SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

Japan’s SoftBank Group and Taiwan’s Foxconn will soon begin operating a joint venture that deepens ties between two of Asia’s biggest technology companies, they said on Friday.

SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

The move will give Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, a 54.5 percent stake in one of SoftBank’s existing subsidiaries for $600 million (roughly Rs. 3,998 crores) and comes as both groups step up investments in the technology sector and consider expansion in the United States.

Under the arrangement, a subsidiary of Foxconn will buy new shares in SoftBank Group Capital Apac Pte Ltd for a controlling stake, transforming what had been a wholly-owned SoftBank unit into a joint venture, the companies said.

The deal is expected to take effect on March 1, reducing SoftBank’s holding to 45.5 percent.

The joint venture will invest in initiatives that will integrate SoftBank’s investment expertise and Foxconn’s advanced manufacturing and technology services, Foxconn said, adding that it will manage the operation.

Foxconn already makes SoftBank’s human-like robot Pepper.

The Taiwanese company is a a major supplier for Apple and is parent to Sharp, the Japanese manufacturer of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, in which it bought a two-thirds stake last year.

SoftBank owns stakes in many companies, including US telecoms carrier Sprint Corp and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Foxconn founder Terry Gou and SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, both among Asia’s richest men, have done business together for years.

In December plans from the two companies on the possible expansion of investment in the United States were revealed after a meeting between Son and Donald Trump shortly after Trump was elected as US president.

Gou later said the outlines of the investment presented to Trump were from a telephone call he and Son shared before the meeting.

The companies have also worked together on investment in India.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

India has stepped up its lobbying effort against moves in the US Congress to impose curbs on visas for skilled workers that threaten the South Asian nation’s tech sector, which employs more than 3.5 million people.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

Speaking to Reuters, Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi had reached out to the administration of President Donald Trump to stress the importance of India’s $150-billion IT services industry to US citizens.

“India’s investments in the United States have provided jobs to US citizens,” she said in an interview. “That has to be brought to the notice of the US administration.”

The comments come days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Washington to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers.

Indian software companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro shot to prominence in the 1990s by helping Western firms stamp out the “Y2K” bug.

Trump’s “America First” rhetoric on jobs, however, has put their biggest market under threat.

A bill was introduced in the US Congress last month to more than double the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders, which could significantly boost costs for IT companies, whose margins are already being squeezed.

New Delhi has backed a move by Nasscom, India’s high-tech industry association, to lobby US lawmakers and companies to urge the administration not to crack down on allowing its skilled workers into the United States.

A Nasscom delegation is now in the United States to make its case to officials on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

“We will have to engage with the new administration,” Sitharaman said. “Our engagement at every level is intact and continuing.”

The United States is India’s biggest trading partner, but trade in goods between the two countries has been stagnant, at around $67 billion (roughly Rs. 446,454 crores), for the last three years. Indian software exports to the US rose more than 10 percent, to $37 billion, in the last fiscal year from a year earlier.

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the 65,000 H-1B visas issued annually to new applicants under a cap mandated by Congress. More than 60 percent of the US employees of Infosys hold H-1B visas.

A global pact on services trade would go a long way towards settling disputes over professional visas, Sitharaman said.

“If only there is a framework…you will know how movement can happen and how certain restrictions can or cannot come,” she said. “It’s time for countries to sit together and look at it.”

Nokia 3 Budget Android Phone’s Specifications, Price Leaked

While the Nokia 3310 reboot and Nokia P1 flagship will certainly grab the limelight at Nokia’s MWC 2017 event in Barcelona later this month, it is expected that HMD Global will give the rumoured Nokia 3 and Nokia 5 Android phones equal importance. And for those who are curious about Nokia’s upcoming affordable Android smartphones, a new report brings the prices and specifications of the Nokia 3 budget smartphone.

Nokia 3 Budget Android Phone's Specifications, Price Leaked

Nokia 3 Specifications

According to Nokia Power User, Nokia 3 affordable Android smartphone will feature a 5.2-inch HD display and run Android 7.0 Nougat, corroborating an earlier leak. Other specifications of the Nokia 3 include a 1.4GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor coupled with 2GB of RAM and Adreno 308 GPU. It comes with 16GB inbuilt storage and is also expected to support expandable storage via microSD card. It is said to sport a 13-megapixel rear camera and also come with a 5-megapixel front camera.

Nokia 3 Price

Agreeing with Evan Blass, the new report claims that the Nokia 3 will be priced at EUR 149 (roughly Rs. 10,500). The report however adds that Nokia 3 will likely make its way to major markets by March and April.

The Nokia 5, on the other hand, is widely expected to feature a 5.2-inch HD display and come with 2GB of RAM. It is expected to sport a 12-megapixel rear camera. Nokia 5 is rumoured to launch at EUR 199 (roughly Rs. 14,000). HMD Global’s February 26 event is expected to be headlines by the iconic Nokia 3310 feature phone which is rumoured to launch at EUR 59 (roughly Rs. 4,000). Nokia’s comeback smartphone, the Nokia 6, is also widely expected to finally get availability details for market outside China.

The official HMD Global event is set to take place in Barcelona on February 26, and it will kick off at 4:30pm local time (9pm IST).

Uber Drivers Are Employees and Deserve Benefits, Brazil Judge Rules

A Brazilian judge ruled that a driver using the Uber ride-hailing app is an employee of the San Francisco-based company and is entitled to workers’ benefits, adding to the global debate over labor rights for drivers on the platform.

Uber Drivers Are Employees and Deserve Benefits, Brazil Judge Rules

Uber said on Tuesday it would appeal the decision by Judge Marcio Toledo Goncalves, who issued the ruling late Monday in a labor court in Minas Gerais state.

Goncalves ordered Uber to pay one driver around BRL 30,000 ($10,000 or roughly Rs. 6,50,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers.

The consequences for Uber, if the ruling is upheld, could be far greater if more drivers follow suit and if state and federal regulators and tax agencies start treating it, as the judge suggested, as a transportation company rather than a tech firm.

Similar cases in the United States, Britain, Switzerland, and Europe’s highest court have threatened to increase Uber’s costs and subject it to stricter regulation, with implications for peers building platforms for part-time work in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

Uber said in a statement that it was appealing the decision, citing a contradictory ruling by another labor judge in Minas Gerais two weeks ago. The company said drivers are free to set their own hours, cancel or pass on trips and use competing apps, making them service providers rather than employees.

The ride-hailing app has also raised concerns about the safety of its drivers in Brazil.

A Reuters investigation revealed a 10-fold increase in attacks on drivers, including several murders, after enabling cash payments on its platform at the end of July. Questions were raised within the company as to why it did not act faster to address the problem.

Mac’s Back, Nintendo Returns, and Huawei Goes to the Edge

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that leads you by the hand through the sprawling labyrinth of gadget announcements to find the hidden treasure.

In our chest of delights this time around are the latest MacBook Pro, Nintendo’s new console, and a smartphone from Huawei.

As always, these are not reviews, partly because some of these items are months away from hitting retailers’ shelves. The ratings relate only to how much I’d like to try each item.

 macbook-pro

Apple Crunch

Apple has unveiled a redesigned MacBook Pro, giving the company’s core laptop its first full refresh in a few years.

The design has metal on all sides, along with a Force Touch trackpad double the size of previous versions.

There’s a customizable OLED touch strip above the keyboard that responds to gestures and taps — a demo indicated one might use it for fast access to various emoji or for secondary controls within an app. It essentially replaces function keys, but with far more purpose and control.

To the side of the Touch Bar is the second-generation Touch ID module for fingerprint authentication.

Naturally, it’s the thinnest, lightest MacBook Pro ever, because Apple and hyperbole are tighter than Velcro and fabric. The display is 67 percent brighter and displays 25 percent more colors, though apparently somehow eats less power than before. The battery apparently lasts up to 10 hours on a single charge.

For connectivity, there are four Thunderbolt USB Type-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which Apple clearly displayed great courage to include. However, there are no HDMI, USB or Thunderbolt ports, or any memory card slots. The Type-C ports are all you get — even if, thankfully, there are three more than in the previous MacBook.

I’m sure it’s shinier and prettier and smarter and thinner and faster than ever, and that’s well and good. Aside from the compelling Touch Bar, though, there’s not a lot to get truly thrilled about.

Excising regular USB ports mean you’ll need adaptors to connect many of your peripherals (including your iPhone). I’m honestly just waiting for Apple to fit an operating system and processing power into an eye implant à la Black Mirror.

Switching Things Up

Regular readers will note I am a lifelong lover of games, and particularly Nintendo. I remember how excited I was as a 6-year-old to unwrap my Super Nintendo on Christmas morning. I’ve devoted many, many hours to Super Mario World and my favorite game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, in the quarter century since.

The Wii U didn’t much excite me, except for the tremendous Super Mario Maker. However, the latest Nintendo offering, Nintendo Switch, offers a look at a new future for console gaming.

Switch is a hybrid system that, when nestled into its dock, connects to a television. So far, so traditional. However, when you lift Switch out of said dock, it instantly transforms into a portable gaming system with a high-definition display.

The device has two detachable Joy-Con controllers, with one connected to each side. These can stay separate, connect with an accessory to become a more traditional controller, or be used as individual controllers for some multiplayer games. Switch also will support a standalone pro controller.

Switch uses GameCard cartridges instead of discs, which suggests the system may not be backward-compatible with Wii or Wii U games. Gamers can connect multiple Switch systems for local multiplayer play. It seems like Switch is designed to replace both the Wii U and the 3DS, which is curious, since Nintendo’s handheld systems have performed well for some time.

Even with such scant details (the Switch doesn’t go on sale until March), Switch is an utterly compelling console. It looks like it’s going to hit the right balance between casual and more passionate gamers that the Wii and Wii U consoles never were able to find. Plus, there’s that wonderful IP in Mario, Zelda, and so many other titles.

I truly can’t wait to get my hands on one, and then proceed to lose easily in a game of Mario Kart.

Nothing but Screen

I’ve made no bones about being someone who’s probably an iOS lifer at this point, but if anything were to push me into switching smartphone teams, it’d be something like the Mi Mix Android phablet.

It seems a little larger than I’d like, with a 6.4-inch screen, but that’s almost entirely screen real estate — the display takes up 91.3 percent of the body. It looks gorgeous, almost like the pure glass phone of Jony Ive’s dreams. It’s not quite that, though, as the rear and side buttons are made of ceramic.

Ultrasound takes the place of a proximity sensor, which is neat, and the Mi Mix houses 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, and uses the same Snapdragon processor as Google Pixel. There’s a rear 16-megapixel camera — though weirdly, the front-facing camera is at the bottom of the phone to account for all of that screen space.

Again, the design is spectacular. It’s probably the best-looking smartphone I’ve seen since the iPhone 6.

It’s a shame that you’ll likely need to pay a premium to import one from China, when Xiaomi really could have something on its hands were it to take this globally. I’d absolutely be tempted to get it, even if I am bound to my contract for another year.

Election 2016: Either Way, More Drama

In a few days, we will either be inundated by ISIS terrorists in our homes right after the U.S. government takes all of our guns, or we will be at nuclear war with the world, based on my Twitter feed. Women no longer will be allowed to vote, and global warming will turn us into crispy critters.

After watching all three debates and some of the crap coming out of both campaigns, I finally can figure out why Mexico is paying for a wall: They want to keep the crazy people out of their country.

To keep some of you from escaping to Canada or digging a hole in your yards and pulling it in after you, I thought I’d share what I expect will happen if either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected.

What follows is an analyst’s view of what will result when the election is over (which may not be this month, given that both sides seem to agree that if they lose it means the election was rigged). I’ll close with my product of the week: the new phone from LeEco, the Le Pro 3. It’s damn close to the new Google Pixel at about half the price, and it makes the iPhone 7 look like last year’s phone.

 2016-presidential-election

Ineffective Leadership

For the last eight years, we’ve had a president who has been both relatively popular and relatively ineffective. In his first two years, when his party owned both houses of Congress, virtually nothing but Obamacare got done. Then his party lost control in the House of Representatives.

This loss was due in large part to the mismanagement of Nancy Pelosi, who appeared to relish sticking it to both her Republican rivals and the newly elected president. She isn’t going anywhere, and likely will do the same thing to Clinton if she wins.

So, a relatively popular president and both houses of Congress got us two years of almost nothing but Obamacare.

Now we have two very unpopular candidates, neither of which is likely to have the support of Congress, and people are scared to death they will do something really bad. These two folks are so badly tarnished that the one who wins is likely to be under almost immediate indictment or…

Impeachment Ahead

Both candidates don’t seem to get rules. Trump has a nasty habit of being self-serving and acting before thinking, and the odds of him making an impeachment-level mistake in the first year are surprisingly good. If he wins, the Democrats are fired up to get him out of office. Also, the Republicans appear to hate him nearly as much as they hate Clinton, so he won’t get much support from his own party.

Clinton attracts scandals like poop attracts flies. She is already at war with the FBI and hasn’t even entered office yet. She doesn’t have the charisma her husband has, or the depth of support he had, and her judgment also appears to be a scandal magnet. The Republicans are over the top in their hatred of her, and her democratic peers tend to run from scandals.

Wild cards are concerns the FBI has with the Clinton Foundation and money laundering, something I think could have been brought up months ago. Also, Trump’s financials could reveal deep and inappropriate ties to a foreign government, either of which could fast-track this process.

No Mandate

At the end of this process, the primary platform for Clinton appears to be that she isn’t Donald Trump, and the primary platform for Trump is that he isn’t Hillary Clinton. What this means is that if there is a mandate, it is likely tied back to that one aspect, which effectively goes away after the election.

On the plus side, this likely will be the fastest execution of a campaign promise in history. On the minus side, there is no other mandate, which means anything else these folks want to do will require that they get the support of the American people, who mostly hate both of them. Good luck with that.

The country would prefer either of the VPs over the folks running for president. They seem more like twin brothers than they do highly opposed opponents. If they switched parties, we’d likely hardly notice. Just saying.

Both candidates are poised to challenge results and could win a challenge. What this means is that regardless of who wins, the loser is likely to make a huge stink and challenge the results, unless it’s a blowout. The surveys are indicating a very tight race.

It may be some time before we know who actually is president, and we can look forward to a ton more fun controversy and drama surrounding the event.

Given the likelihood of intimidation at polling places, a cyberattack on some part of the polling system, and the ancient and inconsistent technology used for capturing votes across the nation, there is good chance the loser will be able to have this vote overturned. So, it may not be over for a while anyway.

Wrapping Up

If you like soap operas, you’ll probably like the outcome of this election regardless of who wins, because the only thing that is certain is that we will have a ton more drama over the next eight years. The odds of an impeachment attempt are as close to 100 percent as we likely can get, assuming the winning candidate, who most certainly will be ancient, survives into office.

The odds of success, given how disliked both candidates are and how often both step over the line, are better than they likely have been in our collective lifetimes.

In the end, you can sleep soundly. There is little likelihood that either candidate will do anything truly evil, because it is equally unlikely they’ll be able to do anything at all except create more drama.

I do think you should get out and vote, because there are a lot of good people down ballet that can make a difference, and some important initiatives — both local and national — that you should care about.

Do read up on these, because if you’ve been watching the media, you’ve been lied to a lot and you certainly want to be smarter than either of the presidential candidates in your choices. Hey, how often can you legitimately say you’re smarter than the president?

Sadly, this year, it is way too easy.

I’ve been using the LeEco Le Pro3 Smartphone for about a week now, and saying I’m impressed would be an understatement.

This is the first phone I’ve had with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset, and it just screams. I’m particularly impressed with the new QuickCharge 3.0 feature which gets you to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes (an hour for a full charge).

It has a huge 4,070 mAh battery, and this is the first phone I’ve had in years with battery life that could be measured in days. I charged it Monday, and I still had plenty of battery on Thursday (specs have it at a whopping 33 hours of talk time).

Granted, I didn’t use the phone much, but I’m generally lucky to make it through the day without searching for a charger.

LeEco Le Pro3 Ecophone

It comes with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, which is great for a base, but there is no SD card slot. Also, it is missing a headphone jack (needs a USB Type C dongle), which appears to be vanishing everyplace. Like the Google Pixel, it has a fingerprint reader on the back, which seems to work impressively well.

The other shortcoming is that it has a 1080p display, making it a poor choice for VR, which most of us don’t use yet anyway. The phone retails for a reasonable US$399 (there is a promotion running where you can get $100 rebate) unlocked, which is a bargain for such a feature rich phone. Note, however, that it won’t work with Verizon/Sprint/Boost.

The only thing I found somewhat annoying was the change in the buttons on the bottom of the phone, which takes getting used to. Gorilla Glass 3 protects the screen, and it even supports Dolby Atmos for sound.

It has decent cameras, with a 16-MP/4K video camera in the back and an 8-MP camera in the front with Slow-Motion and Panorama modes. Oh, and one unusual feature, which is handy if you travel out of the country, is that this is a Dual Nano SIM phone, so you can use your own SIM and buy a local SIM when traveling and use both.

It is rare that I get something that is so impressive that I wonder where the brand has been my whole life. The LeEco Le Pro 3 kicks butt and is a true value, and it is my product of the week.

Google, Unlike Microsoft, Must Turn Over Foreign Emails: US Judge

A US judge has ordered Google to comply with search warrants seeking customer emails stored outside the United States, diverging from a federal appeals court that reached the opposite conclusion in a similar case involving Microsoft Corp.

Google, Unlike Microsoft, Must Turn Over Foreign Emails: US Judge

US Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter in Philadelphia ruled on Friday that transferring emails from a foreign server so FBI agents could review them locally as part of a domestic fraud probe did not qualify as a seizure.

The judge said this was because there was “no meaningful interference” with the account holder’s “possessory interest” in the data sought.

“Though the retrieval of the electronic data by Google from its multiple data centers abroad has the potential for an invasion of privacy, the actual infringement of privacy occurs at the time of disclosure in the United States,” Rueter wrote.

Google, a unit of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet Inc, said in a statement on Saturday: “The magistrate in this case departed from precedent, and we plan to appeal the decision. We will continue to push back on overbroad warrants.”

The ruling came less than seven months after the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Microsoft could not be forced to turn over emails stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland that US investigators sought in a narcotics case.

That decision last July 14 was welcomed by dozens of technology and media companies, privacy advocates, and both the American Civil Liberties Union and US Chamber of Commerce.

On January 24, the same appeals court voted not to revisit the decision. The four dissenting judges called on the US Supreme Court or Congress to reverse it, saying the decision hurt law enforcement and raised national security concerns.

Both cases involved warrants issued under the Stored Communications Act, a 1986 federal law that many technology companies and privacy advocates consider outdated.

In court papers, Google said it sometimes breaks up emails into pieces to improve its network’s performance, and did not necessarily know where particular emails might be stored.

Relying on the Microsoft decision, Google said it believed it had complied with the warrants it received, by turning over data it knew were stored in the United States.

Google receives more than 25,000 requests annually from US authorities for disclosures of user data in criminal matters, according to Rueter’s ruling.

The cases are In re: Search Warrant No. 16-960-M-01 to Google and In re: Search Warrant No. 16-1061-M to Google, US District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Nos. 16-mj-00960, 16-mj-01061

South Korea Reports Its Own Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Probe Results

South Korea said on Monday it will strengthen lithium-ion battery safety requirements and conduct regular inspections to avoid repeats of fires which forced Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to withdraw its premium Galaxy Note 7 handset.

South Korea Reports Its Own Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Probe Results

Manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in portable devices, would be subjected to greater oversight and regular inspections, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement. Devices using lithium-ion batteries also would be subjected to more regular safety tests, it added.

“We ask that the industry shares the view that making efforts to ensure safety is equally as critical as developing new products through technological innovation,” Vice Minister Jeong Marn-ki said in the statement.

Samsung was forced to scrap the near-$900 Galaxy Note 7 smartphones in October after some of the devices caught fire due to faulty batteries, wiping out about $5.4 billion in operating profit over three quarters.

Samsung and independent investigators said in January that different battery problems from two suppliers – Samsung SDI Co Ltd and Amperex Technology Ltd – caused some Galaxy Note 7s to combust.

A separate probe by the Korea Testing Laboratory also found no other cause for the Galaxy Note 7 fires other than a combination of manufacturing and design faults with the batteries, the trade ministry said.

The government also said it would monitor Samsung’s efforts to improve battery safety, such as x-ray testing and stricter standards during the design process.

It would strengthen recall-related requirements by broadening the types of serious product defects that manufacturers should report to the government, and seek legal changes to allow the government to warn consumers to stop using certain products even if they had not been recalled.

46 Billion Electronic ‘Red Envelopes’ Sent Over WeChat on Chinese New Year

Chinese exchanged billions of electronic “red envelopes” over the Lunar New Year holiday, state media said Saturday, as more people turned to modern technology to perform the ancient tradition of handing out cash.

46 Billion Electronic 'Red Envelopes' Sent Over WeChat on Chinese New Year

For centuries parents, relatives and employers have distributed red paper envelopes containing money, known as “hong bao”, to children or menial workers to celebrate the dawn of the new year.

But tech-savvy givers in China are increasingly opting to transfer money via their smartphones rather than go to the trouble – and expense – of buying envelopes and handing them out.

About 46 billion electronic hong baos were sent or received via the popular messaging app WeChat from January 27 – the eve of the Year of the Rooster – to February 1, the China Daily reported.

That was 43 percent more than last year.

On January 27 alone more than 14 billion electronic red envelopes were transferred on WeChat, which is owned by Internet giant Tencent and has more than 800 million users.

That was up nearly 76 percent on last year, the newspaper said, and included a record 2,125 hong baos sent by a man in Shenzhen.

An apparently very popular man in the eastern province of Shandong received a staggering 10,069 envelopes.

Tencent did not reveal the total amount of money contained in the red packets.

Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro Spotted Again on Wi-Fi Certification Site, Global Launch Imminent

The Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro has been spotted on several occasions, and now the smartphone has arrived again on a Wi-Fi certification site, hinting at an imminent arrival. However, this new certification comes with a different model number indicating that the smartphone may also see the light of the day outside of China.

Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro Spotted Again on Wi-Fi Certification Site, Global Launch Imminent

In December, the Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro was spotted on Wi-Fi Alliance with the model number SM-C5010, however this time the device is spotted with model number SM-C501X. This leads us to believe that the smartphone leaked earlier was a China-only variant, while the new one is meant for the international audience. Notably, the Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro was earlier leaked to launch with the Samsung Galaxy C7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro. The latter two have already been made official, while the Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro remains to be launched.

Past rumours suggest that the Samsung Galaxy C5 Pro sports a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED full-HD display with a Snapdragon 625 processor pared with 4GB RAM. It is expected to offer 64GB of internal storage. As for optics, the Galaxy C5 Pro will sport a 16-megapixel rear camera and a similar 16-megapixel front camera for selfies and video chats. It should ship with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box. The smartphone is expected to pack a 3000mAh battery and be 6.95mm slim.

The Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro has been launched in India at the price of Rs. 36,900, after being launched in China last year. It has been made available across all retail channels in Black and Gold colour variants.