HTC One M9e With MediaTek Helio X10 SoC, 2GB RAM Launched

HTC has launched a new variant of its 2015 flagship smartphone dubbed One M9e in China. Priced at CNY 2,700 (approximately Rs. 27,650), the smartphone is now available via an e-commerce website in China.

Notably, the Chinese Tmall online retailer in its listing incorrectly refers to the HTC One M9e as One M9 several times. The One M9e, as seen in earlier leaks, features a design reminiscent of the HTC One M9. Unfortunately, there is no word whether the handset will be launching in markets outside China.

The HTC One M9e features a 5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixel) IPS display. Similar to the HTC One M9+, the One M9e is powered by 2.2GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6795T Helio X10 processor; though the handset features just 2GB of RAM instead of 3GB of RAM as seen in One M9+. The inbuilt storage on the device is 16GB, which is further expandable by a microSD card (up to 2TB).

(Also see: HTC One M9+ Review: Turning Heads and Taking Chances)

There is a 13-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, autofocus, BSI sensor, OIS (optical image stabilisation), support for 1080p video recording, and a LED flash module. The One M9e features an UltraPixel front camera, much like the One M9+. Running Android 5.0 Lollipop with Sense, the One M9e supports single Nano-SIM.

Connectivity options on the device include 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, Infrared, DLNA, FM radio, and NFC. The One M9e is backed by a similar 2840mAh non-removable battery as seen on One M9 and One M9+. It measures 144.6×69.7×9.61mm and weighs 157 grams.

The Taiwanese company last month unveiled the HTC One M9+ Supreme Camera, which was almost identical to the One M9+ smartphone but with a few upgrades in the rear camera setup.

The company recently announced that its One A9 currently priced at $399.99 (roughly Rs. 26,000) is a special “promotional pre-sale offer”, which would end by November 7. The Taiwanese company confirmed that once the special price offer is over, the HTC One A9 would then cost $100 more, which is $499.99 (roughly Rs. 32,500) unlocked.

 

Discovery of Oxygen on Comet 'Big Surprise'

Stunned scientists announced Wednesday the unexpected discovery of large quantities of oxygen on a comet which streaked past the Sun in August with a European spacecraft in tow.

The find came as a “big surprise”, and challenges mainstream theories on the formation of our Solar System, said scientist Andre Bieler of the University of Michigan.

Measurements made by the Rosetta probe suggested that oxygen molecules in the 67P comet’s gassy halo must have existed “before or at” its formation, he told journalists.

This may have implications for mankind’s understanding of the chemistry involved in the formation of the Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago.

“We believe this oxygen is primordial, which means it is older than our Solar System,” said Bieler.

Scientists had previously ruled out the presence of oxygen (O2) on comets such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the subject of intensive prodding and probing by a European robot lab.

As O2 mixes easily with other elements, “we never thought that oxygen could ‘survive’ for billions of years” in a pristine state, said Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern, who co-authored a study in the journal Nature.

“This evidence of oxygen as an ancient substance will likely discredit some theoretical models of the formation of our Solar System,” she said.

The comet is being tracked on its deep space journey around the Sun by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft.

The historic mission seeks to unlock the mystery of the origins of life on Earth.

Scientists believe that comets “seeded” early Earth with some of the ingredients for life.

The team monitored the ratio of oxygen to water on the comet for several months to see if the gas molecules would dissipate as solar winds ripped away layers of surface.

They did not – proving the oxygen was embedded in the comet, not just hanging around its surface.

Prevailing theories of the Solar System’s birth posit a chaotic, collision-strewn mixing of matter flowing toward and away from the newly-formed Sun.

Pristine, icy grains containing oxygen would not have made it through such violence intact, the scientists said, leading them to speculate that the process was, in fact, “gentler”.

The oxygen molecules must have “survived from the dark molecular clouds from which they were probably formed into comets as we have them today,” said Altwegg.

Only twice before – on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn – have oxygen molecules been found in the Solar System beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and never before on a comet.

Oxygen is difficult to detect with Earth-bound telescopes.

‘Don’t jump to conclusions’
Rosetta offered a rare opportunity to study 67P’s “coma” – the envelope of dust, gas and ice that forms as it nears the Sun on an elliptical orbit.

The new data suggests that water on comets is probably the rule rather than the exception, the scientists said.

Scientists not involved in this study underlined its importance, but said more time was needed to assess the implications.

The discovery “imposes a severe constraint on the mechanism for the formation of the Solar System,” said French astrophysicist Francis Rocard.

“But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” he cautioned.

Oxygen molecules were the fourth-most common gas detected in 67P’s debris halo – after water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Their presence did not tell us anything about the origins of life on Earth, of the possibility of finding it elsewhere in the universe, Altwegg said.

In looking at exo-planets, “the combination of O2 and methane has been taken as a sign that you might have life underneath,” she said.

“On this comet we have both, but we don’t have life. So having oxygen may not be a very good bio-signature.”

PayPal Reports Rise in Profits, Weak Transaction Volumes

Payment processor PayPal Holdings Inc, spun off from eBay Inc reported quarterly revenue slightly below analysts’ expectations as a strong dollar hurt its transaction volumes in China and Europe.

Shares of PayPal, which listed for the second time on the Nasdaq in July, fell 5.6 percent in extended trading on Wednesday.

PayPal’s third-quarter revenue rose about 14 percent to $2.26 billion (roughly Rs. 14,736 crores), nearly half of which came from markets outside the United States.

Excluding the impact of a strong dollar, revenue rose 19 percent, but missed the average analyst estimate of $2.27 billion (roughly Rs. 14,801 crores), according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“I think that the foreign exchange impact has been larger than expected,” Susquehanna Financial Group analyst James Friedman said.

PayPal said it expected the dollar to have a bigger impact on its 2015 revenue than previously anticipated. The company forecast a growth of 15-18 percent in full-year revenue, excluding the impact of a strong dollar.

Wedbush Securities analyst Gil Luria also attributed the fall in PayPal’s shares to likely high investor expectations after strong results from eBay.

PayPal said growth in its international total payment volumes was hurt somewhat because of weakness in China and Europe.

“When Americans buy in China or Europeans buy in the United States, PayPal makes the highest rates. So when the dollar is strong, that weakens demand from Europe and supply from China,” Luria said.

PayPal has also been facing fierce competition from payment processing startups such as Stripe Inc and Square Inc as well as Apple Inc’s Apple Pay in a market it helped create.

Square, headed by Twitter Inc Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, filed for an IPO this month.

PayPal’s transaction margin fell to 62.3 percent in the quarter ended Sept. 30 from 63.1 percent, a year earlier.

Active accounts increased 10 percent to 173 million, while total payment volume rose 20 percent to $69.74 billion (roughly Rs. 4,54,729 crores). The company’s mobile transactions rose 38 percent to 345 million.

PayPal’s net income increased 28.6 percent to $301 million (roughly Rs. 1,962 crores), or 25 cents per share.

Excluding items, the company earned 31 cents per share, handily beating the average analyst estimate of 29 cents.

PayPal’s shares were trading at $34.60 after the bell.

Global Smartphone Sales Pick Up on Fierce Competition

Global smartphone sales gained in the third quarter as major vendors ramped up special deals and financing to attract buyers, a survey showed Wednesday.

A survey by IDC showed global smartphone sales of 355.2 million in the July-September period, up 6.8 percent from a year ago and the second highest quarterly total on record.

Samsung remained the top vendor, delivering 84.5 million handsets or 23.5 percent of the total market, followed by Apple’s 48 million which gave the US firm 13.5 percent.

China’s Huawei cemented its hold on third place with a 7.5 percent market share and 26.5 million units, followed by Chinese rivals Lenovo and Xiaomi, which each captured slightly more than five percent.

IDC analysts said consumers are seeing new buying options including unlocked handsets which can be used on several carriers, and financing plans to pay for the device over time.

Apple this year began these strategies to entice buyers for its high-end iPhones.

“The vendor landscape and product offerings are really unique at the moment as many markets are seeing consumers become more aware of alternative buying options when it comes to paying for their smartphone,” said IDC’s Ryan Reith.

“In mature and subsidized markets, we now have a wide range of operators offering equipment installation plans), as well as early trade-in options. At the same time the number of unlocked/off-contract offerings has increased significantly and it’s slowly starting to resonate with consumers.”

IDC said there is intense competition at the high end between Apple and Samsung, each of which introduced new models this year, as well as in the budget range.

“The third quarter placed a substantial emphasis on flagship devices as vendors tried to outclass each other in both features and design,” said IDC research manager Anthony Scarsella.

“New flagship models translated to fiercer competition at the high-end for most players as many will try to challenge both Samsung and Apple for a place among the elite. However, despite the glitz and glamour at the high-end, we still expect the bulk of volume and growth to once again sprout from low to mid-range handsets, particularly in emerging markets.”

The survey showed Huawei as the fastest growing vendor, boosting sales 60.9 percent from last year. The firm’s partnership to produce Google’s Nexus 6P phone “could signal that Huawei is finally ready to seriously compete in the US,” IDC said.

Google's Internet-Beaming Project Loon Balloons to Take Off in Indonesia

Google’s Internet-beaming balloons are ready to take off on the next phase of their mission to deliver online access in regions where most people live offline.

The balloons will begin hovering in the stratosphere above Indonesia in an expansion of the project announced Wednesday. About 250 million people live in the country composed of about 17,000 islands in that part of Southeast Asia, although only 42 million have Internet access, according to the CIA’s estimates.

Google’s 2-year-old “Project Loon” program aims to change that by transmitting high-speed Internet signals from clusters of balloons floating about 60,000 feet above the Earth.

Although the project is still being funded primarily by money that Google makes from digital advertising, it recently became part of an independent lab called X that is run by Google’s new parent company, Alphabet.

Alphabet frames Project’s Loon as a noble endeavor striving to get about 100 million currently unconnected people tapped into the vast reservoir of knowledge, entertainment and conveniences available online. But it could also enrich Google by expanding the potential audience that can query its search engine, watch video on YouTube, correspond through Gmail and click on digital ads.

Project Loon is still testing its technology, so there is still no estimate when it will start selling the Internet service to households and businesses within range of the balloons.

The Internet access will be sold through wireless service providers in Indonesia, where there the number of mobile phones – about 319 million – outnumber people. But most of those phones don’t connect to the Internet because users can’t afford data plans, or more frequently, live in remote or rocky terrains where it’s impractical or too expensive to install the equipment need to deliver high-speed Internet access.

If things pan out as envisioned, Project Loon will deploy hundreds of balloons that serve as cell towers in the sky, invisible to the naked eye. To pull it off, the project’s engineers must choreograph a high-altitude dance, ensuring that as one balloon drifts out of a targeted territory’s Internet-receiving range, another one will float in to fill the void.

The Indonesian expansion follows extensive testing in New Zealand, Australia and remote areas in California and Brazil. Indonesia’s sheer size and geographic sprawl makes it Project Loon’s most ambitious step yet.

Eventually, Project Loon envisions dispatching its balloons to other unconnected regions in the world, ranging from small villages in Africa to the woods of California.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin envisions Project Loon eventually creating millions of jobs around the world to raise the standard of living for now-impoverished people as they are able to get online to educate themselves and make new connections.

“The emotional distance of the world is shrinking, thanks to the communications we enjoy today,” said Brin, who oversees the X lab as Alphabet’s president.

SoftBank Internal Data Tips Smartphone Woes Worse Than Reported

New smartphone subscriptions for SoftBank Group Corp plunged 35 percent at its own stores in Japan’s most populous region in the last business year, according to internal data that paints a far gloomier picture than its published financial results.

The data, from a July presentation for distributors and seen by Reuters, highlights the depth of SoftBank’s pain as intensifying competition hits its domestic mobile unit, which is responsible for the bulk of its operating profit.

Since losing an exclusive deal in Japan to sell Apple Inc’s iPhone four years ago, SoftBank has seen many users switch to other carriers – with losses made worse last year as it dropped hefty cash-back incentives and as smartphones with cheaper service plans gained in popularity, a source familiar with the situation said.

Analysts expect mild profit increases for the unit over the next two years but say much of that will be due to cost cuts. The lack of a strong growth driver could crimp SoftBank’s efforts to revamp US wireless carrier Sprint Corp, they say, adding that the more-than-$20 billion (roughly Rs. 1,30,407 crores) acquisition needs further investment to be competitive.

Compared to rivals, Japan’s third-biggest mobile operator provides only limited sales data to the public and domestic smartphone subscriptions are not broken out separately. Disclosed nationwide figures for new subscriptions for devices, which include a wide range of products from tablets to digital photo frames, showed a milder 10.6 percent decline for the year ended in March.

The 35 percent slide contrasts with an increase in new smartphone subscriptions in the previous year, the July presentation data showed, although an exact figure was not available. But the data did not include new sign-ups at electronic retailers where most customers go and only counts Tokyo and its surrounding regions. It is also separate from handset upgrades.

SoftBank spokesman Takeaki Nukii said he was not able to confirm the 35 percent decline but it seemed sharper than what had been felt in the company. He also said the limited data should not be used as a basis for discussing the overall trend in the company’s smartphone sales and that other data for this business year was upbeat.

But a SoftBank source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that the sharp slide shown in the July presentation was broadly similar at electronics retailers and in other parts of the country.

“The decline at electronics retailers might not be quite as steep as at SoftBank shops, but the basic trend is the same,” he said, declining to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The first source familiar with the situation said while he did not have specific figures for this business year, he did not feel the situation had improved.

SoftBank declined to comment specifically on remarks by sources.

iPhone dependent
After criticism of the way it collates its subscription data, SoftBank changed its disclosure practices this financial year, creating a new category of “main subscribers” which includes smartphones, flip cellphones and tablets but excludes items such as digital photo frames.

April-June data for main subscribers showed net additions – new customers minus cancellations – growing by just 20,000. Similar categories for NTT Docomo Inc showed growth of 940,000 while KDDI Corp had growth of 520,000.

Docomo was benefiting as phones offered by cheaper mobile virtual network operators were mostly linked to its network while KDDI has the edge in marketing, said Hideaki Tanaka, analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley.

“In terms of net additions, SoftBank’s struggles are only going to continue,” he said.

SoftBank’s Nukii pointed to figures from research firm BCN that show SoftBank’s sales for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. In the 10 days after their launch last month, SoftBank held 42 percent market share for those two models compared with 36 percent for KDDI and 21 percent for Docomo.

Once SoftBank’s grip on iPhones in Japan was its greatest strength but it is now seen as too dependent on the products, which accounted for 80 percent of its smartphone sales according to material presented to distributors.

The three-year exclusive deal with Apple inked nearly a decade ago helped SoftBank transform itself into a serious rival to Docomo and KDDI, but KDDI gained the rights to sell iPhones in 2011, followed by Docomo two years later.

In a nearly saturated market, contracts are virtually indistinguishable across networks and incentives often benefit customers who jump ship to another carrier.

The industry outlook could also worsen for Japanese mobile operators in general after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for cheaper cellphone rates last month.

Samsung Profit Rises as Chips Offset Smartphone Weakness

Samsung Electronics Co. reported its first earnings gain in more than a year on Thursday as a record profit from computer chips masked a decline in its smartphone business.

Its third-quarter net income was KRW 5.3 trillion (roughly Rs. 29,993 crores), up 28 percent over a year earlier. That was lower than the KRW 5.6 trillion forecast in survey of analysts by financial data provider FactSet.

Samsung posted a record profit for its semiconductor division helped by its supplies to Apple and favorable currency exchange rates. But the company’s smartphone business posted its lowest profit in three quarters, after it cut prices for some of its high-end Galaxy smartphones.

Sales of KRW 51.7 trillion were up 9 percent from a year earlier. Operating profit jumped 82 percent to KRW 7.4 trillion.

Samsung’s stock price surged as much as 4 percent after it announced a plan to increase shareholder returns, including buying back and cancelling $10 billion (roughly Rs. 65,203 crores) worth of stock. It also promised to return as much as 50 percent of its annual free cash flow to shareholders for the next three years.

In the July-September quarter, Samsung posted KRW 3.66 trillion (roughly Rs. 20,865 crores) in operating profit from its semiconductor division alone, accounting for about half of the company’s overall profit. Samsung said its revenue from the foundry division, which supplies application processors powering Apple’s iPhones, increased from the previous quarter.

(Also see:  Apple Closes ‘Most Successful Year Ever’ With Record iPhone Sales in Q4)

Lucrative display panels known as OLED helped Samsung’s display division earn KRW 0.9 trillion in operating profit. Samsung said it secured supply deals with a wider number of smartphone makers around the world for its OLED screens.

Samsung’s components business also reaped benefits from a strong dollar and a weak local currency. Samsung said the favorable foreign exchange rates generated KRW 800 billion of income mostly from its components business.

But its operating profit from its mobile business slid to KRW 2.4 trillion (roughly Rs. 13,040 crores) from KRW 2.8 trillion in the second quarter, even though Samsung released premium smartphone models more quickly than previous years and expanded its handset models using curved screens. The company also rolled out Samsung Pay, a mobile payment service, for its Galaxy phone users in South Korea and the US.

Samsung said mobile profit declined despite higher phone shipments and a slight increase in revenues because growth came from cheap handsets. Price cuts for its Galaxy S6 (Review | Pictures) and Galaxy S6 edge (Review | Pictures) smartphones reduced its profit margin.

Facebook to Thwart Candy Crush Spam: Mark Zuckerberg at IIT Delhi Q&A

For all those people tired of unwanted invitation to play Candy Crush, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said his team is working on finding a “solution” to the problem.

Addressing his first Townhall in India, Zuckerberg was questioned by a member from the audience as to how they could stop getting invitations to Candy Crush.

While the question received a huge cheer from a 1,000-strong audience, Zuckerberg looked a bit surprised at the query.

“This is why such townhalls are so useful. This was the top voted questions on our thread. So I sent a message to the person who runs the team in charge of our developer platform and I said by the time I do this Townhall Q&A? I think it would be good if we had a solution to this problem,” he said.

(Also see:  Facebook CEO Turns On Charm Offensive, Slams Net Neutrality Activists)

There were some tools that are outdated, allowing users to send invitations to people who have already received the requests in the past and those who don’t play games on Facebook.

“…if this is the top thing that people care about then we’ll prioritise that and we’ll do it. So we’re doing it,” he said without disclosing further details.

Users across the globe have complained and even signed online petitions demanding that Candy Crushnotifications be blocked.

During the Townhall, Zuckerberg also talked about future of the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, artificial intelligence and the controversial Free Basics programme.

He cited the example of using artificial intelligence to describe a picture to a visually impaired user, so that they could also engage on the platform.

Zuckerberg, who on his arrival in India visited Taj Mahal at Agra on Tuesday, on Wednesday went for a morning jog at the sprawling India Gate lawns.

“I went for a run in Delhi around India Gate this morning with Chris Daniels, head of Internet.org, Ime Archibong, who runs Internet.org partnerships and a few members of our Facebook team,” he wrote in a post.

Zuckerberg’s trip to India comes after a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing where he delivered a 20-minute speech in Mandarin, a language he has been studying since 2010.

Oppo Neo 7 With 4G Support, 8-Megapixel Camera Launched

Oppo has launched its newly unveiled Neo 7 smartphone in India, priced at Rs. 9,990. It will be available in Black and White colour variants.

Running Android 5.1 Lollipop with the company’s custom ColorOS 2.1 skin on top, the Oppo Neo 7features a 5-inch qHD (540×960 pixels) TFT display. The smartphone is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 (MSM8916) processor clocked at 1.2GHz coupled with Adreno 306 and 1GB of RAM.

The Oppo Neo 7 bears 16GB of inbuilt storage, and supports expandable storage via microSD card (up to 128GB).

For camera, the Neo 7 sports an 8-megapixel rear camera with flash and also came with 5-megapixel front-facing camera. It supports dual-SIM cards with one Micro-SIM and another Nano-SIM. Apart from support for Indian 4G LTE bands, connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, Micro-USB, 3G, and GPS.

The Oppo Neo 7 packs a 2420mAh non-removable battery. It measures 142.7×71.7×7.55mm and weighs 141 grams.

The Neo 7’s screen lights up to brighten selfies in low light condition which is possible with a light-sensitive sensor that can adjust the screen brightness according to available light.

The Oppo Neo 7 can be compared to the Xolo Black 1X, which was also launched on Wednesday and is priced at Rs. 9,999. The Black 1X also offers 4G connectivity, but features a higher-resolution 5-inch full-HD display, a more capable octa-core MediaTek MT6753 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of built-in storage.

Nasa Astronauts Kick Off Spacewalk for Upgrades at ISS

Two Nasa astronauts stepped out on a spacewalk Wednesday for upgrades and maintenance at the orbiting International Space Station, the US space agency said.

Spaceflight veteran Scott Kelly, who is in the midst of a year-long stint at the ISS, began the first spacewalk of his career at 8:03am (12:03pm GMT or 5:33pm IST), according to a live broadcast on Nasatelevision.

His colleague, flight engineer Kjell Lindgren, is also embarking on his first spacewalk, the US space agency said.

Lindgren accidentally turned on his spacesuit’s water switch too early in the process of preparing to float outside the airlock, and Nasa experts at mission control in Houston were closely monitoring the cooling system on his spacesuit “just to be sure,” a Nasa commentator said.

Their tasks during the six and a half hour spacewalk include installing a thermal cover on a state-of-the-art particle physics detector, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which has been attached to the space station since 2011.

They also plan to “apply grease to components on the space station’s robotic Canadarm2, and route cables to prepare for new docking ports for US commercial crew spacecraft,” Nasa said.

While it is a pioneering spacewalk for both Kelly and Lindgren, it is the 189th in support of space station assembly and maintenance.