All posts by Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Opera Announces New Webkit Based Mobile Browser – Opera Ice

Big news coming out of Oslo, Norway. Opera Software, the browser firm behind Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, is working on a new mobile browser called Opera Ice. Ice is being billed as the future of web browsing, and will be shaking things up in more ways than one.

Technically, the biggest difference between Ice and other Opera products will be its engine. Opera is one of the few browsers to have its own rendering engine, which is called Presto. The other layout engines are from Microsoft (Trident), Apple (Webkit), and Mozilla (Gecko). We might have several dozen browsers spread across numerous platforms, but all of them use one of these engines. Opera’s engine has been a source of pride for it, and has allowed it to shape web standards and lead the way with innovative features. However, it’s also the least popular of the existing engines. Since, no two engines are completely alike, this often means additional headaches for Opera in terms of website compatibility. Desktop websites have traditionally been optimized for Trident, due to Internet Explorer’s dominance. Mobile used to be a segment where Opera ruled the roost. It’s still a major player with more than 215 million mobile users. However, Webkit has emerged as the leading mobile browser engine. Google Chrome uses a modified version of Webkit, and the default Android browser as well as Chrome for Android uses Webkit. Apple’s Safari for iOS also obviously uses Webkit. Moreover, since Apple strictly restricts third-party layout engines on iOS, all iOS browsers are forced to employ Webkit. A a result of Webkit’s dominance in mobile browsers, mobile websites are invariably solely optimized for Webkit. Perhaps not wanting to play the catchup game all over again, Opera is ditching its venerable browser engine for Ice.

Opera-Ice

The change in browser engine will also help Opera to get into Apple’s iTunes App Store. Opera already has Opera Mini for iPhone and other Apple devices, but Opera Mini isn’t a complete web browser, and is ill-suited for modern, dynamic websites. “Opera mini is great, but it is not a fully-fledged offering like Chrome or Safari. There are too many sites it doesn’t work with,” noted Opera’s CEO Lars Boilesen.

Engine isn’t the only thing Opera Software is changing in Ice. It introduces a new paradigm for web browsing that is better suited for modern touch-enabled devices. Ice gets rid of the chrome entirely, and makes use of the full screen space to display content. This lends a web-app like feel to the web pages. Ice doesn’t look or feel like anything we have seen before from Opera Software. Opera’s products have never been about minimalism. They have been power horses, which offered gazillions of features to please the power users. With Ice, the priorities have changed. In fact, Opera is even going so far as to get rid of tabs. Internally, the browser will maintain tabs, but it will be abstracted from the user. One existing feature that will still be present in Ice is speed dials. However, Opera is ditching thumbnails for icons in Ice. Web search will also be retained in Ice. However, it will be completely redesigned to show live previews of results from various sources as you type your query. Check out the video embedded below to get a glimpse of Opera Ice in action. It was recorded during an internal all-hands meet held before Christmas, and was obtained by Pocket-Lint.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Opera Ice. I love the idea of a browser designed from the start-up for touch; however, I am also worried that Opera might end up hindering usability and productivity by taking minimalism too far. I will reserve my judgement for now, since we don’t have enough information. However, I really hope that Opera nails it, and will definitely be taking Opera Ice for a ride, when it shows up next month.

More 4K: 110” Monster from Westinghouse, Astounding 30” Monitor from LG, and Handycam from Sony

Ultra HD displays are clearly the next big thing as far as display manufacturers are considered, with 3D being suddenly relegated to the status of a secondary feature. During the first two days, we saw Samsung and LG announce gorgeous 55-inch 4K OLED TVs, Panasonic showcase its massive 20-inch Windows 8 table with a 4K display targeted at designers, and LG and Sony announce affordable (comparatively) smaller 4K displays. Ultra high definition displays represent the next radical improvement in display technology, and the good news is that 2013 looking to be the year where it will finally spread its wings.

Yesterday, LG announced a 30-inch monitor with an astounding resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. Although, we don’t know the price of this little beauty, it will surely put a dent in your pocket. LG is billing the 153 ppi display as a professional monitor aimed at designers and artists. Viewsonic also displayed a 32-inch monitor with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 that will be shipping towards the end of this year.

LG-4K-Monitor

Sony on the other hand is displaying a curious prototype that is labelled as a 4K handycam for consumer use. It’s not even known if the prototype works since its currently securely locked in a glass cage, but as per The Verge, it records 4K videos using the XAVC open-source format. To be honest, the 4K video recorder sems to be too big and bulky for most consumers.

Sony-4K-Handycam

Last, but not least, Westinghouse stayed true to its word, and unveiled the biggest 4K TV in the world. Westinghouse’s 110-inch 4K TV is a good 25 inches bigger than its nearest competition. However, it comes at a price. The world’s biggest 4K TV will only be manufactured to order, and will cost $300,000, which is more than ten times the price of 85-inch and 84-inch 4K televisions from Sony and LG respectively.

Westinghouse-Largest-4K-TV

[ via The Verge and Engadget ]

Microsoft Gives Us a Glimpse of the Future of Gaming with Its Stunning and Uber-cool Illumiroom Project

Yesterday, during Samsung’s CES keynote, Microsoft’s Eric Rudder made a brief appearance to demonstrate Microsoft’s vision for extending computing interactions. Rudder, who is Microsoft’s Chief Technology Strategy Officer, revealed a Microsoft Research project called Illumiroom that takes advantage of surfaces around your display to augment and enhance your experience.

Illumiroom uses Kinect for Windows camera to scan your environment, and then uses a projector to project an extension of the image being displayed on the screen onto the walls and other surfaces. Illumiroom uses the appearance and the geometry of the room (captured by Kinect) to adapt the projected visuals in real-time without any need to custom pre-process the graphics. The most obvious application of this is gaming. However, this technology could find its way onto a lot of different segments. Microsoft has published a video that shows Illumiroom in action with games like Red Eclipse and Supertuxkart, and the effect is simply stunning. Illumiroom projects your gaming environment onto external surfaces in your room and provides an experience that is both immersive, engrossing, and uber-cool.

Microsoft has already patented the concept behind Illumiroom, and a is promising to publish the research paper at ACM CHI 2013.

Nokia Reports Better Than Expected Q4 2012 on the Back of Strong Lumia Sales

Nokia finally seems to have caught a break, and has kicked off the new year with some unexpected good news. The fourth quarter turned out to be better than expected, and the Lumia series experienced solid sales.

“We are pleased that Q4 2012 was a solid quarter where we exceeded expectations and delivered underlying profitability in Devices & Services and record underlying profitability in Nokia Siemens Networks”, said Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia. Nokia sold 4.4 million Lumia smartphones during the last quarter of 2012, which is more than what it managed during the previous two quarters combined. The well received Lumia 920 obvious played a significant role in Nokia’s strong performance; however, Nokia didn’t officially give a model-wise breakdown of Lumia sales.

Nokia-Lumia

The other good news is that Lumia is finally outselling Symbian devices, whose sales tally stood at 2.2 million. “We focused on our priorities and as a result we sold a total of 14 million Asha smartphones and Lumia smartphones while managing our costs efficiently, and Nokia Siemens Networks delivered yet another very good quarter”, added Elop. 9.3 million units of Asha full-touch smartphones, which have been performing well in markets like India, were sold.

Lumia’s sales numbers were undoubtedly helped by the holiday season, but the total sales tally would have probably been higher if Nokia hadn’t been conservative about the number of handsets manufactured. Nokia is predicting a weaker Q1, 2013, based on the fact that it doesn’t have any new device launches, and Q1 is a seasonally weak quarter. However, the introduction of Lumia 920 in several new countries is expected to help the sales figures. Lumia 920 was launched in India just a few hours ago, and was launched in China last month.

Samsung Announces Octa-Core Exynos 5

The explosion of smart phones, initially kicked off by the iPhone, has fueled tremendous improvement in mobile processors. We went from 1 GHz single-core processors to 1.5 GHz quad-cores in less than three years. Now, the relatively easy ways of improving performance performance are out due to power and heat considerations, and manufacturers are being forced to innovate.

Nvidia chose to increase the number of GPU cores to 72, and switched to quad-core Cortex-A15 (with a fifth power saving core) for the Tegra 4. Some doubts have already been raised about Nvidia’s performance claims, but we will have to wait to know for sure. Qualcomm is relying on a combination of updating the GPU, increasing the CPU clock speed to up to 2.3 GHz, and increasing the bandwidth to deliver performance improvements with its new Snapdragon 600 and 800 series chipsets. Current generation Snapdragon chipsets have been reported to generate a lot of heat and as Qualcomm continues to push the clock speeds, that might become a bigger concern.

Samsung-Exynos-Octa-Core

A short while back, Samsung revealed its cards, and shared with the world what it has in store for mobile devices. The new Exynos 5 will boast of an octa-core CPU. Yes, you read it correctly. The next generation SoC (System on Chip) from Samsung will have eight cores. Fortunately, the Exynos will never use all eight cores simultaneously. Exynos 5 will have two clusters of quad-cores. One of them will be Cortex-A15 CPUs, while the other one will be Cortex-A7 CPUs. A7 CPUs are known to consume a lot less power, and will be used for non-intensive tasks. In other words, Samsung is hoping to improve upon Nvidia’s concept of using a fifth power saving core for common tasks to save battery. The A-15 CPUs will kick in only when required, and as per Samsung’s stats, can deliver more than twice the performance of Exynos 4 quad.

Samsung and LG Announce World’s First Curved OLED TVs

We have been seeing lots of new and exciting televisions in this year’s CES, and the competition is extremely stiff. On Tuesday, Sony’s reveal of the world’s largest OLED 4K TV was matched by Panasonic within hours. Yesterday, we saw the same scenario playing out with Samsung and LG.

Curved-OLED-TV-Samsung

Samsung was the first off the block, with its “world’s first curved OLED TV” announcement. The massive display measures in at 55-inches, and has a curved texture that Samsung reps termed as “IMAX feel”. Being a OLED, the display is expected to offer fantastic color reproduction and crisp and vivid images.The curved OLED is scheduled to be released during the second half of the year. However, other than that, we know precious little about Samsung’s gorgeous new display.

LG-Curved-OLED-TV

Soon after Samsung’s announcement, LG announced its own 55” curved OLED TV. The LG EA9800 promises the same panoramic, immersive viewing experience as Samsung; however, it will also be capable of displaying 3D content. Once again, LG didn’t reveal any specifications or release information. However, given the epic rivalry between the two Korean giants, it’s reasonable to guess that LG’s display will hit the markets round about the same time as Samsung’s curved OLED.

More 4K TVs and a 4K Windows 8 Tablet

After dominating discussions on day 0 of CES, 4K continued to be a buzzword on day 1. Panasonic stole the show with its 56-inch 4K OLED TV, which promised rich vibrant colors that we have come to expect from OLED displays on a large form factor with an insanely high resolution. The 56-inch beauty is also stunning to look at, measuring in at less than 0.5 inch thick. Unfortunately, much like its competitor Sony’s offering, Panasonic’s 4K OLED is still in prototype stages. Panasonic refused to divulge either price or release date. However, Panasonic did reveal that, somewhat curiously, it is using 3D printing technology in the manufacture of the displays.

Panasonic-4K-OLED-TV

The other 4K entry from Panasonic was a tablet. At 20-inches, Panasonic’s tablet doesn’t quite fit within Steve Jobs post-PC vision; however, Panasonic has shown before that it is comfortable operating in niche markets that other manufacturers often ignore. The gigantic tablet is meant for artists and designers, for whom the big display with extra-high resolution will really make a difference. Once again, we don’t have a release date or price tag for the product. However, we do know that the Panasonic tablet will be powered by an Intel Core i5, run Windows 8, and ship with a stylus and some sort of a cloud based collaboration tool. The battery is expected to last about a couple of hours.

Panasonic-4K-Tablet

LG, which was among the first to introduce 4K displays, is demoing the previously announced 55-inch and 65-inch 4K televisions for the first time. Again, we don’t have any information on availability and cost. However, I would be really surprised if LG takes more than a few weeks to launch its new TVs.

[ Images via CNET ]

Tactus Touchscreen Can Morph into a Tactile Keyboard

The Consumer Electronic Show might not have the clout it used to possess a decade back, but the nearly fifty year old trade show is still capable of throwing up products and prototypes that offer a glimpse of the future. One such product on display in this year’s CES is the Tactus touchscreen.

Unlike most other touchscreen manufacturers of the day, Tactus isn’t attempting to compete on resolution, pixel density, vibrancy, etc. The distinguishing feature of the Tactus touchscreen is its ability to morph into a keyboard. Tactus’ Tactile Layer technology replaces the conventional cover glass of modern displays with a thin, flat, smooth and transparent cover layer varying in thickness from about 0.75mm to 1mm. This cover has multiple-layers. The top layer consists of an optically clear polymer, while the bottom layer consists of a number of channels filled with fluid. The fluid’s refractive index is same as the refractive index of its surrounding components, which makes it fully and evenly transparent when light from the display passes through. There are a number of micro-holes between the top layer and the bottom layer. Increasing the pressure of the fluid layer causes the fluid to push up through the holes and against the top polymer layer, making it expand in pre-defined locations. The state and shape of the buttons can be controlled by the software.

Tactus-Keyboard

Right now Tactus’ chief value proposition is being able to offer true tactile feedback on touchscreen keyboards. However, the technology can be possibly used for more demanding requirements including gaming. I don’t mind my touchscreen keyboard, since I love Swyping on my phone. However, I would love to have a tactile game controller built right into my touchscreen handset.

Samsung and Sony Announce New 4K TVs

CES 2013 officially kicks off today; however, some folks couldn’t just wait. Samsung, Nvidia, Sony, and many of the big names got the ball rolling yesterday itself. Judging from the day zero, if last year was the year of ultrabooks, this year can turn out to be the year of 4K television.

LG and Sony already have strong offerings in the Ultra-HD or 4K segment. Yesterday, Samsung announced its entry with a 85-inch monster. The Samsung UN85S9 takes away the crown of the world’s largest 4K television from LG and Sony by being an inch bigger. However, its reign at the top is bound to be short-lived as Westinghouse is expected to announce a 110-inch monster later on during the CES.

Samsung-4K-TV

The Samsung UN85S9 features a stunning “floating” design, which allows the display to be easily adjusted vertically. Samsung’s new UHD television is powered by a 1.35 GHz quad-core A15 processor, but unlike LG’s dual-core counterpart, it doesn’t support 3D.

The other 4K TV displayed yesterday came in a smaller package, but was equally wow-worthy. Sony showed off its 56-inch 4K OLED display. However, the display is currently in prototype stages, and no price or launch date information is available.

Sony did, however, have some good news for consumers looking to purchase 4K television. The Japanese giant will be leveraging its media portfolio to alleviate the lack of content issue. Sony will be bundling ten UHD movies sourced from Sony Pictures or its subsidiary Columbia Pictures with its 84-inch 4K TV. The selection includes the likes of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘The Karate Kid’. It is also planning to launch a download service, from where buyers of smaller 4K televisions, including the 55-inch and 65-inch 4K TVs that were announced yesterday, will be able to download 4K movies.

Firefox 18 Released with Numerous Performance Enhancements

Firefox 18 is expected to be officially released anytime now. However, as always, it has been uploaded to the FTP servers well in advance. If you wish to grab the stable release of Firefox 18 ahead of its announcement, scroll down and head over to Mozilla’s servers.

Firefox-Web-Installer

Changelog for the final version is also yet to be revealed. However, we can get a pretty good idea about what’s new by looking at the changelog for the beta. Firefox 18 ships with the new IonMonkey JavaScript engine, which promises up to 26% improvement in speed compared to Firefox 17. Mozilla has fixed several bugs related to Firefox’s proxy handling, and users surfing behind a proxy should be able to enjoy a much faster browsing experience. Mozilla is also promising improved startup times through smart handling of signed extension certificates, in addition to performance improvements surrounding tab switching. Beginning with Firefox 18, Persona backgrounds will no longer support animated images, in order to improve performance.

There are quite a few goodies for developers also in Firefox 18, including preliminary support for WebRTC and CSS Flexible boxes. Both of these features are disabled by default, and must be enabled from about:config. Other enhancements include support for W3C touch events, better image scaling algorithm, and support for retina displays.

[ Download Firefox 18 for Windows, Mac, and Linux ]