen may come from Sharp's factories in central Japan, the processor from Samsung's plant in Texas and the assembly completed at the massive Foxconn complexes in China.
In Samsung products, teardowns show that over 80 percent of components are made by the company itself. Consumers may be not able to tell the difference in a finished product, but this greatly reduces the time it takes to get a product to market.
"If you really look at it as who can compete with Samsung in terms of vertical integration right now, the answer is nobody. Nobody's even close," said Rassweiler. "No one can hold a candle to them in terms of in-house ability."
Some say that Samsung's status as a top component supplier can give its in-house products unfair advantages, such as first crack at new items in short supply. The company, which famously counts even bitter rivals like Apple among customers, maintains it is client neutral.
"Components like OLED displays have been monopolized by Samsung Mobile in the past," said Won Seo, an analyst at Korea Investment and Securities. "But even though there is some conflict in interest between its component business and handset business, Samsung so far has managed this quite well, with independent businesses."
A Samsung spokesman emphasized that the company maintains strict firewalls between its component and product businesses, and that the two operate completely separately.
Samsung's broad range of devices also means that it can compete in widely different markets. In smartphones, the company is strongly competitive in advanced markets in the U.S. and Europe, and is still the dominant vendor in emerging China, where Apple lags rivals.
In nearby brand-conscious Japan, however, Apple is now the market leader, while Samsung has struggled. The Korean company is pouring much of its recent record profit into marketing, however, and was recently named the strongest smartphone brand by researcher Brand Keys.
A few weeks ago, rumors that Apple is working on a "smartwatch" hit the mainstream press. Days later, images of a Samsung smartwatch also emerged.
Whatever the source or accuracy of the watch rumors, the message is the same as it has been for smartphones and tablets. Samsung is now matching Apple product for product, leak for leak -- anything Apple can make, Samsung can too, and probably better.
The question is whether Samsung can give us something new.
Software vendors, academic institutions and government agencies united on Tuesday to tackle European youth unemployment and the IT skills shortage with a new online education platform.
Academy Cube, developed by SAP with the support of the European Commission, will focus on teaching IT skills and matching students with job vacancies. It runs on a learning management system developed by SuccessFactors, a company SAP acquired last year.
"The real issue we have to tackle is not the financial crisis, but youth unemployment," said Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, at a launch event for the platform at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany. In some European Union member states, the youth unemployment rate is almost 60 percent, she said.
Paradoxically, at the same time there are between 700,000 and 1 million job vacancies in Europe, estimated SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe. They can't be filled because young people lack the required IT skills, he said.
"We are creating, with partners, a digital learning system so they can become more skilled," he said. "This is open to all companies."
Initial partners include Microsoft, LinkedIn, Software AG, ThyssenKrupp, Robert Bosch, the German Federal Employment Agency and a number of academic institutions and training providers.
Students who create an account on the platform will see a range of courses and the job opportunities they open up, or they can consult job vacancies and see which courses they need to follow in order to apply. They can follow the courses at their own pace, returning automatically to where they left off the next time they log in.
The website is now live, and a handful of students are already enrolled, Snabe said.
SAP has invested "a few million euros to get the platform up and running," said Snabe. "The costs now will be adding the content and recruiting people."
Those costs will mostly be borne by the companies contributing training or seeking skilled employees: At least at first, the enrollment and training will be free for students. Snabe did not rule out a fee later, but did say the platform's purpose is not to make a profit.
Kroes said she thought the platform could be a win-win proposition for students and industry, a sentiment echoed by Snabe.
"We will never compete on price for an hour of labor here in Europe, but with the right training we might compete on the productivity of an hour of labor," he said.
Although countries such as Greece and Spain have the highest youth unemployment, and German companies are building the platform, the training will be provided in English.
"English gives global access to IT," Snabe said.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter email@example.com.
The space agency reported that Curiosity is now running on its backup computer system, known as its B-side. It's been taken out of its minimal-activity safe mode and ready to return to full operation.
"We are making good progress in the recovery," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Richard Cook in a statement.
"One path of progress is evaluating the A-side with intent to recover it as a backup. Also, we need to go through a series of steps with the B-side, such as informing the computer about the state of the rover -- the position of the arm, the position of the mast, that kind of information," he said.
Jim Erickson, Curiosity's deputy project manager, told Computerworld on Monday that engineers watching the rover's telemetry last week noticed certain applications would terminate mid-sequence. The cause, he noted, appears to be a file corruption.
"We are doing multiple things at the same time," said Erickson. "All we know is the vehicle is telling us that there are multiple errors in the memory. We think it's a hardware error of one type or another but the software did not handle it gracefully. We'd like to have our vehicles withstand hardware trouble and continue to function."
Now that NASA's computer specialists have fully switched the rover over onto its redundant, onboard computer system, they are trying to repair the problem on the main system. They also are attempting to shore up the rover's software so it can better withstand hardware glitches.
At this point, NASA engineers are looking to keep Curiosity running on the B-side system, while repairing the A-side so it can be on stand-by as the new backup.
NASA is on a deadline to get the rover fully functional before April 4, when communication with all Mars rovers and orbiters will end for about a month.
A solar conjunction -- when the Sun will be in the path between the Earth and Mars -- is fast approaching and will keep NASA engineers from sending daily instructions to the rover, or from receiving data and images in return.
NASA will have to send all operational instructions for that month-long span to Curiosity before the solar conjunction begins.
The rover will remain stationary in order to keep it safe while out of contact with Earth.
Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet last August, is on a two-year mission to find out if Mars has ever had an environment that could support life, even in a microbial form.
CRM (customer relationship management) software will be the top priority for additional spending on enterprise applications around the world this year and next, according to newly released data from analyst firm Gartner.
The category edged out ERP (enterprise resource planning), which took up the second-highest spot, with office suites coming in third, according to Gartner.
Organizations are most interested in increasing spending on CRM software now because they are "focused on customer retention/satisfaction and attracting new customers," Gartner said. "Mobile and social technology requirements are also driving CRM spending, with mobile devices forcing change even faster than social networks."
Salesforce.com, the industry's largest independent CRM vendor, recently began retooling its marketing approach around the theme of "customer companies," pushing new technologies meant to help its clients develop a more meaningful ongoing relationship with their customers, rather than merely track ongoing sales leads and run marketing campaigns.
Meanwhile, ERP took the top spot for planned IT spending in Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, driven by an increase in new users as well as the fact that ERP is closely associated with manufacturing, a key part of those areas' economies, Gartner said.
Users in areas with more mature IT environments, including Europe and the U.S., reported they expect either flat or lower IT budgets in 2014, while emerging markets are anticipating significant rises, according to Gartner.
Some 60 percent of North American respondents said they would increase spending on public cloud services and SaaS (software as a service) over the next couple of years, while other regions expressed more preference for single-tenant hosting.
Gartner surveyed 1,523 people in 13 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, the UK and the U.S. Organizations had at least 500 employees and covered a wide variety of industries, excluding government entities.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com
There's a maxim in the data center business that you can't manage what you can't measure, and eBay has come up with the mother of all measurement systems for calculating data center efficiency.
The online auction giant has devised a methodology that looks at the cost of its IT operations in dollars, kilowatt hours and carbon emissions, and ties those costs back to a single performance metric -- in eBay's case, the number of buy and sell transactions its customers make at eBay.com.
The result is a set of data that provides the equivalent of a "miles per gallon" metric for data centers, which organizations can use as a baseline to improve on over time, said Dean Nelson, head of eBay's Global Foundation Services, which manages its data centers worldwide.
"EBay is a single system, it's the sum of a million parts, and we needed a way to measure and convey the efficiency of this system," he said Tuesday at the Green Grid Forum, a data center efficiency conference in Santa Clara, California.
EBay has published the methodology in the hope that other companies will adopt it too, much as the industry rallied around Power Usage Effectiveness, or PUE, as a general metric for data center efficiency.
EBay's system, which it calls the Digital Service Efficiency (DSE) dashboard, goes further than PUE, measuring its IT infrastructure and relating it to the four metrics its top executives care about most -- revenue, performance, environmental impact and cost.
In the process of sharing its method, eBay took the unusual step of releasing a wealth of data about its own data centers. It operated 52,075 physical servers at the end of last year, and generated 740 metric tons of carbon per million users, or 1.6 tons per server.
It set itself a target of reducing its cost per transaction and carbon emissions per transaction by 10 percent this year, and of increasing its transactions per kilowatt hour by the same amount, Nelson said. It shared those figures too -- apart from the costs in dollar terms, which it views as competitive data.
"We're not going to show our detailed profit and loss numbers to everyone; we're devising a metric to show how much we're improving efficiency each year," said Rohini Jain, finance lead for eBay's technology infrastructure.
Still, it's more data than most other companies provide. For instance, Google doesn't disclose how many servers it operates or how much power its data centers consume, though it does publishefficiency data.
It may not be easy for other companies to replicate eBay's methodology. EBay has a straightforward metric against which to measure performance -- the number of transactions its customers make, which it measures in URLs -- while many other firms have more complex business models.
It also helps that it is a technology-driven company willing to invest in energy-saving ideas. It brought its first solar farm online in December, generating 650 kilowatts of power, and it plans to install Bloom fuel cells later this year that will provide up to 6 megawatts of power.
The software, hardware, operations and finance teams at eBay are working together on the project, Nelson said. In one experiment, its software developers adjusted the memory utilization for a pool of servers, allowing it to eliminate 400 machines and save a megawatt of power, he said.
PUE was controversial when it was introduced by the Green Grid Forum six years ago, Nelson said, but it has since been adopted widely.
Like PUE, the "miles per gallon" data isn't necessarily useful in and of itself, but it could give companies a benchmark to measure progress moving forward.
"We averaged 46,000 transactions per kilowatt hour last year. Was that good? We don't know, we have nothing to baseline it against," Nelson said.
This year, eBay -- and everyone else -- will be able to see how it's doing.
James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Google on Tuesday pushed out an update for its Maps iPhone app designed to make it easier for users to search for local businesses and contacts in their address book.
The new version features several new search functions. With people, for example, the app now lets users search for individuals by name to see where they are located, provided that the addresses for users' Google Contacts on file are up-to-date.
The app also includes a way to search for local places by category such as restaurants, bars, cafés and gas stations. After a user taps the search box, a horizontal menu appears that the user can expand to display nearby places of the category they choose.
After a business is selected, a tab at the bottom of the screen displays Zagat ratings and Google user reviews, which can be expanded to provide more information including driving directions, photos and street-view images.
Visually, the new nearby search's interface bears some resemblance to Facebook's mobile Nearby search tool, which displays local businesses to users based on friends' interaction with those places.
Google Maps users can also now choose between kilometers and miles for their preferred distance units.
The update adds further polish to an app that many iPhone users have already gravitated toward after Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to apologize for glitches seen in Apple's native Maps app that began shipping with iOS 6 last September.
Google's mapping application was dropped with that version of iOS, but it was made available again in Apple's App Store in December following Apple's stumbles with its own application.
The free update is available now in Apple's iTunes store in 29 languages including English, Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Hebrew.
Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is email@example.com
The Computer History Museum on Monday announced its Class of 2013 includes Ed Catmull, a computer scientist and Pixar co-founder, along with two PC pioneers: Harry Huskey and Robert W. Taylor.
These accomplished technology industry professionals will be inducted into the museum's Hall of Fellows on April 27 in Mountain View. While their names might not be household ones, they join a roster of technology bigwigs from Web creator Tim Berners-Lee to Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe.
Catmull not only started up Pixar, along with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Alvy Ray Smith, but is currently president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. The museum officially recognizes Catmull for: "His pioneering work in computer graphics, animation and filmmaking." Catmull is one of the architects of the RenderMan rendering software, which has been used in 44 of the last 47 films nominated for an Academy Award in the Visual Effects category, according to the museum. Catmull has received five Academy Awards.
Huskey earned his entry into the Hall of Fellows "for his seminal work on early and important computing systems, and a lifetime of service to computer education." Huskey's claims to fame include working on the famed ENIAC computer, working alongside computer industry legend Alan Turing, and as a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, developing the G15, called by some the first true personal computer.
The third new fellow, Taylor, enters the Hall of Fellows "For his leadership in the development of computer networking, online information and communications systems, and modern personal computing."
His career included working closely with Doug Engelbart ("father of the computer mouse"), leading the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and founding the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where Ethernet, the laser printer and other important network and computer technologies arose.
"The Fellows program recognizes the leading figures of the information age -- men and women who have shaped the computing revolution and changed the world forever," said John Hollar, museum president and CEO. "Catmull, Huskey and Taylor are a tremendously distinguished group, and we are honored to celebrate their work and achievements."
Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well on Twitter and Google +.
A new online service lets users combine social networking with App Store shopping as they peruse the latest offerings for their Phone and iPad. Applr launched this week, the creation of developer Michael Johnston, who has been working on the project since 2010.
After users register for an account, they're asked to list their most-recommended apps. They can also find other users to "follow"--much like Twitter or Facebook--in order to receive app-buying recommendation from like-minded indviduals. The service also seeks access to your Apple ID to scope out your full range of purchased apps, but giving that permission is not a requirement to use the service.
Johnston told Macworld that Applr does not store a user's Apple ID password and can't make purchases on their behalf. Allowing that access, he said, makes Applr work more seamlessly--making it easier for users to rate apps they see listed or recommended on the site--but using Applr without Apple ID permissions "works almost as well."
The site lists the most popular apps at the top of its home page, and at first glance it doesn't appear all that different from the "Top Selling" list in the App Store itself--offerings like Google Maps, Evernote, YouTube, and Dropbox top Applr's popularity list. Johnston said Applr stands apart because users can compare apps by prices, the devices the software runs on, and the intensity of for-and-against opinions about particular offerings.
Johnston said a user's ability to follow other users should shape the kind of recommendations they receive.
"You can follow people you know, trust, and have similar interests with in order to get recommendations that are relevant to you," he said. "Because Applr operates on the follow model, users tailor the recommendations they see to the apps they're personally interested in, making it unique for every person."
Applr currently exists only as an online service; Johnston said he "absolutely" hopes to make it available as a native iOS app in the future. There is no cost to use the service.
Nokia plans to roll out in the first quarter of this year its Nokia Music+, a new subscription-based upgrade to its free-to-stream mobile music service.
The paid service will offer unlimited downloads of sets of tunes or "Mixes" for offline playback, and unlimited track skips, Nokia said on Sunday.
Nokia started offering last September in the U.S. its Nokia Music, a free music streaming service. The service will continue to be available free of charge, with no advertisements, registration or subscription to Nokia Lumia owners, Nokia said.
The upgrade service, tentatively priced at around US$3.99 per month, will also offer higher quality streams, allowing downloads at eight times the existing quality, Nokia said. Users can also set rules to only download higher quality audio when they are on Wi-Fi, for example. The price of the service will vary according to the territory in which it is offered, Nokia said in a blog post. The price in Euros for the service is also likely to be about 3.99 per month.
The free service has allowed users to download up to four Mixes, each of which contains hours of music, and play them without an Internet connection. The paid service removes that limit, Nokia said in the blog post.
Mixes are created by Nokia specialists who curate the genres or music types, Nokia said in June last year.
Under the upgrade service, users can have lyrics streaming for many tracks. They can also listen to Nokia Music through a Web app on Internet-enabled devices including a PC or tablet.
"It's the only smartphone music service out there offering access to millions of songs out of the box without the need to sign up, sign in, or suffer adverts in between enjoying the music," Nokia's vice president of entertainment, Jyrki Rosenberg, said in the blog post. "When you add in the ability to skip songs and save playlists for offline uses like the tube, you have something unique."
Nokia swung to a net profit in the fourth quarter of last year, partly on increased sales of its Lumia smartphones. Sales of the Lumia smartphones went up to 4.4 million units from 2.9 million in the previous quarter and 4 million in the second quarter. Nokia's portfolio improved with new models like Lumia 920, but the company still lacks a "true hero model" that can compete effectively with Apple's iPhone or Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S III, research firm Strategy Analytics said.
John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook recently sent a legal notice to users that may appear daunting at first glance, but before you relegate it to the trash bin you ought to take a look at it -- it could mean cash in your pocket.
The notice is meant to notify some of its U.S. members that their names, profile pictures, photographs, likenesses, and identities were unlawfully used to advertise or sell products and services through Sponsored Stories without obtaining those members' consent.
"Sponsored Stories" is targeted advertising that uses information about your friends to sell stuff to you.
To settle a class action lawsuit (Angel Fraley v. Facebook) resulting from those allegations of unlawful use of its members' content, the social network is proposing to pay $20 million into a fund to be used to pay members who appeared in the sponsored stories.
If you received the legal notice from Facebook, you may be paid up to $10 as part of the settlement.
There's no guarantee you will get the money, however.
As the notice points out: "The amount, if any, paid to each claimant depends upon the number of claims made and other factors detailed in the settlement. No one knows in advance how much each claimant will receive, or whether any money will be paid directly to claimants."
Since as many as 100 million Facebook members may be affected by the settlement, and the fund would be exhausted after paying $10 to 2 million members, there's a good possibility that the alternative distribution scheme outlined in the settlement will be implemented.
That alternative would divvy up the money among a number of non-profit organizations involved in educational outreach that teaches adults and children how to use social media technologies safely, or are involved in research of social media.
According to the long form of the legal notice [PDF], those organizations include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard Law School), Information Law Institute (NYU Law School), Berkeley Center for Law and Technology (Berkeley Law School), Center for Internet and Society (Stanford Law School), High Tech Law Institute, (Santa Clara University School of Law), Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Consumers Federation of America, Consumer Privacy Rights Fund, ConnectSafely.org, and WiredSafety.org.
The Fraley case began winding its way through the courts in March 2011, when five Facebook members, including two minors, maintained they claimed to represent a class of people injured by the Sponsored Stories.
In June 2012, Facebook and its opponents in the litigation announced a $10 million settlement in the case in which all the money would go to social service organizations and advocacy groups involved in the protection of children in the context of social media.
About a month later, the federal judge presiding over the case -- Judge Lucy Koh, who also presided over Apple's successful intellectual property case against Samsung in the U.S. -- recused herself from the case without an explanation.
Judge Richard Seeborg, who took over the case from Koh, subsequently rejected the $10 million settlement . In denying the proposed settlement, the judge maintained that Facebook did not adequately justify the size of the final deal.
A deal with a new settlement amount was hammered out in October and received preliminary approval from Seeborg in December.
Twitter launched Vine recently and it appears the video sharing service that lets you post clips up to six seconds long is already a hit with users.
Vine is a completely public and compelling medium that gives you a brief window into what people all over the world are seeing, or the kinds of things they're thinking about. You can share the brief videos on Twitter and Facebook.
Just like Facebook's Instagram turns regular people into creative photographers, Vine encourages anyone with an iPhone or iPod touch to make video montages. And unlike other platforms where it might take minutes or more to get your video fix, Vine makes it simple and fast to create and consume it -- perfect in a world where our digital attention span continues to shrink.
It takes a bit of ingenuity to create a good vine, and that's what Twitter intended, saying last week that "constraint inspires creativity."
Take Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, for example.
He recently posted a clip of a movie in which Owen Wilson is asked "You box?" to which he replies "No. I mean, not really. No." It's food for thought about what message, if any, the billionaire intended.
Search for the term "vine" at Twitter and you'll see them pop up in your feed or go to the websiteVinepeek , which offers a real-time stream of vines from all over the world, and you'll see everything from random scenes at work, a display of what books are on someone's nightstand, a street protest, and other random stuff.
People are filming cats and dogs, not to mention seeming magic tricks and disappearing food thanks to vine's start/stop recording feature that lets you create montages. And here's one getting some traction: Godzilla battles Mr. Hand.
Brands are also getting in on the action and using the platform to engage with their audiences.
For instance, 30 Rock fans can get a whirlwind run through NBC's studio, Gap propped a handful of itsvintage ads and Moose Tracks ice cream shows a close-up of one of its creamy concoctions.
The proof of the popularity is in the numbers. The Apple App Store has named it an Editor's Choicedownload.