Europe

Femtech hardware startup Elvie inks strategic partnership with UK’s NHS

Posted by | Apps, biofeedback, Elvie, Europe, Gadgets, hardware, Health, healthcare, National Health Service, pelvic floor, sexual health, smart technology, Tania Boler, United Kingdom, Wearables | No Comments

Elvie, a femtech hardware startup whose first product is a sleek smart pelvic floor exerciser, has inked a strategic partnership with the UK’s National Health Service that will make the device available nationwide through the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service so at no direct cost to the patient.

It’s a major win for the startup that was co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tania Boler and Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily, with the aim of building smart technology that focuses on women’s issues — an overlooked and underserved category in the gadget space.

Boler’s background before starting Elvie (née Chiaro) including working for the U.N. on global sex education curriculums. But her interest in pelvic floor health, and the inspiration for starting Elvie, began after she had a baby herself and found there was more support for women in France than the U.K. when it came to taking care of their bodies after giving birth.

With the NHS partnership, which is the startup’s first national reimbursement partnership (and therefore, as a spokeswoman puts it, has “the potential to be transformative” for the still young company), Elvie is emphasizing the opportunity for its connected tech to help reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence, including those suffered by new mums or in cases of stress-related urinary incontinence.

The Elvie kegel trainer is designed to make pelvic floor exercising fun and easy for women, with real-time feedback delivered via an app that also gamifies the activity, guiding users through exercises intended to strengthen their pelvic floor and thus help reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. The device can also alert users when they are contracting incorrectly.

Elvie cites research suggesting the NHS spends £233M annually on incontinence, claiming also that around a third of women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums currently suffer from urinary incontinence. In 70 per cent of stress urinary incontinence cases it suggests symptoms can be reduced or eliminated via pelvic floor muscle training.

And while there’s no absolute need for any device to perform the necessary muscle contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor, the challenge the Elvie Trainer is intended to help with is it can be difficult for women to know they are performing the exercises correctly or effectively.

Elvie cites a 2004 study that suggests around a third of women can’t exercise their pelvic floor correctly with written or verbal instruction alone. Whereas it says that biofeedback devices (generally, rather than the Elvie Trainer specifically) have been proven to increase success rates of pelvic floor training programmes by 10% — which it says other studies have suggested can lower surgery rates by 50% and reduce treatment costs by £424 per patient head within the first year.

“Until now, biofeedback pelvic floor training devices have only been available through the NHS for at-home use on loan from the patient’s hospital, with patient allocation dependent upon demand. Elvie Trainer will be the first at-home biofeedback device available on the NHS for patients to keep, which will support long-term motivation,” it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Clare Pacey, a specialist women’s health physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, said: “I am delighted that Elvie Trainer is now available via the NHS. Apart from the fact that it is a sleek, discreet and beautiful product, the app is simple to use and immediate visual feedback directly to your phone screen can be extremely rewarding and motivating. It helps to make pelvic floor rehabilitation fun, which is essential in order to be maintained.”

Elvie is not disclosing commercial details of the NHS partnership but a spokeswoman told us the main objective for this strategic partnership is to broaden access to Elvie Trainer, adding: “The wholesale pricing reflects that.”

Discussing the structure of the supply arrangement, she said Elvie is working with Eurosurgical as its delivery partner — a distributor she said has “decades of experience supplying products to the NHS”.

“The approach will vary by Trust, regarding whether a unit is ordered for a particular patient or whether a small stock will be held so a unit may be provided to a patient within the session in which the need is established. This process will be monitored and reviewed to determine the most efficient and economic distribution method for the NHS Supply Chain,” she added.

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Chinese tech stocks tumble from more than just trade tensions

Posted by | alibaba group, Android, Asia, Baidu, China, e-commerce, economy, Europe, Google, martin lau, Naspers, pinduoduo, TC, technology, Tencent, United States, world wide web | No Comments

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

Reports of trade tensions between China and the US in the past few months have been hard to ignore. In early July, the US imposed $34 billion on Chinese goods, prompting the Shenzhen Component Index, dominated by technology and consumer product stocks, to fall to its lowest point since 2014, igniting fears among investors.

“The U.S. tariffs, coupled with a falling yuan, will significantly increase the cost for many Chinese technology companies that rely on imported raw materials, such as semiconductors, integrated circuits, and electric components,” Zhang Xia, an analyst for China Merchants Bank Securities, told the South China Morning Post.

Additionally, the U.S. commerce department announced yesterday it will place an embargo on 44 Chinese companies—including the world’s largest surveillance equipment manufacturer Hikvision—for “acting contrary to the national interests or foreign policy of the United States.” The move caused the companies’ share prices to fall by nearly six percent.

However, the focus has shifted to more than just the trade war. And a number of big Chinese tech companies have seen their share prices plummet for other reasons.

Pinduoduo, China’s latest e-commerce giant to list on the Nasdaq, found that an initial public offering (IPO) is not a panacea. Conversely, its listing has drawn attention to the company’s counterfeit products. And investors are not happy.

Tencent’s shares have nosedived by over 25 percent since its peak in January, erasing $143 billion in market value over the past seven months.

Search giant Baidu also hasn’t been immune. The company’s stock price dropped by nearly 8 percent this week following news that Google plans to re-enter the Chinese market.

Government crackdowns

While IPOs are usually a cause for celebration, Pinduoduo has proven this past week they can also be bad for business. The company—which has integrated e-commerce and social media—caters to low-income consumers living outside first and second-tier cities. It has been plagued by accusations of facilitating the sale of counterfeit low-quality goods.

Just days after going public, its share price tumbled by 16 percent, falling below its offer price of $19. The drop was, in part, initiated by requests made by television maker Skyworth to remove counterfeit listings of its products from the e-commerce firm’s marketplace.

The company announced (in Chinese) this week that it had removed 10.7 million listings of problematic goods. However, this did little to assuage concerns from investors and regulators after the latter launched an inquiry into Pinduoduo’s product listings. Its stock price dropped to 30 percent below its closing price on its first day of trading, wiping out over $9 billion in value.

This is unlikely to be helped by the fact that seven U.S. law firms have launched investigations into the company on behalf of its investors. The statement issued by the firms shows that investors suffered financial losses after Chinese regulators began looking into the company’s dealings. The company met today with regulators and agreed to improve its products’ vetting procedures.

However, it’s not only e-commerce platforms that have been affected. Video streaming service Bilibili has seen its stock price drop by almost 21 percent since July 20. The decline comes amid renewed efforts led by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to crack down on what it deems to be “vulgar” or “inappropriate” content.

The company has subsequently had its app removed from app stores in the country for one month. Nasdaq-listed Bilibili responded by saying it is “in deep self-review and reflection.”

Screenshot of the drop in Bilibili’s stock price. Accessed August 3, 2018

Rumored competition

Baidu, which runs China’s biggest search engine, found that even unconfirmed competition can cause stocks to tumble. In a move which could mark its re-entry into the Chinese market, news broke this week that Google has plans to launch an Android app that could provide filtered results to users in China.

Baidu currently commands nearly 70 percent of China’s search market. Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 over censorship concerns, giving up access to a vast market. China’s online population now exceeds 770 million, double the entire populace of the U.S. and more than that of Europe.

Baidu’s income is still highly dependant on ad revenue, which increased by 25 percent in the second quarter. Google’s return is clearly seen as a threat, causing Baidu’s stock price to fall from $247.18 on July 31 to $226.83 on August 2. This marks the most significant fall since the company announced the departure of its chief operating officer Lu Qi in May.

Steady decline

Nonetheless, all these losses seem insignificant in comparison to Tencent’s. The company saw its stock price increase by 114 percent in 2017, reaching a record high in January 2018. However, since then, the price has dropped by nearly $130 per share, eviscerating a considerable portion of its market value. In July alone, its stock price fell by 9.9 percent. The company’s devaluation tops Facebook’s $130 billion rout following its earnings call last month.

In April, the company lost over $20 billion in value after South African investment and media firm Naspers — an early and loyal backer — announced it was trimming its stake by two percent. Additionally, Martin Lau, the company’s president, sold one million of his shares in the company. This, added to the Naspers sale and warnings of margin pressure, led to a loss of $51 billion in market value.

“Investors are increasingly pricing in lower expectations for Tencent’s interim results,” Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.

Yip expects the downward trend to continue, and not just for Tencent. “Overall, tech companies are facing a similar problem. They have been enjoying fast profit growth in the past few years, so it will be difficult for them to maintain similar growth in the future as the competition grows and some segments are saturated,” he said.

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UK report highlights changing gadget habits — and our need for an online fix

Posted by | Amazon, BBC, Brits, computing, digital media, eCommerce, Europe, Gadgets, generation z, Google, Instant Messaging, internet access, Mobile, mobile phone, ofcom, online purchases, online shopping, smartphone, smartphones, social media, United Kingdom | No Comments

A look back at the past decade of consumer technology use in the UK has shone a light on changing gadget habits, underlining how Brits have gone from being smartphone dabblers back in 2008 when a top-of-the-range smartphone cost ~£500 to true addicts in today’s £1k+ premium smartphone era.

The report also highlights what seems to be, at times, a conflicted relationship between Brits and the Internet.

While nine in ten people in the UK have home access to the Internet, here in 2018, some web users report feeling being online is a time-sink or a constraint on their freedom.

But even more said they feel lost or bored without it.

Over the past decade the Internet looks to have consolidated its grip on the spacetime that boredom occupied for the less connected generations that came before.

The overview comes via regulator Ofcom’s 2018 Communications Market report. The full report commenting on key market developments in the country’s communications sector is a meaty, stat and chart-filled read.

The regulator has also produced a 30-slide interactive version this year.

Commenting on the report findings in a statement, Ian Macrae, Ofcom’s director of market intelligence, said: “Over the last decade, people’s lives have been transformed by the rise of the smartphone, together with better access to the Internet and new services. Whether it’s working flexibly, keeping up with current affairs or shopping online, we can do more on the move than ever before.

“But while people appreciate their smartphone as their constant companion, some are finding themselves feeling overloaded when online, or frustrated when they’re not.”

We’ve pulled out some highlights from the report below…

  • Less than a fifth (17%) of UK citizens owned a smartphone a decade ago; the figure now stands at 78% — and a full 95% of 16-24 year-olds. So, yeah, kids don’t get called digital natives for nothin’
  • People in the UK check their smartphones, on average, every 12 minutes of the waking day. (‘Digital wellbeing’ tools clearly have their work cut out to kick against this grain… )
  • Ofcom found that two in five adults (40%) first look at their phone within five minutes of waking up (rising to 65% of the under 35s). While around a third (37%) of adults check their phones five minutes before lights out (again rising to 60% of under-35s). Shame it didn’t also ask how well people are sleeping
  • Contrary to a decade ago, most UK citizens say they need and expect a constant Internet connection wherever they go. Two thirds of adults (64%) say it’s an essential part of their life. One in five adults (19%) say they spend more than 40 hours a week online, up from 5% just over ten years ago
  • Three quarters (74%) of people say being online keeps them close to friends and family. Two fifths (41%) say it enables them to work more flexibly

Smartphone screen addicts, much?

  • Seventy-two per cent of adults say their smartphone is their most important device for accessing the Internet; 71% say they never turn off their phone; and 78% say they could not live without it
  • Ofcom found the amount of time Brits spend making phone calls from mobiles has fallen for the first time — using a mobile for phone calls is only considered important by 75% of smartphone users vs 92% who consider web browsing on a smartphone to be important (and indeed the proportion of people accessing the Internet on their mobile has increased from 20% almost a decade ago to 72% in 2018)
  • The average amount of time spent online on a smartphone is 2 hours 28 minutes per day. This rises to 3 hours 14 minutes among 18-24s

Social and emotional friction, plus the generation gap…

  • On the irritation front, three quarters of people (76%) find it annoying when someone is listening to music, watching videos or playing games loudly on public transport; while an impressive 81% object to people using their phone during meal times
  • TV is another matter though. The majority (53%) of adults say they are usually on their phone while watching TV with others. There’s a generation gap related to social acceptance of this though: With a majority (62%) of people over the age of 55 thinking it’s unacceptable — dropping to just two in ten (21%) among those aged 18-34
  • Ofcom also found that significant numbers of people saying the online experience has negative effects. Fifteen per cent agree it makes them feel they are always at work, and more than half (54%) admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family — which does offer a useful counterpoint to social media giant’s shiny marketing claims that their platforms ‘connect people’ (the truth is more they both connect & disconnect). While more than two in five (43%) also admit to spending too much time online
  • Around a third of people say they feel either cut off (34%) or lost (29%) without the Internet, and if they can’t get online, 17% say they find it stressful. Half of all UK adults (50%) say their life would be boring if they could not access the Internet 
  • On the flip side, a smaller proportion of UK citizens view a lack of Internet access in a positive light. One in ten says they feel more productive offline (interestingly this rises to 15% for 18-34 year-olds); while 10% say they find it liberating; and 16% feel less distracted

The impact of (multifaceted and increasingly powerful and capable) smartphones can also be seen on some other types of gadgets. Though TV screens continue to compel Brits (possibly because they feel it’s okay to keep using their smartphones while sitting in front of a bigger screen… )

  • Ofcom says ownership of tablets (58% of UK households) and games consoles (44% of UK adults) has plateaued in the last three years
  • Desktop PC ownership has declined majorly over the past decade — from a large majority (69%) of households with access in 2008 to less than a third (28%) in 2018
  • As of 2017, smart TVs were in 42% of households — up from just 5% in 2012
  • Smart speakers weren’t around in 2008 but they’ve now carved out a space in 13% of UK households
  • One in five households (20%) report having some wearable tech (smart watches, fitness trackers). So smart speakers look to be fast catching up with fitness bands

BBC mightier than Amazon

  • BBC website visitor numbers overtook those of Amazon in the UK in 2018. Ofcom found the BBC had the third-highest number of users after Google and Facebook
  • Ofcom also found that six in ten people have used next-day delivery for online purchases, but only three in ten have used same-day delivery in 2018. So most Brits are, seemingly, content to wait until tomorrow for ecommerce purchases — rather than demanding their stuff right now

What else are UK citizens getting up to online? More of a spread of stuff than ever, it would appear…

  • Less general browsing/surfing than last year, though it’s still the most popular reported use for Internet activity (69% saying they’ve done this in the past week vs 80% who reported the same in 2017)
  • Sending and receiving email is also still a big deal — but also on the slide (66% reporting doing this in the past week vs 76% in 2017)
  • Social media use is another popular but slightly less so use-case than last year (50% in 2017 down to 45% in 2018). (Though Twitter bucks the trend with a percentage point usage bump (13% -> 14%) though it’s far less popular overall)
  • Instant messaging frequency also dropped a bit (46% -> 41%)
  • As did TV/video viewing online (40% -> 36%), including for watching short video clips (31% to 28%)
  • Online shopping has also dropped a bit in frequency (48% -> 44%)
  • But accessing news has remained constant (36%)
  • Finding health information has seen marginal slight growth (22% -> 23%); ditto has finding/downloading information for work/college (32% -> 33%); using local council/government services (21% -> 23%); and playing games online/interactively (17% -> 18%)
  • Streaming audio services have got a bit more popular (podcasts, we must presume), with 15% reporting using them in the past week in 2017 up to 19% in 2018. Listening to the radio online is also up (13% -> 15%)
  • However uploading/adding content to the Internet has got a bit less popular, though (17% to 15%)

One more thing: Women in the UK are bigger Internet fans than men.

Perhaps contrary to some people’s expectations, women in the UK spend more time online on average than men across almost all age groups, with the sole exception being the over 55s (where the time difference is pretty marginal)…

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Dixons Carphone says millions more customers affected by 2017 breach

Posted by | Carphone Warehouse, computer security, data breach, Dixons Carphone, electronics, Europe, european union, Gadgets, Mobile, Security, United Kingdom | No Comments

A Dixons Carphone data breach that was disclosed earlier this summer was worse than initially reported. The company is now saying that personal data of 10 million customers could also have been accessed when its systems were hacked.

The European electronics and telecoms retailer believes its systems were accessed by unknown and unauthorized person/s in 2017, although it only disclosed the breach in June, after discovering it during a review of its security systems.

Last month it said 5.9M payment cards and 1.2M customer records had been accessed. But with its investigation into the breach “nearing completion”, it now says approximately 10M records containing personal data (but no financial information) may have been accessed last year — in addition to the 5.9M compromised payment cards it disclosed last month.

“While there is now evidence that some of this data may have left our systems, these records do not contain payment card or bank account details and there is no evidence that any fraud has resulted. We are continuing to keep the relevant authorities updated,” the company said in a statement.

In terms of what personal data the 10M records contained, a Dixons Carphone spokeswoman told us: “This continues to relate to personal data, and the types of data that may have been accessed are, for example, name, address or email address.”

The company says it’s taking the precaution of contacting all its customers — to apologize and advise them of “protective steps to minimize the risk of fraud”.

It adds it has no evidence that the unauthorized access is continuing, having taken steps to secure its systems when the breach was discovered last month, saying: “We continue to make improvements and investments at pace to our security environment through enhanced controls, monitoring and testing.”

Commenting in a statement, Dixons Carphone CEO, Alex Baldock, added: “Since our data security review uncovered last year’s breach, we’ve been working around the clock to put it right. That’s included closing off the unauthorised access, adding new security measures and launching an immediate investigation, which has allowed us to build a fuller understanding of the incident that we’re updating on today.

“Again, we’re disappointed in having fallen short here, and very sorry for any distress we’ve caused our customers. I want to assure them that we remain fully committed to making their personal data safe with us.”

Back in 2015, Carphone Warehouse, a mobile division of Dixons Carphone, also suffered a hack which affected around 3M people. And in January the company was fined £400k by the ICO as a consequence of that earlier breach.

Since then new European Union regulations (GDPR) have come into force which greatly raise the maximum penalties which regulators can impose for serious data breaches.

Last month, following Dixon’s disclosure of the latest breach, the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, told us it was liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Financial Conduct Authority and other relevant agencies to ascertain the details and impact on customers.

Of the 5.9M payment cards which Dixons disclosed last month as having been compromised, it said the vast majority had been protected by chip and PIN technology. But around 105,000 lacked the security tech so Dixons said at the time could therefore have been compromised.

It’s the additional 1.2M records containing non-financial personal data — such as name, address or email address — that have been revised upwards now, to ~10M records, which constitutes almost half the Group’s customer base in the UK and Ireland.

The spokeswoman told us the Group has approximately 22M customers in the region.

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/ncsc-advice-dixons-carphone-plc-customers

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PSA: Drone flight restrictions are in force in the UK from today

Posted by | Civil Aviation Authority, drone, drones, Europe, Gadgets, Government, hardware, regulations, robotics, United Kingdom, unmanned aerial vehicles | No Comments

Consumers using drones in the UK have new safety restrictions they must obey starting today, with a change to the law prohibiting drones from being flown above 400ft or within 1km of an airport boundary.

Anyone caught flouting the new restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or a person in an aircraft — which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both.

The safety restrictions were announced by the government in May, and have been brought in via an amendment the 2016 Air Navigation Order.

They’re a stop-gap because the government has also been working on a full drone bill — which was originally slated for Spring but has been delayed.

However the height and airport flight restrictions for drones were pushed forward, given the clear safety risks — after a year-on-year increase in reports of drone incidents involving aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Authority has today published research to coincide with the new laws, saying it’s found widespread support among the public for safety regulations for drones.

Commenting in a statement, the regulator’s assistant director Jonathan Nicholson said: “Drones are here to stay, not only as a recreational pastime, but as a vital tool in many industries — from agriculture to blue-light services — so increasing public trust through safe drone flying is crucial.”

“As recreational drone use becomes increasingly widespread across the UK it is heartening to see that awareness of the Dronecode has also continued to rise — a clear sign that most drone users take their responsibility seriously and are a credit to the community,” he added, referring to the (informal) set of rules developed by the body to promote safe use of consumer drones — ahead of the government legislating.

Additional measures the government has confirmed it will legislate for — announced last summer — include a requirement for owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more to register with the CAA, and for drone pilots to take an online safety test. The CAA says these additional requirements will be enforced from November 30, 2019 — with more information on the registration scheme set to follow next year.

For now, though, UK drone owners just need to make sure they’re not flying too high or too close to airports.

Earlier this month it emerged the government is considering age restrictions on drone use too. Though it remains to be seen whether or not those proposals will make it into the future drone bill.

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Computer vision researchers build an AI benchmark app for Android phones

Posted by | AI, Android, Apps, artificial intelligence, Benchmark, Computer Vision, Developer, Europe, Google, hardware, huawei, MediaTek, Mobile, neural network, neural networks, Qualcomm, RAM, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, smartphones | No Comments

A group of computer vision researchers from ETH Zurich want to do their bit to enhance AI development on smartphones. To wit: They’ve created a benchmark system for assessing the performance of several major neural network architectures used for common AI tasks.

They’re hoping it will be useful to other AI researchers but also to chipmakers (by helping them get competitive insights); Android developers (to see how fast their AI models will run on different devices); and, well, to phone nerds — such as by showing whether or not a particular device contains the necessary drivers for AI accelerators. (And, therefore, whether or not they should believe a company’s marketing messages.)

The app, called AI Benchmark, is available for download on Google Play and can run on any device with Android 4.1 or higher — generating a score the researchers describe as a “final verdict” of the device’s AI performance.

AI tasks being assessed by their benchmark system include image classification, face recognition, image deblurring, image super-resolution, photo enhancement or segmentation.

They are even testing some algorithms used in autonomous driving systems, though there’s not really any practical purpose for doing that at this point. Not yet anyway. (Looking down the road, the researchers say it’s not clear what hardware platform will be used for autonomous driving — and they suggest it’s “quite possible” mobile processors will, in future, become fast enough to be used for this task. So they’re at least prepped for that possibility.)

The app also includes visualizations of the algorithms’ output to help users assess the results and get a feel for the current state-of-the-art in various AI fields.

The researchers hope their score will become a universally accepted metric — similar to DxOMark that is used for evaluating camera performance — and all algorithms included in the benchmark are open source. The current ranking of different smartphones and mobile processors is available on the project’s webpage.

The benchmark system and app was around three months in development, says AI researcher and developer Andrey Ignatov.

He explains that the score being displayed reflects two main aspects: The SoC’s speed and available RAM.

“Let’s consider two devices: one with a score of 6000 and one with a score of 200. If some AI algorithm will run on the first device for 5 seconds, then this means that on the second device this will take about 30 times longer, i.e. almost 2.5 minutes. And if we are thinking about applications like face recognition this is not just about the speed, but about the applicability of the approach: Nobody will wait 10 seconds till their phone will be trying to recognize them.

“The same is about memory: The larger is the network/input image — the more RAM is needed to process it. If the phone has a small amount of RAM that is e.g. only enough to enhance 0.3MP photo, then this enhancement will be clearly useless, but if it can do the same job for Full HD images — this opens up much wider possibilities. So, basically the higher score — the more complex algorithms can be used / larger images can be processed / it will take less time to do this.”

Discussing the idea for the benchmark, Ignatov says the lab is “tightly bound” to both research and industry — so “at some point we became curious about what are the limitations of running the recent AI algorithms on smartphones”.

“Since there was no information about this (currently, all AI algorithms are running remotely on the servers, not on your device, except for some built-in apps integrated in phone’s firmware), we decided to develop our own tool that will clearly show the performance and capabilities of each device,” he adds. 

“We can say that we are quite satisfied with the obtained results — despite all current problems, the industry is clearly moving towards using AI on smartphones, and we also hope that our efforts will help to accelerate this movement and give some useful information for other members participating in this development.”

After building the benchmarking system and collating scores on a bunch of Android devices, Ignatov sums up the current situation of AI on smartphones as “both interesting and absurd”.

For example, the team found that devices running Qualcomm chips weren’t the clear winners they’d imagined — i.e. based on the company’s promotional materials about Snapdragon’s 845 AI capabilities and 8x performance acceleration.

“It turned out that this acceleration is available only for ‘quantized’ networks that currently cannot be deployed on the phones, thus for ‘normal’ networks you won’t get any acceleration at all,” he says. “The saddest thing is that actually they can theoretically provide acceleration for the latter networks too, but they just haven’t implemented the appropriated drivers yet, and the only possible way to get this acceleration now is to use Snapdragon’s proprietary SDK available for their own processors only. As a result — if you are developing an app that is using AI, you won’t get any acceleration on Snapdragon’s SoCs, unless you are developing it for their processors only.”

Whereas the researchers found that Huawei’s Kirin’s 970 CPU — which is technically even slower than Snapdragon 636 — offered a surprisingly strong performance.

“Their integrated NPU gives almost 10x acceleration for Neural Networks, and thus even the most powerful phone CPUs and GPUs can’t compete with it,” says Ignatov. “Additionally, Huawei P20/P20 Pro are the only smartphones on the market running Android 8.1 that are currently providing AI acceleration, all other phones will get this support only in Android 9 or later.”

It’s not all great news for Huawei phone owners, though, as Ignatov says the NPU doesn’t provide acceleration for ‘quantized’ networks (though he notes the company has promised to add this support by the end of this year); and also it uses its own RAM — which is “quite limited” in size, and therefore you “can’t process large images with it”…

“We would say that if they solve these two issues — most likely nobody will be able to compete with them within the following year(s),” he suggests, though he also emphasizes that this assessment only refers to the one SoC, noting that Huawei’s processors don’t have the NPU module.

For Samsung processors, the researchers flag up that all the company’s devices are still running Android 8.0 but AI acceleration is only available starting from Android 8.1 and above. Natch.

They also found CPU performance could “vary quite significantly” — up to 50% on the same Samsung device — because of throttling and power optimization logic. Which would then have a knock on impact on AI performance.

For Mediatek, the researchers found the chipmaker is providing acceleration for both ‘quantized’ and ‘normal’ networks — which means it can reach the performance of “top CPUs”.

But, on the flip side, Ignatov calls out the company’s slogan — that it’s “Leading the Edge-AI Technology Revolution” — dubbing it “nothing more than their dream”, and adding: “Even the aforementioned Samsung’s latest Exynos CPU can slightly outperform it without using any acceleration at all, not to mention Huawei with its Kirin’s 970 NPU.”

“In summary: Snapdragon — can theoretically provide good results, but are lacking the drivers; Huawei — quite outstanding results now and most probably in the nearest future; Samsung — no acceleration support now (most likely this will change soon since they are now developing their own AI Chip), but powerful CPUs; Mediatek — good results for mid-range devices, but definitely no breakthrough.”

It’s also worth noting that some of the results were obtained on prototype samples, rather than shipped smartphones, so haven’t yet been included in the benchmark table on the team’s website.

“We will wait till the devices with final firmware will come to the market since some changes might still be introduced,” he adds.

For more on the pros and cons of AI-powered smartphone features check out our article from earlier this year.

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EU fines Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer $130M for online price fixing

Posted by | antitrust, asus, Boston Acoustics, competition, competition law, consumer electronics, Denon & Marantz, eCommerce, Europe, european union, Gadgets, hardware, Marantz, Margrethe Vestager, Philips, price - fixing, Pricing | No Comments

The European Union’s antitrust authorities have issued a series of penalties, fining consumer electronics companies Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer more than €110 million (~$130M) in four separate decisions for imposing fixed or minimum resale prices on their online retailers in breach of EU competition rules.

It says the four companies engaged in so-called “fixed or minimum resale price maintenance (RPM)” by restricting the ability of their online retailers to set their own retail prices for widely used consumer electronics products — such as kitchen appliances, notebooks and hi-fi products.

Asus has been hit with the largest fine (63.5M), followed by Philips (29.8M). The other two fines were 10.1M for Pioneer, and 7.7M for Denon & Marantz.

The Commission found the manufacturers put pressure on ecommerce outlets who offered their products at low prices, writing: “If those retailers did not follow the prices requested by manufacturers, they faced threats or sanctions such as blocking of supplies. Many, including the biggest online retailers, use pricing algorithms which automatically adapt retail prices to those of competitors. In this way, the pricing restrictions imposed on low pricing online retailers typically had a broader impact on overall online prices for the respective consumer electronics products.”

It also notes that use of “sophisticated monitoring tools” by the manufacturers allowed them to “effectively track resale price setting in the distribution network and to intervene swiftly in case of price decreases”.

“The price interventions limited effective price competition between retailers and led to higher prices with an immediate effect on consumers,” it added.

In particular, Asus, was found to have monitored the resale price of retailers for certain computer hardware and electronics products such as notebooks and displays — and to have done so in two EU Member States (Germany and France), between 2011 and 2014.

While Denon & Marantz was found to have engaged in “resale price maintenance” with respect to audio and video consumer products such as headphones and speakers of the brands Denon, Marantz and Boston Acoustics in Germany and the Netherlands between 2011 and 2015.

Philips was found to have done the same in France between the end of 2011 and 2013 — but for a range of consumer electronics products, including kitchen appliances, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, home cinema and home video systems, electric toothbrushes, hair driers and trimmers.

In Pioneer’s case, the resale price maintenance covered products including home theatre devices, iPod speakers, speaker sets and hi-fi products.

The Commission said the company also limited the ability of its retailers to sell-cross border to EU consumers in other Member States in order to sustain different resale prices in different Member States, for example by blocking orders of retailers who sold cross-border. Its conduct lasted from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013 and concerned 12 countries (Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway).

In all four cases, the Commission said the level of fines were reduced — 50% in the case of Pioneer; and 40% for each of the others — due to the companies’ co-operation with its investigations, specifying that they had provided evidence with “significant added value” and had “expressly acknowledg[ed] the facts and the infringements of EU antitrust rules”.

Commenting in a statement, commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who heads up the bloc’s competition policy, said: The online commerce market is growing rapidly and is now worth over 500 billion euros in Europe every year. More than half of Europeans now shop online. As a result of the actions taken by these four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. Our decisions today show that EU competition rules serve to protect consumers where companies stand in the way of more price competition and better choice.”

We’ve reached out to all the companies for comment.

The fines follow the Commission’s ecommerce sector inquiry, which reported in May 2017, and showed that resale-price related restrictions are by far the most widespread restrictions of competition in ecommerce markets, making competition enforcement in this area a priority — as part of the EC’s wider Digital Single Market strategy.

The Commission further notes that the sector inquiry shed light on the increased use of automatic software applied by retailers for price monitoring and price setting.

Separate investigations were launched in February 2017 and June 2017 to assess if certain online sales practices are preventing, in breach of EU antitrust rules, consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and from being able to buy products and services online at competitive prices. The Commission adds that those investigations are ongoing.

Commenting on today’s EC decision, a spokesman for Philips told us: “Since the start of the EC investigation in late 2013, which Philips reported in its Annual Reports, the company has fully cooperated with the EC. Philips initiated an internal investigation and addressed the matter in 2014.”

“It is good that we can now leave this case behind us, and focus on the positive impact that our products and solutions can have on people,” he added. “Let me please stress that Philips attaches prime importance to full compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Being a responsible company, everyone in Philips is expected to always act with integrity. Philips rigorously enforces compliance of its General Business Principles throughout the company. Philips has a zero tolerance policy towards non-compliance in relation to breaches of its General Business Principles.”

Anticipating the decision of the EC, he said the company had already recognized a 30M provision in its Q2 2018.

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Xiaomi goes after global markets with two new Android One phones

Posted by | Android, Android One, Asia, China, computing, Europe, France, hutchison, india, Italy, Mexico, Mobile, RAM, smartphone, smartphones, spain, TC, technology, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi gave Google’s well-intentioned but somewhat-stalled Android One project a major boost last year when it unveiled its first device under the program, Mi A1. That’s now joined by not one but two sequel devices, after the Chinese phone maker unveiled the Mi A2 and Mi A2 Lite at an event in Spain today.

Xiaomi in Spain? Yes, that’s right. International growth is a major part of the Xiaomi story now that it is a listed business, and Spain is one of a handful of countries in Europe where Xiaomi is aiming to make its mark. These two new A2 handsets are an early push and they’ll be available in over 40 countries, including Spain, France, Italy and 11 other European markets.

Both phones run on Android One — so none of Xiaomi’s iOS-inspired MIUI Android fork — and charge via type-C USB. The 5.99-inch A2 is the more premium option, sporting a Snapdragon 660 processor and 4GB or 6GB RAM with 32GB, 64GB or 128GB in storage. There’s a 20-megapixel front camera and dual 20-megapixel and 16-megapixel cameras on the rear. On-device storage ranges between 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

The Mi A2 Lite is the more budget option that’s powered by a lesser Snapdragon 625 processor with 3GB or 4GB RAM, and 32GB or 64GB storage options. It comes with a smaller 5.84-inch display, there’s a 12- and 5-megapixel camera array on the reverse and a front-facing five-megapixel camera.

The A2 is priced from €249 to €279 ($291-$327) based on specs. The A2 Lite will sell for €179 or €229 ($210 or $268), against based on RAM and storage selection.

The 40 market availability mirrors the A1 launch last year, but on this occasion, Xiaomi has been busy preparing the ground in a number of countries, particularly in Europe. It has been in Spain for the past year, but it also launched local operations in France and Italy in May and tied up with CK Hutchison to sell phones in other parts of the continent via its 3 telecom business. While it isn’t operational in the U.S., Xiaomi has expanded into Mexico and it has set up partnerships with local retailers in dozens of other countries.

Xiaomi has been successful with its move into India, where it one of the top smartphone sellers, but it has not yet replicated that elsewhere outside of China so far.

China is, as you’d expect, the primary revenue market but Xiaomi is increasingly less dependent on its homeland. For 2017 sales, China represented 72 percent, but it had been 94 percent and 87 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2016.

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Trump just noticed Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Google

Posted by | Android, antitrust, eCommerce, Europe, Google, Government, Margrethe Vestager, Mobile, tax, trump, Twitter | No Comments

In other news bears shit in the woods. In today’s second-day President Trump news: ‘The Donald’ has seized, belatedly, on the European Commission’s announcement yesterday that Google is guilty of three types of illegal antitrust behavior — with its Android OS, since 2011 — and that it is fining the company $5 billion; a record-breaking penalty which the Commission’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said reflects the length and gravity of the company’s competition infringements.

Trump is not! at all! convinced! though!

“I told you so!” he has tweeted triumphantly just now. “The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google . They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!”

I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018

Also not so very long ago, Trump was the one grumbling about U.S. tech giants. Though Amazon is his most frequent target in tech, while Google has been spared the usual tweet lashings. Albeit, on the average day he may not necessarily be able to tell one tech giant from another.

Vestager can though, and she cited Amazon as one of the companies that had suffered as a direct result of contractual conditions Google imposed on device makers using its Android OS — squeezing the ecommerce giant’s potential to build a competing Android ecosystem, with its Fire OS.

Presumably, for Trump, Amazon is not ‘one of our great companies’ though.

At least it’s only Google that gets his full Twitter attention — and a special Trumpian MAGA badge of honor call-out as “one of our great companies” — in the tweet.

Presumably, he hasn’t had this pointed out to him yet though. So, uh, awkward.

Safe to say, Trump is seizing on Google’s antitrust penalty as a stick to beat the EU, set against a backdrop of Trump already having slapped a series of tariffs on EU goods, and Trump recently threatening the EU with tariffs on cars — in what is fast looking like a full blown trade war.

Even so, Trump’s tweet probably wasn’t the kind of support Google was hoping to solicit via its own Twitter missive yesterday…

.@Android has created more choice for everyone, not less. #AndroidWorks pic.twitter.com/FAWpvnpj2G

— Google Europe (@googleeurope) July 18, 2018

#AndroidWorksButTradeWarsDon’t doesn’t make for the most elegant hashtag.

But here’s the thing: Vestager has already responded to Trump’s attack on the Android decision — even though it’s taking place a day late. Because the EU’s “tax lady”, as Trump has been known to vaguely refer to her, is both lit and onit.

During yesterday’s press conference she was specifically asked to anticipate Trump’s tantrum response on hearing the EU antitrust decision against Google, and whether she wasn’t afraid it might affect next week’s meeting between the US president and the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

“As I know my US colleagues want fair competition just as well as we do,” she responded. “There is a respect that we do our job. We have this very simple mission to make sure that companies play by the rulebook for the market to serve consumers. And this is also my impression that this is what they want in the US.”

Pressed again on political context, given the worsening trade relationship between the US and the EU, Vestager was asked how she would explain that her finding against Google is not part of an overarching anti-US narrative — and how would she answer Trump’s contention that the EU’s “tax lady… really hates the US”.

“Well I’ve done my own fact checking on the first part of that sentence. I do work with tax and I am a woman. So this is 100% correct,” she replied. “It is not correct for the latter part of the sentence though. Because I very much like the US. And I think that would also be what you think because I am from Denmark and that tends to be what we do. We like the U.S. The culture, the people, our friends, traveling. But the fact is that this [finding against Google] has nothing to do with how I feel. Nothing whatsoever. Just as well as enforcing competition law — well, we do it in the world but we don’t do it in a political context. Because then there would never, ever be a right timing.

“The mission is very simple. We have to protect consumers and competition to make sure that consumers get the best of fair competition — choice, innovation, best possible prices. This is what we do. It has been done before, we will continue to do it — no matter the political context.”

Maybe Trump will be able to learn the name of the EU’s “tax lady” if Vestager ends up EU president next year.

Or, well, maybe not. We can only hope so.

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Europe updates its predatory pricing investigation against Qualcomm over UMTS baseband chips

Posted by | 3g, Europe, european commission, Mobile, Qualcomm, UMTS | No Comments

On the heels of Google getting served a $5 billion fine by the EU over monopolistic practices related to its Android operating system, the European Commission today resurfaced another ongoing case in the world of large U.S. tech companies. The EC said that it has added to its investigation into Qualcomm and its predatory pricing of UMTS baseband chips. Specifically, today the Commission has sent more details relating to elements of the “price cost” test that it had applied to measure just how much below cost Qualcomm was selling UMTS baseband chips to edge out competitors.

If the case is decided against Qualcomm, the company could face an additional fine of up to 10 percent of its worldwide revenues. In 2009, these were $10.4 billion, while in 2017, global turnover was over $22 billion.

The original, 2015 case was based on a complaint filed by Icera — once a big player in baseband chips — and dates back to practices between 2009 and 2011 and alleged that Qualcomm used its market position to negotiate artificially low prices for UMTS chips — used in 3G phones — in order to oust out Icera. Others that made similar chips include Nvidia.

Qualcomm has wasted little time in responding to the notice posted by the EC.

“This investigation, now in its ninth year, alleges harm in 2009-2011, to a competitor who chose years later to exit the market for reasons unrelated to Qualcomm,” said Don Rosenberg, general counsel and executive vice president of Qualcomm in a statement. “While the investigation has been narrowed, we are disappointed to see it continues and will immediately begin preparing our response to this supplementary statement of objections. We belief that once the Commission has reviewed our response it will find that Qualcomm’s practices are pro-competitive and fully consistent with European competition rules.”

Qualcomm is already in the middle of appealing a $1.23 billion fine in the EU over LTE chip dominance in the iPhone, related to deals that were made with Apple at the expense of another big rival of Qualcomm’s, Intel. (Never mind that Apple and Qualcomm are also in the middle of a patent dispute.)

This older case, as Qualcomm points out, has been narrowed since it was first announced almost exactly three years ago. And while we don’t know what the exact details of the supplementary objections are and whether they have expanded them again (we have contacted the EC to try to find out), the Commission also notes in its short statement — printed in full below — that sending an update to its calculations doesn’t necessarily imply the outcome of this case.

Statement below.

The European Commission has sent a Supplementary Statement of Objections to Qualcomm Inc. This is a procedural step in the Commission’s ongoing investigation under EU antitrust rules looking into whether Qualcomm engaged in ‘predatory pricing’. The Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Qualcomm in December 2015 detailing its concerns. In particular, the Commission’s preliminary view is that between 2009 and 2011 Qualcomm sold certain UMTS baseband chipsets at prices below cost, with the intention of eliminating Icera, its main competitor in the leading edge segment of the market at that time. UMTS chipsets are key components of mobile devices. They enable both voice and data transmission in third generation (3G) cellular communication. The Supplementary Statement of Objections sent today focuses on certain elements of the “price-cost” test applied by the Commission to assess the extent to which UMTS baseband chipsets were sold by Qualcomm at prices below cost. The sending of a Supplementary Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number AT.39711.

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