Microsoft launches Xbox Music streaming service for iOS, Android devices

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Date: Monday, September 9th, 2013, 09:05
Category: iOS, News, Software

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If you’re hankering for additional streaming music on your iOS device, Microsoft has its own offerings prior to Apple’s release of its iTunes Radio streaming service.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Microsoft has released Xbox Music app for iPhone. Xbox Music was first unveiled last October and allows users to listen to ad-supported or ad-free music (depending on whether they have a paying subscription or not) on their Microsoft devices, such as Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Windows PCs.

With today’s launch on iOS and Android devices, Microsoft appears to acknowledge that it thinks Apple’s iTunes Radio could become a big player on the streaming-music front — something it hopes to stave off with the expansion of Xbox Music.

Today’s release of the app offers users the following:
- Stream ad-free music from a catalog of tens of millions of songs.

- Add songs, albums and playlists to your Xbox Music collection and access them from other devices.

- Create playlists that sync across your phone, Xbox 360, PC, tablet and the web.

- Listen to music while using your iPhone.

- Listen to artist-based radio stations.

- Enjoy a rich visual experience for searching, viewing and playing back music.

- The company also says it will be releasing an update soon that will allow users to download music for offline listening.

Though Xbox Music is a free download, mobile users will be required to have an Xbox Music Pass to listen to the service on their iPhone. Xbox Music Passes are available for a free 30-day trial, but retail for US$9.99 a month after that.

Xbox Music requires iOS 6.0 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the app and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Rumor: iPhone 5 “silver ring” around Home button could be part of fingerprint reader system

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Date: Monday, September 9th, 2013, 09:20
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

You know that rumored cool “silver ring” that’s been rumored for the upcoming iPhone 5S handset?

It might be part of a fingerprint sensor.

Per AppleInsider and Fox News’ This Week in Tech, reporter Clayton Morris proposed the ring is merely aesthetic, possibly added so users can easily distinguish an iPhone that has a built-in fingerprint sensor from those that do not.

However, given recent patent filings, the metallic ring may be a functional component necessary to the sensor’s operation.

There stands a variety of ways to accomplish biometric fingerprint readings, including the stereotypical “swiping” motion made famous in movies, as well as methods using optical, thermal, pressure and capacitive measurements, among others. AuthenTec, which Apple purchased in 2012 for US$356 million, uses a few different capture methods in its products, though the tech most likely to be used in the iPhone doesn’t involve swiping.

Typical methods of swipe authentication, usually direct capacitance, involve a thin “strip” sensor that captures and stitches together multiple images of a fingerprint as a user sweeps their finger across the sensing plate. With direct capacitance, an electrical field is applied to the sensor, which detects ridges and valleys — the skin structures that form fingerprint whorls — by measuring variations in capacitance at the sensor plate. Lower capacitance denotes skin that is farther from the sensor, or valleys, while higher capacitance is associated with ridges.

A more accurate and robust method of capture is called radio frequency field sensing, or AC capacitance. Like direct capacitive sensing, this technique also measures capacitance of a sort, but the similarities end there. Instead of measuring the effect on an electrical field, a low frequency RF signal is inserted into the finger and received by the sensor. In this case, RF signal strength captured by the pixel traces are measured and the corresponding data is translated to form an image of the print.

Benefits of RF field/AC capacitance sensing include static non-swipe readings, resistance to dust and capability for the sensor to operate even when covered by layers of protective material. These types of sensors are usually larger in size to allow for a wider capture area.

One patent, filed by AuthenTec cofounder Dale R. Setlak and subsequently assigned to Apple, goes into detail about a technology based on mechanics which are very similar to RF field sensing. The property also relates to the company’s “Smart Sensor” — also based on RF field sensing tech — which has been used successfully in at least one phone, the Japan-only Toshiba REGZA T-01D.

As noted in Setlak’s patent, along with other similar inventions credited to his name, electrodes need to be in contact with the finger to pump the drive signal that will ultimately be measured by pixel traces on the pixel plate.

In nearly all RF field sensors, a ring disposed around the sensor array acts as the electrode that drives the low frequency RF signal into the finger, which is attenuated by ridges and valleys in the print and finally captured by AC sensors as a high quality image.

As a type of bonus side effect, the tech can also be used as a form of input. By analyzing slight movements or changes in attenuation over time, the system can interpolate gesture behaviors like scrolling, cursor control and, when combined with a physical or virtual button, drag-and-drop operations.

Embedding this type of package in an iPhone’s home button is likely quite challenging as the part moves up and down constantly, which would put undue wear on the sensing module’s interconnects. It is possible that Apple has found a way to separate the finger ring from the sensor array in order to isolate the integral components from wear and tear. Such a system would also be less apt to fouling or misreadings due to debris.

As for utility, the sensor design wouldn’t force users to swipe the home button to authenticate, but would have the module read the print while a user presses the button to wake the phone from sleep. In other words, the security factor would take place seamlessly. No new gestures to learn, just enhanced functionality, transparent to the user.

It remains wholly unknown if Apple has incorporated this particular fingerprint technology into the next-gen iPhone, though circumstantial evidence seems to point in that very specific direction.

Further, a non-functional aesthetic bezel rimming the home button, which has seen nary a design tweak since the first iPhone launched in 2007, simply to demarcate new biometric capabilities seems to go against Apple’s design sensibilities. When the company introduced a front-facing camera with the iPhone 4, it buried the feature just above the earpiece. No special decorations or embellishments to note that the handset sported FaceTime capabilities.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and be sure to check in tomorrow for coverage of Apple’s September 10th iPhone press event.

VirtualBox updated to 4.2.18

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Date: Monday, September 9th, 2013, 08:53
Category: News, Software

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There’s nothing wrong with a regular update to a useful program.

VirtualBox, an open source x86 virtualization project available for free has just hit version 4.2.18. The new version, a 110 megabyte download, features the following fixes and changes:
- VMM: properly handle NMIs on Linux hosts with X2APIC enabled.

- VMM: fixed potential crashes with 64-bit guests on 32-bit hosts (bug #11979).

- GUI / seamless: properly handle mouse wheel scroll events.

- GUI, VBoxManage: when unregistering a VM, also unregister the hard disk images which are used exclusively (bug #10311).

- GUI: prevent crashes under certain conditions on X11 hosts.

- 3D: multiscreen fixes (incorrect mouse position, flickers).

- 3D Support: several fixes for the Windows WDDM video driver (multiscreen, seamless).

- Snapshots: made live snapshots work again (bug #9255).

- Teleportation: made it work again (bug #9455).

- VBoxManage: on snapshot take, –pause is default and –live is for doing live snapshots.

- VBoxSVC: don’t crash on systems with many VLAN interfaces (Solaris hosts only).

- Network: after the host resumes from suspend, disconnect and reconnect the virtual network cables to force renewing the DHCP leases for the guests. So far only Mac OS X hosts and Windows hosts (bug #10063).

- NAT: on name server changes force a reconnect of the virtual network cable to notify the guest (Mac OS X hosts only).

- Mac OS X installer: keep previously installed Extension Packs on VirtualBox upgrade.

- Linux hosts / guests: Linux 3.11 fixes (bug #12001).

- Solaris hosts: fixed a potential kernel panic caused due to unexpected preemption due to logging.

- Windows hosts: fixed an issue with USB2 devices being inaccessible when plugged into USB3 ports.

- Linux Additions: added PCI device identifier to vboxvideo.ko fixing DRI initialization under certain conditions (bug #11957).

- Linux Additions: fixed udev detection in the init script with Linux 3.x kernels.

VirtualBox 4.2.18 is available for free and requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.6 or later and an Intel-based Mac to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback, please let us know.