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Google Reveals What Searchers Wanted in 2017

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The iPhone 8 and iPhone X ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in overall searches on Google this year, and No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the consumer tech search category on the Google Trends Year in Search 2017 list released Tuesday.

Bitcoin ranked No. 2 in global news searches, and “how to buy bitcoin” ranked No. 3 among how-to searches on Google in 2017.

The Nintendo Switch, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Xbox One X were the third, fourth and fifth most frequently used consumer tech search terms.

The lists are based on search terms that had a high spike in traffic in 2017 as compared to 2016.

“Those issues that directly touch the consumer, or are perceived to do so, will rise in search popularity,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

A Few Surprises

The findings “probably correlated with the marketing budgets of the various vendors,” Jude told TechNewsWorld.

However, “I would have thought that some of the tech services — connected home stuff, automatic backup services, etc. — would have made the list,” he said.

The inclusion of the Nintendo Switch came as a surprise to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“I would’ve thought handheld gaming-focused devices went obsolete years ago,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Nintendo “has proven that they have a unique ability to bring concepts back from the dead,” Enderle noted. The Nintendo Switch “looks like a crippled tablet in that it doesn’t support things most tablets do, but folks really like it as a dedicated gaming device.”

Given the tie-in of Lenovo’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges smartphone-powered augmented reality headset to The Last Jedi, Enderle thought it might make the list, but “I expect it came out too late to get enough search volume to move ahead of the Xbox X or any of the smartphones,” he said.

Still, the AR headset, which is compatible with some iPhones and Android phones, “is selling very well and will go through updates — so watch it for next year,” Enderle predicted.

The Bitcoin Boom

“Bitcoin has been hyped tremendously in the press as everything from the next universal currency to a hedge against government debt default,” Frost’s Jude said. “It’s no wonder that the general public is starting to take notice.”

Interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is surging, and various commentators and investors predict bitcoin’s price could close in on the $1 million mark.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange launched trading in bitcoin futures Dec. 10 with the ticker symbol “XBT.” Trading was halted twice that day as the futures surged.

The CBOE’s bitcoin futures fell 10 percent Wednesday, triggering a two-minute halt to trading.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange will launch bitcoin futures trading on Dec. 17.

“Stories of people starting with (US)$100 of bitcoin and ending up multimillionaires likely contributed to the massive feeding frenzy on the cryptocurrency right now,” Enderle suggested. “Anything that looks like a valid get-rich-quick path will almost always get a lot of attention.”

Search Stats as Predictors

Search result statistics might indicate future trends, but given the rapidity of technological change, that might not hold less true for tech products.

Google’s 2017 search terms list “indicates point trends and shows that Apple still has a huge base of loyal buyers,” Enderle said.

“It shows that in 2018, folks will likely get excited about anything that looks to make them rich, and they likely will still have an affinity for hot consumer devices,” he added.

The search terms list “is a good bellwether, but you can’t really predict far into the future with it,” Enderle said. “People are mercurial in this regard, and what’s hot this month may every well be anything but next month

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Google Assistant Makes CES Splash

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Since launching the original Echo smart speaker in 2014, Amazon has expanded its line of Alexa voice-activated devices to reach a dominant position in the marketplace.

Realizing it has a bit of catching up to do and possibly may need to redefine the ground rules, Google this week put the consumer electronics world on notice that this no longer is a one-horse race.

Google threw down its gauntlet at CES 2018 in Las Vegas. Its plans include not only expanding its Home smart speaker line, but also changing the entire conversation about the appliances and electronics that can form the basis of a smart home ecosystem.

“In 2016 our data predicted that smart assistants would move beyond dedicated speakers to a wide range of connected household devices, and we continue to believe that will be true,” Mark Beccue, principal analyst at Tractica, told TechNewsWorld.

Rapid Market Growth

The smart speaker market has expanded rapidly in since 2014, with an installed base of about 27 million devices as of the end of September, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Amazon’s Echo line controlled about 73 percent of that market, while Google Home, which debuted in late 2016, controlled the remaining 27 percent.

The market is still growing fast, with smart speakers among the top-selling devices at Amazon. Google is the closest direct competitor, and no other company is even in the game.

Apple last year announced plans to launch a high-end HomePod speaker, but it mysteriously delayed the launch.

Google Assistant — the artificial intelligence software that powers Google Home — has expanded to more than 400 million different devices worldwide, according to Scott Huffman, vice president of engineering for Google Assistant.

Google Assistant soon will be coming to more than a dozen voice-activated speakers, including Altec Lansing, Anker Innovations, Bang & Olufsen, Braven, iHome, JBL, Jensen, JB, Klipsch, Knit Audio, Memorex, Riva Audio and SoLIS, Huffman said.

Smart View

Google Assistant also will be built into smart displays, said Huffman, allowing users to make video calls with Google Duo, watch YouTube videos, and search for pictures in Google Photos. The technology will be introduced in four new display devices this year, including JBL, Lenovo, LG and Sony.

The Lenovo Smart Display stands up like a picture frame on your desk or counter, featuring a full color 8- or 10-inch HD display. It has weather, news and calendar functions. It allows users to do video calls with Google Duo, provides YouTube video access, and manages all connected devices in the home.

The 8-inch model starts at US$199.99 and the 10-inch at $249.99. Both will be available this summer.

Only the Beginning

Qualcomm earlier this week announced the launch of two Qualcomm Home Hub platforms that support Google’s Android Things. The hubs are based on Qualcomm’s SDA624, which powers the Lenovo Smart Display. SDA212 System on Chips are designed to help developers and OEMs develop fast and efficient hubs based on Google Assistant and related Google services.

The platforms could help speed the development of new digital assistants, touch displays, video cameras and immersive media, Qualcomm said, noting that Harman and Lenovo were working with Qualcomm on new products, including the Lenovo Smart Display, which uses the Qualcomm Home Hub platform.

“We’ve seen tremendous excitement with the Lenovo Smart Display, LG Smart Speaker, Harman/JBL working with our Home Hub platform — and this is just the beginning,” said Qualcomm spokesperson Liz Sweeney.

“Overall, AI-enabled devices with voice interaction have been a major trend at CES,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Qualcomm is looking forward to seeing what AI-enabled home devices are enabled using Android Things, Sweeney added.

Among the major smart hub announcements from third-party partners is the Milo, from Hogar Controls, representing the first combination of smart speaker and home hub that includes support for Z-Wave Plus and the Google Assistant. Z-Wave is an alliance of more than 2,100 products from 600 companies. They include interoperable IoT devices ranging from tools to sensors, energy devices, entertainment controllers, lighting and other systems.

The Milo, which includes a built-in three microphone array, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and support for Zigbee devices, can control hundreds of devices around the home. It will be available later in the first quarter for $149.00

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Intel, Microsoft, Google Scramble for Solutions as Patches Slow Systems

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Major tech companies, including Intel, Microsoft and Google, scrambled to calm the mood this week after a large number of computer users reported performance problems linked to security updates for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities.

A firestorm of criticism has erupted over the response to the chip flaws, which researchers at Google’s Project Zero discovered in 2016. Months passed before the problems were disclosed to the public. Further, the security patches released in recent days have been blamed for performance problems, including slowdowns in many systems. The fixes reportedly rendered a smaller number of systems unbootable.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on Thursday sent an open letter to the technology industry, pledging the company would make frequent updates and be more transparent about the process, and that it would report security issues to the public in a prompt manner.

Design Flaw

Intel Executive Vice President Navin Shenoy on Wednesday issued an update on the impact of the patches on performance, saying that eighth-generation Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake platforms would see less than a 6 percent performance decrease. However, users running Web applications with complex Javascript operations might see a 10 percent reduction.

The seventh-generation Kaby Lake platforms would experience a 7 percent reduction, and the impact on the sixth-generation Skylake platforms would be slightly higher at 8 percent.

Intel released numerous statements after the vulnerabilities were made public, and it shot down reports that its chips were the only ones at risk.

However, the Rosen Law Firm on Wednesday announced that it had filed a class action suit against Intel, alleging a failure to disclose the design flaw. The complaint cited reports that Intel had been warned of the problem. An Intel spokesperson was not immediately available to comment for this story.

Project Zero researchers discovered serious security flaws caused by “speculative execution,” a technique used by modern CPUs to optimize performance, Matt Linton, senior security engineer at Google Cloud, and Matthew O’Connor, office of the CTO, wrote in an online post.

G Suite and Google Cloud platforms have been updated to protect against known attacks, the company said, though it acknowledged concerns that a variant of Spectre is considered more difficult to defend against.

Microsoft and others in the industry were notified of the issue several months ago under a nondisclosure agreement, Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices group, noted earlier this week in an online post. The company immediately began engineering work on updates to mitigate the risk.

The flaw could allow a nonprivileged user to access passwords or secret keys on a computer or a multitenant cloud server, explained Stratechery analyst Ben Thompson in a post Myerson referenced.

Contrary to Intel’s protests, the potential risk from Meltdown is due to a design flaw, Thompson also noted.

Users of Windows 8 or Windows 7 systems using Haswell or older CPUs and would see a decrease in system performance after patching the flaw, Myerson noted.

Apple released updates for iOS, macOS High Sierra, and Safari on Sierra and El Capitan, noting the issue relates to all modern processors and affects nearly all computers and operating systems.

However there have been no reported compromises of customer data, Apple added, and Apple Watch is not affected by Meltdown or Spectre.

Performance Over Prudence

“The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities require adjustment to critical, low-level interfaces in affected operating systems,” said Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud security at Trend Micro.

“Given the scale of the issue, the patches by Microsoft, Apple, Google and others have been very successful,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Still, there have been problems in some cases, Nunnikhoven said, noting that Microsoft and AMD have been pointing fingers at one another following reports of computers slowing down or in some cases not booting.

Microsoft has suspended automatic updates and is working with AMD on a solution, it said in a security bulletin.

Like most organizations, chip manufacturers long have prioritized speed over security,” said Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy atProofpoint, “and that has led to a tremendous amount of sensitive data being placed at risk of unauthorized access via Meltdown and Spectre.

The software patch required to fix Meltdown can slow computer processors down by as much as 30 percent, said Alton Kizziah, vice president of global managed services at Kudelski Security.

“Organizations need to test patches before installing them to make sure that systems that may already be pushed to their limits won’t crash and cease functioning as a result of the patch,” he told TechNewsWorld. Also, those using Microsoft patches may need to make adjustments to their registry keys to avoid interference with antivirus software.

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