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Why BlackBerry needs a budget BB10 phone ASAP

A lower-cost phone running BlackBerry 10 could show up at the company's BlackBerry World conference. CNET breaks down why it's important.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins introduces the Z10 and Q10 (right).

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

BlackBerry's next phone announcement doesn't have to be big or flashy. It just needs to be affordable.

With the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, the company has shown it can make a competitive smartphone. Now it needs a budget-friendly version that it can market to the regions of the world that have shown the most growth over the last few years.

"I think a low-cost phone is critical," said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research. BlackBerry "can still gain traction in emerging markets."

That could come as early as Tuesday, when BlackBerry kicks off its BlackBerry Live event, an annual confab held in Orlando, Fla. All eyes will be on BlackBerry and CEO Thorsten Heins to see what rabbit he pulls out of his hat next.

With images of the rumored BlackBerry R10 popping up, expectations are high that the company will show off the device at BlackBerry Live. It could be the centerpiece of a week focused on fostering developer support, networking with BlackBerry executives, schmoozing with customers and partners, and -- of course -- hanging out with Alicia Keys.

The BlackBerry R10 -- or another low-cost BlackBerry 10 phone -- is an important piece of the puzzle for the company's turnaround bid. The company still has a strong brand in far-flung regions such as India and Brazil, where its BlackBerry Messenger feature still has users hooked. In order to truly grow the number of BlackBerry 10 users, the company needs to get its existing base of emerging-market customers to upgrade.

"When you look at where their sales are strongest, they're in markets where consumers can't afford high-end smartphones," said Avi Greengart, who covers consumer products for Current Analysis.

The high-end market is already a brutal street fight between the various vendors, with Apple and Samsung largely staying above the fray. But increasingly, that fight is being taken to markets where subsidies don't exist and consumers aren't used to spending $600 a phone. If BlackBerry rests on its Z10 and Q10 laurels, it risks losing its still strong position there.

BlackBerry isn't alone in pursuing the low-end market. Nokia just unveiled a phone that shares many of the capabilities of a true smartphone, but retails for $99 without a contract. Apple has long been rumored to be working on a low-end version of its iPhone, with many expecting the company to unveil one this year. Samsung Electronics already makes a wide array of affordable smartphones running on Android.

These markets are ones where the consumer foots the whole bill for a phone, and there isn't a subsidy artificially bringing down the price. That BlackBerry is able to command sales under these concessions is a highly underrated advantage, Lopez said.

Drumming up the hype
Expect BlackBerry to work hard at the confab to create the impression that both of its BlackBerry 10 phones are off to a good start -- whether they really are or not.

Aside from anecdotal evidence and supply checks by industry observers, there are no hard numbers on just how many BlackBerry 10 devices have been sold. The phone had just gone on sale a few days before the company reported its fiscal fourth-quarter results in March. The Z10 didn't go on sale in the U.S. until last month.

While the early word was that the Z10 sold well initially, many see demand slowing as the keyboard-equipped Q10 becomes available.

BlackBerry's most notable moments (pictures)

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BlackBerry could provide a little boost and confidence to the base by throwing out some sales figures, providing some assurance that its smartphones are indeed getting bought.

More likely, BlackBerry will stick to its message of creating a platform that's easy for developers to build apps and make money. The company may introduce new tools to developers to get even deeper into the BlackBerry 10 software.

"It's where they tell the faithful: Here's why you should continue to be faithful," Current Analysis' Greengart said.

But will the R10 show up?
Still, there remains some doubt that BlackBerry will actually show off its low-cost BlackBerry device at BlackBerry Live.

The sole purpose of the conference, once known as BlackBerry World, is to drum up hype for its products and services. So, some argue, it may not make sense to unveil a lower-end, less-flashy device to an audience used to the newest whiz-bang announcements.

"If it did come out, I'm not sure if that's the right event for it," Lopez said. "I think people in the U.S. would be underwhelmed by it. It's a flash and branding market here."

Given the leaked images, many suspect the BlackBerry R10 will make an appearance.

What's unlikely is for BlackBerry to introduce a high-end device. BlackBerry's Heins told CNET that it has an exciting "flagship" phone planned, but it will likely launch later this year.

Expectations are a bit higher than before. BlackBerry built up Moneygram money transfer some momentum with the BlackBerry 10 launch. It needs to sustain that with BlackBerry Live.

Read the full CNET Review

BlackBerry Q10

The bottom line: The BlackBerry Q10 is a great phone for QWERTY diehards and e-mail addicts, but anyone who doesn't need a physical keyboard should skip it. Read Full Review

Mozilla offers developers phones to write Firefox OS apps

The open-source browser maker is trying to coax programmers into writing software for the Firefox Marketplace by offering them free phones.

The Geeksphone Keon, a developer-oriented Firefox OS phone

The Geeksphone Keon, a developer-oriented Firefox OS phone

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Mozilla has a deal for programmers: we'll supply the phones if you supply the apps.

In an effort to ensure there will be good Firefox OS apps in the Firefox Marketplace, Mozilla is offering developer phones to programmers who have compelling ideas for software. In a blog post Thursday, Mozilla employee Havi Hoffman tried to drum up interest:

If you can show you've got a great app idea and the skill to build it, we'd love to see your apps in the Marketplace when the Firefox OS launch begins later this summer. And to sweeten the deal, we'll send a Firefox OS Developer Preview device for you to work with now.

When Firefox OS phones become available to consumers in select locales this summer, you'll have an opportunity that only comes around once -- a first-mover advantage in Firefox Marketplace. End users in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and other launch locations will be on the lookout for playful and practical apps to install: games, tools, and utilities, as well as locally relevant news, sports, travel, entertainment, review apps, and social sharing experiences.

Firefox OS runs browser-based apps, which means in practice that it loads Web sites optimized for mobile devices. That gives Mozilla's operating system a running start, since sites such as Flickr or Facebook already work at least to some extent.

But apparently Mozilla wants to make sure there are apps that work well -- a challenge given the limited hardware abilities of first-generation Firefox OS phones intended for cost-sensitive developing markets. And many Web programmers aren't up to speed on mobile browser abilities such as detecting touch-screen input or phone orientation.

Mozilla showed off the first Firefox OS phones for developers at Mobile World Congress in February, and partner Geeksphone has begun shipping them. Other Firefox OS phone manufacturers include Alcatel, ZTE, LG, and Sony, though it's not clear whose will be ready when the phones go on sale in coming weeks.

Mozilla also published a form to apply for the Firefox OS phone program.

BIG Lottery Fund boosts Go ON UK’s digital vision with £15m injection

The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) has invested £15m to aid Go ON UK in its mission to make the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation.

In addition, the Prime Minister has made a call to businesses to support the drive. Still under development the BIG programme will open for businesses to apply for the funding this autumn. BIG has pledged to fund a small number of UK-wide projects.

According to the ONS Internet Access 2012 - Households and Individuals report published in February of this year 7.4 million UK adults (15%) have never used a computer or the internet. Furthermore, 16 million people in the UK currently lack basic online skills to confidently and safely make use of digital tools available to them.

The cross sector charity, Go ON UK has eight chief executives on its board – Age UK, BBC, Big Lottery Fund, E.ON, EE, Lloyds Banking Group, Post Office and TalkTalk.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Graham Walker, chief executive of Go ON UK, said: “The idea is to overcome the perception of the internet and to equip people with the necessary digital skills and tools so they can safely be online.”

Walker added: “We will be looking for national organisations, with good community reach, that can come forward and offer face-to-face support. The fund is not for kit, platforms or apps for example but to offer support with a focus on face-to-face training and strategies.  

“Getting our message out there is a peer-to-peer thing. The internet is for the whole population, not just for geeks - it empowers you to be better informed.”

Walker said businesses are being alerted now to give them time to develop applications demonstrating strong cases on how they would use the fund to turn the disconnected into confident online users.

Big Lottery Fund chief executive Peter Wanless said: “We expect to fund only a handful of significant projects, so competition will be intense.”

Baroness Lane-Fox, chair Go ON UK, said: “The Big Lottery Fund’s digital skills investment helps us deliver on Go ON UK’s objective to secure vital investment to build the digital skills of people and organisations across the UK. But we need other organisations to play their part and follow suit.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “If we are to succeed in the global race, it is vital that we ensure our people and businesses recognise the opportunities that the web offers and have world-class digital skills. That is why this government is supporting Go ON's ambition to make the UK the world's most digitally skilled nation.

"We are investing around £1bn in our digital infrastructure to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to fast, reliable broadband. These changes will reinforce the UK’s position as a leading digital economy and will help to create local jobs and national growth.”

North east pathway

Go ON UK has also unveiled plans to kick start a skills delivery programme in the north-east of England, from October.

After successful cross sector partnerships in Liverpool, the organisation plans to take the Go ON Liverpool model and make digital skills a regional priority for the north east.  

Go On Liverpool included £100,000 of funding from BIG and reduced the number of people offline in Liverpool by 55% in 18 months.

On plans for the north east, Lane Fox explained: “We are confident we will be able to provide further evidence of the impact of partnership working to drive up digital skills and build a replicable partnership model that we can the roll out across the nation over the next 18 months.”

Walker said: “We have proved that the Liverpool model works, so we are now looking to do the same thing but on a larger scale. The flavour of Go ON UK is 'lets supercharge what communities are already doing by helping them'.”

In June 2011, some 104,000 adults (29%) in Liverpool had never been online compared with 17% nationally. Over 18 months 1,500 digital champions were recruited to deliver training and in turn 43,000 new internet users were born.

The campaign was backed by all 90 local councillors and 80 local partners showed their support by promoting the Go ON UK message to their local community and outreach.

Labour promises £75m for digital skills

This week shadow media minister Helen Goodman announced Labour would invest £75m in a new digital skills programme if re-elected. The programme would focus on getting more people online and improving digital skills, funded by halving the size of the government’s current super-connected cities programme.

Last year, the government earmarked £114m from its £830m broadband investment pool with the aim of transforming ten UK cities into “super-connected cities” by 2015.

Previously the government has pledged to invest £830m in delivering the best broadband in Europe, including the extension of mobile coverage.


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Your very own drone, to follow you home

Universal Air got its start with a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign that earned $220,000. Now it wants to make drones that can autonomously follow you around. Without an Internet signal.

The R10, the initial product from UAir. The company hopes to eventually create a drone capable of autonomously tracking people, making the aircraft ideal for adventure sports enthusiasts.

Imagine carving your way down a particularly challenging slope, your skis kicking up clouds of snow, trees flying by, your death-defying stunts captured perfectly on camera. And you're all by yourself.

How would you pull off such a feat?

Short of those with a film crew on hand, or at least a buddy with a GoPro camera tracking your every move, it's hard to imagine it being possible at all, let alone while you're alone.

But you may not have to imagine it for long.

Next week, a startup called Universal Air will finish shipping out its entry level R10 quadrotors, a drone whose advertised combination of low price, reliability, and durability inspired more than 400 people to fund the company's Kickstarter campaign to the tune of almost 15 times its financial goal. UAir, as it's known, had hoped to raise $15,000 and ship 30 R10's, according to co-founder Max Bruner, but ended up bringing in $220,000 and facing one of the problems many super-successful Kickstarter projects experience: the inability to quickly satisfy demand.

Bruner said that the R10 was initially meant to be a prototype, but with so much interest, UAir had no choice but to ramp up to a production-quality drone. And now, those who ordered the UAV will soon be getting their hands on an aircraft said to be ideal for allowing amateur photographers and videographers to shoot from the air, yet which users can fly with an Xbox controller or an RC transmitter.

Cool as the R10 might be, though, it's not up to the task of autonomously tracking you while you barrel down a ski slope.

But while the R10 is meant to appeal because of its low price and its durability, UAir is hoping that initial UAV is just the beginning. The company is readying its next drone, a slick and easy-to-use aircraft expected to go on sale in July that stands apart from competing consumer products like the Parrot AR Drone, and a number of expensive hobbyist kits with more functionality, by offering both a low price and the ability to carry a payload like a GoPro camera. The Parrot, by comparison, shoots HD video with a built-in camera, and Bruner believes users are going to want better optics than that, but without paying the hefty prices of more sophisticated but harder-to-use hobbyist rigs.

Yet UAir's ultimate product isn't its next drone. Rather, it's the UAV the company hopes to get off the ground sometime in the first half of 2014. That, said Bruner, will be a fully-autonomous quadrotor aimed at the adventure sports market. The idea? Allow someone to go skiing, or rock climbing, or high-diving, and know that their drone is following them the whole way, thanks to an on-board tracking beacon, shooting HD photos or videos the entire time.

As with the current-gen Parrot AR Drone 2.0, UAir's future UAV is expected to feature Wi-Fi connectivity that allows a user to take the drone with them and count on it staying close by, regardless of whether or not there's an accessible Internet connection. As long as a user can establish a Wi-Fi connection between their mobile phone and the drone, "you're good to go," Bruner said.

Surveillance but not invasion of privacy

Like many drone makers, UAir UAVs make surveillance easy. But Bruner said a combination of U.S. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions and the company's own concerns about privacy invasions led it to focus on Wi-Fi as a connectivity technology. That's because, he said, using Wi-Fi means that the drones are limited to being within line of sight of the user. That doesn't fully preclude snooping, of course, but it makes it a bit harder.

Still, even with that limit on how far away a user can be from the drone, UAir thinks its products are going to be popular with industry.

Although UAir is clearly planning on being a player in the consumer drone market, Bruner said that another big part of its business is to provide surveillance services to a wide range of industries. That's why Bruner said UAir's real business isn't selling drones, but rather a platform built to make it easy for the startup to nurture relationships with commercial partners.

Clearly, the company wants to make inroads with the photography and videography communities, but UAir is also hoping it can convince those in other industries -- such as mining, farming, or insurance, to name a few -- to get on board. And part of its pitch is that the drones, while designed to carry cameras, can also carry a range of sensor packages purpose-built for industry. So, for example, Bruner imagines the company's drones being used for things like overflights of mines to look for environmental impacts; low-cost home roof inspections; and even crop fertilization. "We think there's a whole [software as a service] market," Bruner said.

Others think so too. Airware, a recent alumni of the prestigious Silicon Valley incubator, Y Combinator, is also pursuing a drone platform strategy. But that company doesn't plan on selling UAVs itself.

As such, UAir could have an advantage selling on both sides of the business. And it's also considering a series of data analytics tools that can help its clients better understand their businesses. "We might be giving a farmer more information about when and where to fertilize crops," Bruner said. "Drones are the beginning of the autonomous services market. There's a whole new market out there. We're just in the infancy of service robotics."

Eco-minded exec Musk leaves Zuckerberg's political group

Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car company Tesla Motors, bows out of Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg's political action group after the group funds ads that rile the Sierra Club, MoveOn.org, and others.

Elon Musk

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car company Tesla Motors, has left a fledgling political action group founded by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, after the group bankrolled ads that angered environmentalists and others.

Musk and former PayPal colleague David Sacks -- founder of Yammer, which helps companies set up in-house social networks -- left FWD.us on Friday, according to various reports.

The launch of FWD.us last month was accompanied by a Zuckerberg-penned opinion piece in the Washington Post that spelled out the group's goals, including: changes to U.S. immigration law, with an eye toward attracting and keeping talented foreign-born tech and science workers; changes to education policy, with a focus on bolstering science and tech; and increased investment in scientific research.

The list of the group's supporters reads like a who's who of the tech-business community, with names like Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer, Reed Hastings, and many others.

I agreed to support FWD because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes." --Elon Musk

Recently, FWD.us provided funds for TV ads that support three senators -- Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, and Democrat Mark Begich -- whose thinking on immigration is in line with the group's. But, as Reuters and various other news agencies have explained it, the ads weren't limited to the topic of immigration but discussed the lawmakers' general positions, which include -- depending on the individual legislator -- support for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve and support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which opponents say would make for an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

"I agreed to support FWD because there is a genuine need to reform immigration," Tesla's Musk told All Things Digital, in a statement today. "However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes. I have spent a lot of time fighting...in D.C. and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause."

The political action group's list of supporters reads like a who's who of the tech industry, with names like Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Bill Gates, and many, many others.

(Credit: FWD.us Web site; screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET)

FWD.us backers, however, argue that the group must use "innovative" tactics.

In its take on Musk's exit, Reuters said FWD.us co-founder Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist at Accel Partners, had defended the funding of the ads: "Our advertising decisions are being made by a very smart team of political operatives who know that passing major reform will require some different and innovative tactics."

And earlier this week, The New York Times ran an article about the ads and about the reaction to them from a coalition of groups including MoveOn.org, The Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters. That coalition has decided to make a statement by declining to buy ad space on Facebook for a minimum of two weeks. In the Times piece, FWD.us supporter and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya is quoted as saying that some of the group's tactics may "ruffle some feathers" but that it's worth it if FWD can accomplish its goals.

AllThingsD said Facebook declined to comment on its report about Musk's departure.

Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

Readers ask about how to fix a flashing incoming network connection request, Trash that won't empty, and more.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions e-mailed in by our readers.

This week, readers wrote in asking about the potential drawbacks from using Little Snitch to block updates from XProtect, the media browser not properly handling Aperture libraries, the OS X Trash hanging when instructed to empty, and a problem with incoming network connection requests flashing too fast to make changes.

I welcome contributions from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: Potential drawbacks from blocking XProtect updates
MacFixIt reader Paul asks:

Little Snitch (3.1 just installed) has notified me that outgoing connections were stopped on log-in. One in particular was XProtect. I said to DENY. If I update my Java on a regular basis, do I need the XProtect?

Answer:
XProtect updates independently of the OS, so if you block it you will not receive proper updates for it. If you are a savvy and safe computer user who knows what is being downloaded to your system, and if you keep your plug-ins and other software always up-to-date, then you may not benefit from the XProtect service anyway; however, if you are not always sure whether or not files you download are safe, then I recommend you unblock XProtect and allow it to update.

Question: Media browser not behaving in Aperture
MacFixIt reader Fredrick asks:

I have a pesky Aperture/Media Browser issue that I can't solve. I set up my new iMac (did not use migration assistant but did move my iPhoto and Aperture 2 libraries over from a backup) and installed Aperture 3. Although Aperture did appear to upgrade the library, I am not able to access those images via the Media Browser nor is Apple TV able to access them. I also get an error in iTunes that the Aperture library can't be found. I created a new Aperture library, put a couple of images in it and those do appear in Media Browser. Switching back to my Library did not resolve. I believe I need to move my images into a new Aperture library but would like any other suggestions first.

Answer:
The options here are to migrate all your images as you described, or you can try rebuilding and repairing the current library. To do this, quit Aperture and then locate the faulty Aperture library in the Finder. Then hold the Option and Command keys simultaneously and double-click the Aperture library. This will open Aperture to a Library First Aid window, where you will have options to repair permissions, repair the database, or rebuild the database. First try repairing the database, then try repairing permissions, then as a final option try rebuilding the database. Be sure to back up the library before you do these procedures.

Question: Trash hanging when instructed to empty
MacFixIt reader Steven asks:

My MacOS 10.8.3 trash will not empty. After confirming to empty trash after 10% progrss the procedure seems to HANG. What can I do to manually delete these files?

Answer:
Open the OS X Terminal utility and run the following command (copy and paste it). When prompted enter your password (you will not see it enter):

sudo rm ~/.Trash

Be sure there are no spaces between the tilde, slash, and period characters in this command when you run it.

Question: Incoming network connection request persistently flashing
MacFixIt reader Rob asks:

I had a power outage during the night. Restarted my Mac Pro running 10.8.3. Now I have this repeated flashing of a warning box:

"Do you want the application 'java' to accept incoming network connections?"

It flashes so quickly that you can't click on Deny or Allow. I went to the Security & Privacy preference pane and looked at the Firewall tab, but nothing has changed. It's in some sort of infinite loop. I can still work, but it grabs control for that one-second flash each time it appears. (About once every 10 seconds.)

I ran repair disc and permissions. I reinstalled the Combo update for 10.8.3. I reinstalled JavaForOSX2013-003. Can't figure this out.

Answer:
Try disabling your system's firewall temporarily to see if that helps prevent the errors from occurring. To do this, go to the security system preferences and click the button to do so in the Firewall tab.

If this helps the issue, then try removing the firewall's preferences to see if the problem may simply be corruption in this file. To do this, go to the Macintosh HD/Library/Preferences/ folder and remove any file that begins with "com.apple.alf" and then restart your computer. You will have to allow/deny other programs Internet access after this, but hopefully the rapid flashing of this warning will go away (or allow it to persist long enough for you to click an option).



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