Main menu

Stack Overflow reveals the most-loved languages and platforms for 2015

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/J-Elgaard)

In the latest research conducted by Stack Overflow, the Q&A resource site for developers, programmers have revealed their most-loved languages and platforms of 2015. Their findings are based on the responses of 26,086 people from 157 countries and consist of full-stack developers, mobile developers, and front-end developers.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that Apple’s new ‘Swift’ programming language – despite being less than a year old – is programmers’ “Most Loved” language. This is said to be due to how easy it is to learn, its speed, and its compatibility with Objective-C.

(Image: Most Loved Languages)

Two ‘C’ technologies are found in the top ten; C++ 11 in second, and C# in ninth. Notably missing – but perhaps unsurprising – is Java or Javascript. Despite the lack of love for both, they can each be found high in the top 10 of the “Most Popular” and “Most Wanted” lists.

(Image: Most Popular Languages)

By a fair margin, Javascript is the most popular language at 54.4%. This is followed by SQL at 48%, then Java at 37.4%. It’s too early to expect Swift to appear on this list, but Objective-C just about sneaks into the top 10 at 7.8% which could show Swift beginning to cannibalise its usage amongst Apple developers.

Uptake of Android will also have a natural effect on Objective-C’s popularity. In the Most Wanted top 10, which asked developers what language or technologies they were most interested in, Google’s OS came out on top with iOS in seventh place…

(Image: Most Wanted Languages)

Java, Android’s primary development language, also came above Swift at sixth and ninth place respectively. The gap between platform interest is 8.3%, whereas the gap between language interest is much lower at just 2%.

Stack Overflow’s latest research provides an interesting insight into the state of the development market, but the surveyors warn that the sample could under-represent developers in countries like China, Brazil, and Japan, who visit Stack Overflow less than do developers in other non-English speaking countries.

Google Launches Cloud Bigtable, A Highly Scalable And Performant NoSQL Database

With Cloud Bigtable, Google is launching a new NoSQL database offering today that, as the name implies, is powered by the company’s Bigtable data storage system, but with the added twist that it’s compatible with the Apache HBase API — which itself is based on Google’s Bigtable project. Bigtable powers the likes of Gmail, Google Search and Google Analytics, so this is definitely a battle-tested service

Google promises that Cloud Bigtable will offer single-digit millisecond latency and 2x the performance per dollar when compared to the likes of HBase and Cassandra. Because it supports the HBase API, Cloud Bigtable can be integrated with all the existing applications in the Hadoop ecosystem, but it also supports Google’s Cloud Dataflow.

Setting up a Cloud Bigtable cluster should only take a few seconds, and the storage automatically scales according to the user’s needs.

png;base64f1e982d227e3a1a8It’s worth noting that this is not Google’s first cloud-based NoSQL database product. With Cloud Datastore, Google already offers a high-availability NoSQL datastore for developers on its App Engine platform. That service, too, is based on Bigtable. Cory O’Conner, a Google Cloud Platform product manager, tells me Cloud Datastore focuses on read-heavy workload for web apps and mobile apps.

“Cloud Bigtable is much the opposite — is designed for larger companies and enterprises where extensive data processing is required, and where workloads are more complex,” O’Conner tells me. “For example, if an organization needs to stream data into, run analytics on and serve data out of a single database at scale – Cloud Bigtable is the right system. Many of our customers will start out on Cloud Datastore to build prototypes and get moving quickly, and then evolve towards services like Cloud Bigtable as they grow and their data processing needs become more complex.”

The new service is now available in beta, which means it’s open to all developers but doesn’t offer an SLA or technical support.

Subscriptions are enjoying a new prominence as a revenue engine for digital content and apps

Many digital media companies have embraced monthly and annual subscriptions. The business model allows digital media companies to provide a premium experience that offers more than the basic, often ad-supported service level.

Subscriptions are enjoying a new prominence as a revenue model for digital content and apps. Internet companies are exploiting the opportunity to boost ARPU (average revenue per user), thanks to recurring payments from a subscriber base.

In this new and exclusive report from BI Intelligence we look at how prominent players in five separate categories have tried to build a subscription-based revenue stream alongside ad-based businesses: the categories are video, music, news publishing, social networks/messaging, and dating apps.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Most companies operate on a “freemium model.” Subscriptions typically operate alongside an advertising business.
  • Success in freemium boils down to offering a core audience exclusive value that can only be accessed beyond a paywall. The key is to target the most loyal audiences, and sell them on an expanded offering — bundles of features or content — that they find irresistible.
  • Some publishers and apps have had mixed results with subscriptions, and vary in terms of how hard they have pushed them. Part of the problem is that ad-dependent companies are worried about limiting audience if they pack away too much value into a subscription tier.
  • The proportion of paying subscribers within the total user base varies considerably across digital media industries. Each category is obviously different, and won’t face the same challenges and opportunities in dialing up the percentage of subscribers and subscription revenue. Here are some of the proportions of subscribers in apps’ user bases: Spotify (25%), WhatsApp (21%), Pandora (5%), Match Group (5%), The New York Times (3%), and LinkedIn (2%). 

Renting and sharing: The business of the future

The earth can only provide for so much stuff before the basic materials needed to make it start to run out.

Many of us hanker after the very latest cars, TVs, computers and the like, but there’s a growing realisation that there are not enough raw materials in the world for us all to have them.

Unchecked consumerism, quite simply, is incompatible with a world of finite resources and an exploding global population.

Something has to give, and as supply becomes ever-more constrained, demand must be moderated, at least in the rich industrialised countries that account for the vast majority of global consumption.

There is no one solution to this most complex of issues, but a growing number of businesses are at the forefront of a movement that may go some way to addressing the problem.

Making money

It’s a simple concept – instead of buying products, you rent or share them. The obstacles may appear entrenched, not least mankind’s seemingly innate obsession with accumulating material possessions.

But the benefits to consumers are clear – you only pay for what you need, when you need it, and you don’t have to worry about owning obsolete technology or outdated objects.

The success of some of these start-ups suggests businesses can also flourish under this model. Of course most of these companies were not set up to help tackle the problem of resource depletion, but to make money. And many of them are doing rather well.

Traffic jamCar sharing helps take cars off the road, reducing CO2 emissions and pressure on finite resources

Take Zipcar, the car-sharing service. The number of cars in the world is expected to double by 2030, with grave consequences for both resources and CO2 emissions. What better way, then, to share a car rather than buy one, reducing at a stroke demand for these energy-intensive products?

Zipcar leases cars from major manufacturers, then makes them available to its members, who pay an annual fee and an hourly rate for using the car. Compared with buying a car, maintaining, insuring and taxing it, the average member saves more than £3,000 a year, according to the company. And every car shared takes 20 vehicles off the road, it says.

The company is coy about its profitability, but it must be doing something right – more than 750,000 people have joined up. By 2030, there will 30 million members of similar schemes across the world, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan. It is this growth potential that persuaded global car hire giant Avis to buy out Zipcar for $500m (£318m) earlier this year.

Next step

This simple business model can be applied to all manner of products, and has been embraced by a number of small companies. Girlmeetsdress.com, fashionhire.co.uk and handbagsfromheaven.co.uk, for example, offer access to designer fashions.

Not only can you wear a different dress every night, but you can wear a top designer you may not otherwise be able to afford. Better still, you’re not lumbered with a piece that’s outdated

Other companies have taken the concept a step further. Rather than buying products to rent out, they simply allow people to share their own possessions.

Whipcar, for example, effectively allows you to rent someone else’s car. You pay a membership fee, find someone in your local area who has put their car on the site, and agree a time for you drive it. Insurance and breakdown cover are included.

Research by Frost & Sullivan suggests there are 24 similar schemes across Europe, with more than 100,000 members. By 2020, it estimates there will be almost 750,000 people renting each other’s cars.

Parkatmyhouse takes the same principle and applies it to parking rather than driving.

Carsharing in Europe

But perhaps the most successful company to embrace this business model is Airbnb, which offers users the opportunity to rent rooms or homes in almost 200 countries across the world at a price considerably cheaper than the equivalent hotel. You simply join up, find a place to suit you and get in touch with the property owner.

And by taking a commission on the rent, Airbnb is able to generate serious amounts of cash – one US analyst recently forecast that annual revenues for the company of $1bn were perfectly possible. With very few overheads, that would translate into quite some profit.

The applications of the sharing model are almost endless. Zopa, for example, allows people to borrow money from one another, rather than the bank. The UK-based company has 500,000 members and has facilitated almost £270m in loans. It makes money by charging lenders a flat 1% annual fee on the money they lend. And it’s not alone – there are about 35 similar so-called peer-to-peer lending schemes around the world.

There are even businesses that allow you to bypass the need for the services of a professional company altogether. Odesk.com, freelancer.com and guru.com, for example, allow you to hire people to do any job you so wish or, conversely, to pitch for jobs you want to do yourself. Again, the company takes a commission on the rate paid – in the case of Odesk, 10%.

‘More attractive’

Resource depletion in numbers

  • The global population is expected to grow from seven billion today to nine billion by 2050, an increase of almost 30%
  • There could be up to three billion new middle class consumers by the same date
  • If everyone in the world consumed as much as we do in the UK, we would need three planets to sustain us. If we all consumed as much as the US, we’d need 4.4 planets
  • Humans currently consume resources 50% faster than the earth can produce or renew them
  • The cost of an average oil well has doubled in the past 10 years
  • New mining discoveries have been largely flat despite a fourfold increase in exploration costs
  • Demand for water over the next 30 years is projected to rise by almost a half
  • Prime agricultural land equivalent in size to Italy could be sacrificed to expanding cities in less than 20 years.

Sources: McKinsey, WWF, WSP

But it’s not just start-ups in the service sector that can benefit from a sharing or rental business model, says David Symons at consultancy WSP.

“As resources become more scarce, keeping ownership [of the resources] and leasing them out keeps costs down, while the rising price of raw materials [and production] makes renting even more attractive,” he says.

For these reasons, more companies are looking at the benefits of renting, he says, for example manufacturers of air conditioning units, lifts and various white goods.

“If you’re providing a service, then you’re aligning your own interests with those of your customers, which makes for a longer-term relationship,” says Mr Symons. Not to mention the fact that profit margins in the service industry tend to be higher than those in manufacturing.

This would inevitably lead to a more service orientated economy, but this is no bad thing, says Mr Symons – as consumers spend less on owning goods, they have more money to spend elsewhere.

“It just means money is circulating in services rather than products.”

‘Magic bullet’

It’s early days, but these companies are pioneering a move towards an entirely different way of doing business.

As Rajesh Makwana, director of Share The World’s Resources, says: “Even though the business potential of the sharing economy is significant, there are still only relatively small numbers of people participating in this emerging sector”.

If the success of Airbnb and Zipcar is anything to go by, this won’t be the case for long. Just how long depends somewhat on our willingness to give up what we have for so long been programmed to desire.

Share key on keyboardThe internet and social media have been the catalyst for business models based on renting and sharing

Change is already afoot. “The younger generation are leading the way – they see sharing as a way of life and are not so keen on owning things,” says Sarwant Singh at Frost & Sullivan.

Some argue that ownership was never the real issue, but access. The internet and social media has allowed the instant communication needed to put those who want in touch with those who have, and vice versa. Without it, sharing on a grand scale would not be possible.

What is certain is that this new business model is here to stay – the physical limitations of planet Earth demand it.

“It may not be the magic bullet, but it’s one way we can use resources more efficiently,” says Mr Symons.

So as the global population, and more importantly the middle class, continues to mushroom, we all better get used to the idea of sharing a little more, or at least of owning a little less stuff.

Bitcoin Could Transform Internet of Things into Vast Data Marketplace

As sportswear giant Nike expands its wearable technology applications, it will need more data to feed its gadgets and software.

To do that will be a simple matter in the future. A Nike executive will simply pull up a list of sensors operated by a private weather station, selecting the ones from which she would like to buy data.

With a click, the executive will pay individual sensors – perhaps thermostats mounted in a Central Park pathway particularly favoured by joggers – for their data, using bitcoin.

The weather sensors will be just one part of a future market filled with data collected by machines on the ‘Internet of Things’. The only difference would be that humans will now be able to pay the machines directly for their work, in bitcoin.

Turning sensors into data-hawkers

That’s the scenario described in a new paper by two researchers in Switzerland, titled, When Your Sensor Earns Money: Exchanging Data for Cash with Bitcoin. The paper was presented at UbiComp, an annual conference on ‘ubiquitous and pervasive’ computing organised by the Association for Computing Machinery. The event was held in Seattle last month.

The paper sketches a theoretical framework for sensors to interact with the bitcoin block chain and to receive payments in exchange for their data. This would solve the current problem of growing but silo-ed sensor networks whose owners have no incentive to share their data, the paper says. The authors write:

“There is no way for third parties to leverage today’s sensor deployments considerably. […] Attaching a bitcoin address to a sensor could empower the sensor immediately to take part in a worldwide data market.”

The paper’s authors are Dominic Wörner and Thomas von Bomhard, researchers at the Bosch Internet of Things and Services Lab at the University of St. Gallen.

Helping sensors get paid

The authors describe a framework consisting of software for the sensor and the human data customer, the bitcoin network and a sensor repository that would list all sensors who wish to sell their data and their bitcoin wallet addresses.

A data buyer would check the sensor repository to browse the available data. Once a piece of data has been selected, she would send bitcoin to that sensor’s wallet.

When the sensor has received payment, it would send the data to the buyer over the bitcoin network using the OP_RETURN field. The data would be written to OP_RETURN and included in the block chain.

The authors say this is a framework for ‘sensing-as-a-service’, a play on the popular software-as-a-service model deployed by firms like Salesforce.com.

They point out that their current framework has several problems, including bloating the block chain with sold data and leaving the data open to free-riding because it’s publicly viewable on the block chain.

Still, they remain optimistic about the chances for a “world-wide data market”, concluding:

“We expect it is only a matter of time until machines not only exchange data but also money. This opens up a whole new dimension for ubiquitous computing.”

Bosch, an engineering and electronics conglomerate headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany,  is not the only corporation looking at bitcoin and the Internet of Things. Technology giant IBM revealedlast month that it too is developing an open-source platform called Adept that will use block chain technology.

10 best mobile apps for students

The lazy days of summer are over and it’s time to go back to school. That means it’s also time to top off your tablet or smartphone with the tools you need to succeed. We combed through the glut of educational apps in search of some that will help you manage your course load, prepare for exams, and even get you to class on time. These 10 made our Dean’s List.

CliffsNotes

Ah, CliffsNotes. Teachers hate them, students love them. And now they’re available in an app. The CliffsNotes Study Guides app is free for iOS devices, but includes actual CliffsNotes only for “Frankenstein.” If your course load includes another classic novel, you’ll have to pony up $2 for each study guide you need. The available titles include a decent selection, ranging from “The Outsiders” to “Paradise Lost” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” but students in need of help with some lesser-known titles may be out of luck.

Cliffs Notes on your iPad look a lot like Cliffs Notes in paper form, but they’re much easier to search and scan.

The digital layout of the actual Study Guides is well thought-out and easy to use—you can choose the “Cram Plan” if you’re short on time or the “Full Study Plan” if your work is on track. CliffsNotes are handy tools, even more so in their searchable digital form, but just remember: they’re not a substitute for reading the book. And I mean it!

EverNote Peek

EverNote Peek comes with a few pretty specific caveats. As soon as you launch this iPad-only app, it warns you that it’s best experienced on an iPad 2 with an Apple Smart Cover (which folds in several columns.) I tested it on an iPad that met neither of those criteria and am pleased to report that it still worked very well.

Don’t have your own Apple Smart Cover for your iPad? Evernote Peek provides you with a virtual one so you can take a quiz without seeing the answer.

EverNote Peek is a free app that lets you create quizzes for yourself based on the notes you’ve already entered in EverNote. The Note title becomes your clue, and the note body serves as the answer. EverNote Peek shows the clue across the bottom of the screen, and then you lift the cover to see the answer. Luckily, if you don’t have your own Smart Cover, EverNote Peek lets you use a virtual version.

Wolfram Alpha

Whether you’re looking for information on unemployment rates or trying to solve a complex equation, Wolfram Alpha delivers the answer—and a whole lot more.

The computing power of Wolfram Alphahas gone mobile with the company’s various mobile apps. Available for Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, and Nook devices, this $3 app lets you access the Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine, which uses its store of “expert-level knowledge and algorithms to automatically answer questions, do analysis, and generate reports.” Say what?

If you’re looking for the value of your dollars in pounds, the caloric content of your breakfast, or the answer to a complex math equation, just enter your question into the app’s query field, and let Wolfram Alpha compute an answer. The hardest part about using Wolfram Alpha might just be figuring out all it can do.

RefMe

RefMe’s mobile app creates reference entries automatically, by scanning the barcodes of your books.

It’s not often that I find a mobile app easier to use than the web-based version (I have an affinity for a big display and a full keyboard), but such is the case with RefMe, a free app for Android and iOS devices. RefMe is designed to help create a reference list for a paper or project—often a grueling task that simply feels like a lot of extra work once the actual paper itself is done.

Using the web-based version of RefMe, you create a project and then build a reference list by entering or searching for the title of a book, journal article, web page, or another source. If RefMe finds the source, it fills in the information for you and formats it properly according to the style you select. Style choices include all the big names you’d expect, including Oxford, Chicago, MLA, and more. It’s easy enough to use, but the mobile app makes it even easier on you, allowing you to enter a title automatically by scanning the barcode on the book. There’s less typing and your work’s done faster? Sounds like an A+ to me.

myHomework

That paper planner you’re toting around? It’s so 1999. Move into the new millennium withmyHomework, a digital version of your favorite day planner from last century. Available as an app for Android, Chrome, iOS, and Windows 8, myHomework lets you track assignments, projects, tests, class schedules, and more. Enter an assignment, and myHomework will know when it’s due based on your class schedule. If your teacher uses Teachers.io, the app also allows you to receive assignments and messages directly. myHomework is available in a free, albeit limited version; you can get more features by opting to receive ads and upgrading to the Premium version for $5 per year.

myHomework lets you cross out completed items, just like that old paper planner.

Notability

When it comes to taking notes, your iPad may not necessarily be the first device you think of. After all, it’s much easier to type quickly on a laptop or even to take notes by hand. ButNotability, a $3 iOS app may change your thinking. It allows you take notes by hand on screen (a stylus will prove helpful if you’re interested in speed and legibility) or by typing. Notability also allows you to record audio and take and add photos to your notes—just try doing that with your old-fashioned notebook.

Notability lets you import files—such as your teacher’s slides—which you can then mark up with your own notes.

RescueTime

RescueTime offers a detailed look at how you’ve spent your time—the good and the bad.

If you spend hours sitting at your computer trying to get your schoolwork done, but you never seem to get anything accomplished, RescueTime is what you need. This desktop application runs in the background, tracking everything you do on your computer, and delivers a report on how you’re spending your time. The free version tracks the time you spend on websites and applications, lets you set goals and sends weekly reports. At $9 per month, the Premium version is pricey, but it adds the ability to track time away from your computer and lets you block websites that may be hampering your productivity. RescueTime won’t write your next paper for you, but it can go a long way towards knowing what you need to get it done.

Studious

Studious, a free Android app, isn’t going to make you smarter. It can, however, help you to appear a little more studious, thanks in large part to its feature that silences your phone in class. After all, I’ve never met a teacher or professor who appreciated that sort of interruption. But that’s not the only way Studious can help you in school. This app also allows you to save your class schedule and class locations and track assignments and tests. Its interface isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s still easy to use—and sometimes that’s enough.

Studious doesn’t feature the most elegant user interface, but it’s very usable.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy aims to offer “a free, world-class education for anyone anywhere.” That may not appeal to you if you’re already paying tuition, but Khan Academy can help anyone, thanks to the amazing amount of content it offers, via more than 4,200 instructional videos, all available for free online, or via apps for iOS and Windows 8. Want to learn about the housing markets? Khan has it covered. Same with ancient art and civilization. Or Monarch and enlightenment. And math topics from kindergarten to high school and beyond. It also offers test prep for exams like the SAT and MCAT. You get the idea: Khan Academy is comprehensive. Before using it to brush up for class, you may want to touch base with your teacher, though, just to make sure its teachings are in line with what you’re expected to know.

Khan Academy’s iPad app makes it easy to navigate through its impressive collection of instructional videos.

Math Alarm

Math Alarm lets you turn off the alarm after you’ve solved an equation; luckily, it’s problems are not very difficult.

Want to make sure you get to class on time and squeeze in a little extra math practice as well? That’s exactly what Math Alarm, a free iOS app, can help you do. Set the alarm for the time you need to rise, and you’ll have to answer a math problem in order to turn it off. The problems aren’t tricky—think basic addition—but they are enough to rouse your brain so that you’re more likely to wake up and not hit the snooze button. There is a snooze option, too, just in case you need it. I do wish Math Alarm made it slightly easier to set an alarm, as you can do so with fewer taps on the built-in iOS alarm clock. But that’s a minor complaint about an app that, overall, is just a fun diversion.

These cases turn your smartphone into a pay pal

Paper money’s days might be numbered. Credit cards started the $5 bill’s long march to oblivion, and these days PayPal, Venmo, and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin are hastening its demise. Later this year, Coin—an electronic device that’s the same size and shape as a credit card—promises to let you swipe your way around at retail, while offering security and flexibility through a Bluetooth connection to your phone.

But before Coin arrives on the scene, several smartphone cases already provide build in the ability to perform mobile transactions alongside protecting your mobile device—I spent some time with two of them in advance of Coin’s impending arrival. Think of these accessories as phone cases that double as your credit card collection.

Incipio Cashwrap

cashwrap

Incipio’s Cashwrap case works with the Isis Mobile Wallet standard.

The $50 Cashwrap is one of several iPhone cases that work with the Isis Mobile Wallet standard. In a nutshell, Isis—which, in light of current events, is in the process of rebranding itself—lets your phone case behave like a contactless, no-swipe credit card. Anywhere you see the contactless symbol on a point of sale credit card terminal, you can tap your phone to make a charge.

The Cashwrap is designed for the iPhone 5 and 5s and has an embedded microNFC chip that taps into the ISIS Wallet app (available forAT&T and Verizon subscribers) to securely store your credit card data. Unfortunately, Isis is far from a comprehensive solution. It works with just a handful of select cards from Chase, Wells Fargo, and American Express. To load a participating credit card into your phone, you complete an online form that adds it to your Isis account.

But what if you already own a wallet full of non-compatible credit cards, like Discover or Bank of America? That’s where the American Express Serve card comes in. Serve is an Isis-compatible debit card you can charge up with cash from any ordinary credit card. (You even get a $15 incentive for signing up.)

To make a purchase, you launch the app (entering your 4-digit PIN), and place the phone near the wireless symbol on a compatible point of sale terminal. Assuming you have more than one card in the Cashwrap, using the desired card at checkout is a simple matter of swiping among the options as if you were selecting a Pokemon card.

When the opportunity presents itself, Isis works great. Unlike with Loop’s ChargeCase—which we’ll talk about in a moment—you won’t have any anxiety at the moment of purchase, wondering if the terminal will work with your newfangled charge case. If you see the contactless symbol on the terminal, the Cashwrap simply works, every time. The trade-off, though, is that the opportunities to use Isis are far smaller. Over a week of shopping and routine errands, I found that only about one in five stores supported the contactless charging required by Isis.

Moreover, the Cashwrap case doesn’t do double duty as a battery, so it’s a lot of bulk to add to your iPhone just to make occasional purchases. Which meant that I frequently found myself swapping iPhone cases, and sometimes found myself at the store without the Cashwrap when I really wanted it. And since Isis doesn’t work everywhere, you’ll need credit cards with you anyway.

Bottom line: at this point, it’s really hard to justify adding an Isis case like the Cashwrap to your iPhone. That said, if you have an Android phone with integrated NFC, the news is much better—you can use the Isis Android app (available for T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon subscribers) without adding a case.

Loop ChargeCase

loop pay case

The Loop ChargeCase generates a magnetic field to mimic the stripe on the back of a credit card.

Loop’s $99 ChargeCase, available for the iPhone 5 and 5s, doesn’t rely on the same wireless transaction technology as Isis. Instead, it generates a magnetic field that mimics the stripe on the back of your credit card. Hold the case next to a sales terminal to simulate swiping your actual credit card. It’s genius, because that means—in principle, anyway—ChargeCase should work almost all the time.

And indeed, ChargeCase is far more likely to work for your routine purchases than the Cashwrap. During a week of routine shopping, ChargeCase was able to complete my transactions about 75 percent of the time. I couldn’t get it to work at gas pumps or ATMs, and there was some social resistance as well. At one particular coffee shop where the cashier needed to swipe the card behind the counter, no amount of persuasion could get her to take my phone and hold it near the swipe bar: she insisted her terminal didn’t work with contactless credit cards and wouldn’t humor me.

Thus, there was always a certain amount of anxiety using the ChargeCase. At any given store, it was never clear where to position the phone, or if it would work at all with that particular kind of terminal. (Sometimes I simply couldn’t get it to work, gave up, and pulled an old fashioned credit card out of my wallet.) This generally took place as a line of unamused shoppers formed behind me.

If the case sometimes fails as a virtual wallet, at least it does double duty as a battery. ChargeCase can add about 60 percent charge to your phone, which, unlike the Cashwrap, makes it worthwhile leaving attached all the time. But the case has an unfortunately slick finish; if it were carved out of a block of wet ice, the ChargeCase wouldn’t be appreciably more slippery.

ChargeCase comes with a small Square-like credit card dongle that you’ll only need when loading your card information into the accompanying app. When it comes time to make a purchase, you launch the app, enter a PIN, and choose the card you want to use—or just “swipe” with the default card. Interestingly, you can trigger the swipe signal by pressing a button on the case, which you can enable to work all the time, or only within a certain timeframe of having entered the passcode on the app. You can trade convenience for security by leaving it active all the time, or only within a few minutes or hours of the last time you entered the passcode.

Between the integrated battery, broader credit card support, and a better overall success rate with making transactions, ChargeCase is the smarter solution overall, though it only works with the iPhone, and the fat, slippery case seems like it’s begging for an eventual catastrophic drop. If you really want to get on board smartphone-based credit card purchases, ChargeCase is the slightly better option as of this writing. But with Coin just around the corner, it might make even more sense to just wait.

China says Microsoft hasn’t been fully transparent in anti-monopoly probe

Chinese authorities are claiming that Microsoft has yet to fully comply with the government’s anti-monopoly investigation, and is demanding more information about its media player and Web browser distribution.

“Information relating to Microsoft’s suspected Windows and Office software has not been fully open,” said Zhang Mao, the head of China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), at a Tuesday press conference.

The antitrust regulator has been investigating Microsoft on an industry complaint related to compatibility and bundling issues with the company’s Windows and Office software. Although the regulator has to yet elaborate on the specific problems, SAIC started raiding Microsoft offices in China last month, as part of its probe.

Despite SAIC’s claim that Microsoft is still withholding information, Zhang added that the U.S. company has expressed it will respect Chinese laws and cooperate with authorities in their investigation. He offered no further information.

Microsoft did not immediately comment. But the company has said in the past it is willing to answer the government’s questions.

Like in other parts of the world, Windows is still the top PC operating system in China, with a 90 percent share, according to StatCounter. About 40 percent of those users are still on Windows XP, an operating system that Microsoft officially retired earlier this year, ending its support for security updates.

Recently, the Chinese government has been showing signs it wants to curb Microsoft’s influence. In May, the countrybanned government purchases of Windows 8 devices, with a state-controlled publication stating it was because of security concerns.

SAIC’s investigation comes as China has been opening other anti-monopoly probes against foreign companies, including car makers and U.S. chip vendor Qualcomm. In Qualcomm’s case, the company has allegedly been overcharging clients when licensing its patents.

Earlier this month, SAIC also warned in an online notice that Microsoft would need to follow China’s law, and not block its investigation.

This story, “China says Microsoft hasn’t been fully transparent in anti-monopoly probe” was originally published by IDG News Service .

Google Search for Android now understands multiple languages at once

 Google’s voice search on Android now works much smarter for those who are bilingual.

With the update to version 3.6, you can speak to it in any of your languages without having to rifle through the settings. Previously it only recognized one language at at time and required changing the default in order to speak another tongue.

Enabling this new feature does take a one-time adjustment. Head to the search settings, select Voice, and then Languages to select the boxes of what you want to speak. Search now handles up to five languages at once from among the 50 available.

After performing this step Google’s voice search should begin recognizing what you say in any of the languages you have selected.

If you do use a different language the response may still be in your primary language, however.

For example, I spoke the name of the popular Mexican soccer team Chivas de Guadalajara and got a short explanation about it in English. Also, the weather commands were rather hit and miss in Spanish, sometimes providing the Google Now weather card and other times not.

A blog post by engineer David Eustis says more language responses and additional features are to be added over time. It appears that some work to tighten up how Google understands and interprets the diverse set of languages it recognizes is also necessary.

‘Biochip’ aims to quicken disease diagnosis, cut medical test costs

A new “biochip” under development to accurately identify disease strains may reduce costs for medical testing and also reduce wait time for results.

The Hydra-1K—which is a silicon chip—can be used at doctor’s offices or points of care, where a disease can be instantly analyzed to determine treatment, said Arjang Hassibi, founder and CEO of startup InSilixa, during a presentation at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California.

The chip—which Hassibi also called a reader—heats up a culture or sample, and can identify unique molecular structures like DNA sequences, to help identify possible strains of a disease, which can help determine medication, or whether a patient needs to be isolated.

Right now the chip can test cultures or samples only for specific diseases and mutations.

The tool has sensors, I/O ports and a fluidic cap through which the sample is sent on the chip. The chip is then heated up, and sensors then assess the sample to identify specific DNA sequences. The chip is then disposed after one use.

Hydra-1K can’t identify diseases from scratch. The chip instead is “hypothesis-driven,” and an assumption needs to be made that a patient has a particular disease, after which a sample is tested for specific genomic strains.

Hassibi provided the example of E-Coli. The chip can check specific DNA sequences for random mutations to determine whether the bug is resistant or sensitive to antibiotics. Each disease has unique DNA sequence identifiers ranging from around 10 for urinary tract infections to around 1,000 for tuberculosis.

The chip can detect up to 1,000 sequences and analyze samples to high accuracy rates, said Hassibi, who previously was a professor and biosensor researcher in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Texas, Austin.

It’ll also save patients lots of money, Hassibi said.

For example, if a urinary tract infection or respiratory disease isn’t diagnosed via conventional techniques, samples need to be sent to labs for meaningful results. It could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to conduct tests for specific diseases, and results could take a while to come back, Hassibi said.

The price per test with the Hydra-1K biochip could be between US$7 and $15, Hassibi said. Other tests to detect patterns can be costly, with the most expensive being DNA sequencing, which could cost up to $700,000, he said.

The Hydra-1K will ship by the middle of next year to healthcare professionals. It will be used for one or two high-volume “applications,” or for specific diseases, Hassibi said in an interview on the sidelines of the show.

InSilixa first has to prove that the chip and its detection techniques work, and then it will hopefully attract more users, Hassibi said. The reader will not be available to end customers.

The chip has successfully gone through tests with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on detecting specific sequences for tuberculosis. But Hydra-1K has not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hassibi said FDA approval is not necessary for it to be used in clinics as it’s a diagnostic tool, and not surgical equipment.

The biochip is pretty exciting technology, said David Kanter, an analyst at The Linley Group, who was attending Hot Chips.

“My dad’s a physician. I’m used to the cycle time for lab tests being really high. The idea of being able to do it while I’m at the doctor’s office, that’s pretty exciting and cool in terms of making health care way more efficient,” Kanter said.

It’ll be cheaper, and also save people the trouble of going through drugs that may not work, Kanter said.

“Going through antibiotics is not hot. If we can save people from that grief, and save some money, that’s great,” he added.

The chip itself is cheap to make as it’s made using old manufacturing technology. It’s also limited in capacity.

“You can tune it for whatever target as long as it fits within the capacity of the chip,” Kanter said.

Follow UsFacebookTwitterGoogle+