UK Website Targets Parents Who Fear Children May Join IS

UK Website Targets Parents Who Fear Children May Join IS

Britain launches a new website on Tuesday which aims to educate Muslim teenagers against groups like Islamic State, as the government backed the right of schools to ban girls from wearing veils.

The Educate Against Hate site will warn parents and teachers to watch out for signs of radicalisation amongst youngsters and keep track of what they are looking at online.

It says the symptoms include “wanting to shut down debate or pursue the path of segregation” as well as spending too much time online.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was launching the initiative at a school in east London, several of whose students went to join the Islamic State group in Syria last year, some becoming jihadi brides.

Ahead of the launch, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government was drawn into a fresh debate about whether Muslim girls should be allowed to wear veils at school.

Morgan told BBC radio that “it is very much up to the schools” to decide their own policy on the veil.

But she added: “There are certain things, particularly in relation to teachers who are teaching young children, particularly learning to read and to speak, where actually seeing the teacher’s mouth is very, very important”.

Michael Wilshaw, the head of schools watchdog Ofsted, has backed a ban on veils in schools.

And Cameron said he supported the right of schools to forbid students from wearing the veil as he announced Monday that Muslim women who fail to learn good English could face deportation from Britain.

“When you are coming into contact with an institution or you’re in court, or if you need to be able to see someone’s face at the border, then I will always back the authority and institution,” he said.

The numbers of Britons travelling to Syria to try and join jihadist groups such as IS is the subject of grave concern in Britain and Cameron’s government has announced a string of initiatives to bring the numbers down.

Some 800 Britons have travelled to the war-torn country since 2012, with half of them still thought to be there. A further 600 have been stopped from travelling.

The Department of Education also promised Tuesday a “significant escalation” of investigations into unregistered schools.

Ofsted inspectors said in December they had found 18 unregistered schools in recent months, including some whose curriculums were focused on Islam as opposed to the centrally-approved National Curriculum.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

123456 Once Again Tops Annual ‘Worst Passwords’ List in 2015

123456 Once Again Tops Annual 'Worst Passwords' List in 2015

SplashData software firm has come out with its 2015 edition of annual “Worst Passwords” list, and for the third consecutive year, “123456” has topped the list of the 25 worst passwords used this year. The second distinction goes to “password”, which has also been holding the position for three successive years.

According to SplashData’s list, the third most dubious password is “12345678” which gained one spot from last year. The fourth and fifth worst passwords were “qwerty” and “12345” respectively. The “123456789” password regained sixth position, same as in 2014.

Some of the other passwords that made it to the worst list from SplashData included “football”, “baseball”, “welcome”, “dragon”, “master”, “monkey”, and “passw0rd.” The “starwars” also made it to the list of top 25 worst passwords of 2015, according to the data from SplashData.

The new data released (via Engadget) also shows that passwords that are based on simple patterns on the keyboard still remain popular despite how weak they are.

splashdata_logo.jpgIt’s worth noting that SplashData’s list includes data from a massive leak of passwords that rocked 2015. The list compiles millions of passwords leaked or posted online after security breach last year. One of the worst password leaks of 2015 occurred in February, when a security researcher posted a random sampling of dumps consisting of 10 million passwords alongside usernames.

The new data revealed by the software firm shows that many people still use weak passwords which are short as four characters and mostly use number of character sequences only. The new “Worst Password” list also includes words like “letmein”, “login”, “princess”, and “solo”. SplashData every year releases annual worst passwords list is its way to spread public awareness about password security.

The software firm suggests people worldwide to protect themselves by using stronger passwords and using different set of passwords for different websites.

The complete list of top 25 worst passwords is as follows:
123456
password
12345678
qwerty
12345
123456789
football
1234
1234567
baseball
welcome
1234567890
abc123
111111
1qaz2wsx
dragon
master
monkey
letmein
login
princess
qwertyuiop
solo
passw0rd
starwars

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Trai to Hold Open House on Differential Data Pricing on Thursday

Trai to Hold Open House on Differential Data Pricing on Thursday

Sectoral regulator Trai will conduct an open house discussion on differential pricing for data services, a key aspect of net neutrality, on January 21.

In a notification, Trai said “interested stakeholders are invited to participate” in open house discussion on its consultation paper on ‘Differential Prices for Data Services’.

The event will be held at PHD House in New Delhi. Telecom operators have favoured differential pricing for data services while net neutrality activists continue to oppose any differential pricing regime, saying it would amount to curbs on freedom of choice to access Internet.

Social networking giant Facebook has also launched a massive campaign to project its Free Basicsplatform as a tool to spread web connectivity.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has received a record 24 lakh comments on the paper.

An analysis of the comments, shows 18.94 lakh replies are in support of Free Basics, of which 13.5 lakh views are through ‘@supportfreebasics.in’ and without the senders’ individual e-mail IDs while further 5.44 lakh comments have come from ‘@facebookmail.com’.

On the other hand, the net neutrality campaigners have submitted 4.84 lakh comments through forums like ‘Save the Internet’.

A debate on net neutrality stirred across the country after Airtel decided to charge separately for Internet-based calls but withdrew it later after people protested. The debate heated up after Airtellaunched free Internet platform Airtel Zero and later Facebook also launched its Internet.Org platform, renamed as Free Basics.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

‘I Support Free Basics’ Messages Irrelevant to Net Neutrality Debate: Trai

'I Support Free Basics' Messages Irrelevant to Net Neutrality Debate: Trai

India’s telecom regulatory authority, which had launched a public consultation on differential pricing of data, said on Monday that a major chunk of responses were on Facebook Free Basics rather than on the larger issue of net neutrality.

“Of the 2 million or so responses, a large number of these responses were simply ‘I support Free Basics’. I am asking ‘are you in favour or otherwise of net neutrality’ and ‘should there be a guard’.

“So we wrote back asking them to answer our four questions but we still haven’t got those,” Agneshwar Sen, advisor for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), told the media in Kolkata.

Sen said the intention was everybody should get internet access as they want it.

“With the Free Basics, the only issue is that there is a platform which is deciding for you what you are going to see for free and for what you are going to pay and are they the guys to decide it for you,” the official said on the sidelines of an interactive meeting on electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation emissions from mobile towers.

“What we feel bad in Trai is that there was an opportunity for so many people to tell us. If 20 lakh people tell me that I don’t want the whole of the internet, I just want, say Mark Zuckerberg, or the government of India or department of telecom, to tell me what I am going to see or not going to see… fair enough. But if I am going to tell you I don’t want them to stop me then that’s the direction we go,” he added.

Academicians from India’s premier institutes IITs and IISc have slammed Facebook’s Free Basics initiative, terming it “flawed” and “misleading”.

In a joint statement issued in December last year, around 50 faculty members from IITs (Bombay, Delhi, Kharagpur, Madras, Patna) and IISc Bengaluru denounced the proposal dubbing it a “lethal combination that will lead to total lack of freedom on how Indians can use the internet”.

Listing three major flaws in the programme, the scientists urged Trai to “thoroughly reject” Facebook’s “free basics” proposal.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Facebook Begins Europe-Wide Campaign Against Extremist Posts

Facebook Begins Europe-Wide Campaign Against Extremist Posts

Facebook Inc began a Europe-wide campaign on Monday to thwart extremist posts on social media, after German politicians in particular raised concerns about a rise in xenophobic comments linked to an influx of refugees.

The US-based group launched its “Initiative for Civil Courage Online” in Berlin, pledging over EUR 1 million (roughly Rs. 7 crores) to support non-governmental organisations in their efforts to counter racist and xenophobic posts.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said hate speech “has no place in our society”, including in the Internet.

Facebook’s ground rules forbid bullying, harassment and threatening language, but critics say it does not enforce them properly.

On Friday, the firm said it had hired a unit of the publisher Bertelsmann to monitor and delete racist posts on its platform in Germany.

In November, prosecutors in Hamburg launched an investigation into Facebook on suspicion of not doing enough to prevent the dissemination of hate speech.

Top German politicians and celebrities have voiced concern about the rise of anti-foreigner comments on Facebook and other social media as the country struggles to cope with a tide of new migrants that amounted to 1.1 million last year alone.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Facebook to do more, and the Justice Ministry set up a task force with Facebook and other social networks and Internet service providers with the aim of identifying criminal posts more quickly and taking them down.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Lenovo Vibe K4 Note: Top 5 New Features

Lenovo Vibe K4 Note: Top 5 New Features

Lenovo on Tuesday launched the Vibe K4 Note in India, the successor to last year’s sleeper hit the K3 Note. For the Lenovo Vibe K4 Note, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer has updated the hardware specifications while also adding some features that we usually find on high-priced premium handsets.

But that’s not all. Lenovo has made all the inclusions while maintaining an affordable price tag range, a factor that ushered Lenovo K3 Note’s popularity in the country. The company told Gadgets 360 last month that it sold over 1.2 million units in less than six months since the launch. Here are some of the best features of the Lenovo Vibe K4 Note.

1. TheaterMax
The Lenovo Vibe K4 Note comes with a feature called TheaterMax which, as per company’s claim, can convert regular content to its immersive VR counterpart. Powered by Lenovo Virtual Reality (VR) technology, the idea is to give users a virtually large screen cinematic experience. It should work with any virtual reality headset. At the event, the company assured that popular head-mount VRs such as the AntVR for Lenovo, Google Cardboard, and Oculus will work with Lenovo Vibe K4 Note.

2. Front-facing stereo speakers
The Lenovo K4 Note also comes equipped with two front-facing speakers (1.5W each) alongside Dolby Atmos audio. Thanks to the addition of stereo speakers, the handset now offers a significantly better and louder sound output.

Stereo speakers setup is a feature more common in high-end handsets such as the Google Nexus 6, and many of HTC’s high-end handsets that offer BoomSound speakers. It’s nice to see Lenovo bring this feature to an affordable smartphone like the Vibe K4 Note.

lenovo_k4_note_official_speakers.jpg3. 3GB of RAM
The Lenovo Vibe K4 Note also has more memory than the K3 Note. Compared to the 2GB of RAM the K3 Note shipped with, the Lenovo K4 Note has 3GB of RAM. Again, it’s a nice addition and will help the device handle resource intensive games and apps more efficiently, especially with the 64-bit MediaTek MT6753 SoC on board.

 

4. Fingerprint scanner
The Lenovo Vibe K4 Note also houses a fingerprint scanner. Placed below the camera module on the back panel, the scanner lets you unlock your smartphone and facilitate purchases on the phone. The fingerprint scanner, a feature that largely became popular after Apple put Touch ID on its iPhone, has made its way on a number of Android smartphones in the past year. Though, the hardware capability is still mostly available on high-end handsets.

5. NFC
The Lenovo Vibe K4 Note also supports NFC sensors. The near field communication protocol allows two electronic devices to communicate when they are within 10cm of each other. The feature can be used to transfer files, contact information, or play multiplayer games, among others use cases.

lenovo_vibe_k4_note_metal_body.jpgNoteworthy mentions
The Lenovo Vibe K4 Note also comes with a larger battery, going up from the 2900mAh as seen on the Lenovo K3 Note, to 3300mAh in the K4 Note. The handset also has a metal frame that gives it a premium look.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Does Your Battery Life Stink? Try Some High-Tech Workarounds

Does Your Battery Life Stink? Try Some High-Tech Workarounds

It’s enough to make you want to drop everything and race for the nearest power outlet: Your workday isn’t even done, and your smartphone or laptop battery is already in the red zone.

If you’re hoping that techno-progress will dispel that depleted feeling, you may be in for a long wait. Battery life is constrained by limitations in chemistry, and improvements aren’t keeping pace with demands from modern gadgets.

We’re still dependent on the venerable lithium-ion cell, first commercialized by Sony in 1991; it’s light, safe and holds a lot of charge relative to most alternatives, but it isn’t getting better fast enough to keep up with our growing electronic demands.

So instead, manufacturers are doing their best to “cheat” their way around lithium-ion’s limitations. The CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week featured plenty of workarounds that aim to keep your screen lit longer.

Proceed with caution, though: Manufacturer claims of battery life improvement can fall short of real-world experience.

New chips
Not that long ago, computer-chip makers competed to make their chips ever faster and more capable, with power consumption a secondary consideration. But the boom in energy hungry smartphones and laptops means that companies like Intel need to put much more emphasis on power efficiency these days.

new_chip_laptop_ap.jpgIntel says its sixth-generation Core chips, known as Skylake, add a little more than an hour to battery life to laptops compared with the previous generation, according to spokesman Scott Massey. The chips utilize a more compact design, hard-wired functions that used to be run via software and fine-tuning how they ramp power use up and down.

Better-designed laptops
Laptop manufacturers are smartly sipping power, too.

HP says the Spectre x360 notebook it introduced in March gains up to 72 minutes of battery life, for a total of up to 13 hours, thanks in part to Intel’s new chip. Among other tricks, the PC doesn’t refresh the screen as often if the image isn’t moving. “If we can solve a bunch of small problems, they can add up,” HP vice president Mike Nash said.

Similarly, Lenovo’s new ThinkPad X1 Yoga tablet turns off its touch screen and keyboard backlight if it senses its owner is walking and has the screen folded back like an open book. Vaio, the computer maker formerly owned by Sony, says its Z Canvas launched in the U.S. in October benefits from shrinking components and efficiently distributing heat to make more room for a bigger battery.

And Dell says it has worked with manufacturers to squeeze more battery capacity into the same space. It says its efforts recently boosted the energy storage of its XPS 13 laptop by 7.7 percent compared to an earlier version of the same model .

New chargers
Maybe it’s your phone that’s not keeping up. If so, you might check out new accessories designed to make it easier and faster to charge back up.

Kickstarter-funded Ampy uses your body’s kinetic energy to charge up a pager-sized device. Strap it to your arm or a belt and it can recharge a smartphone in real time; an hour of jogging or similar exercise yields about an hour of use. You could also just throw it in your bag and get the same extra hour of gadget life after a week of walking around – not an awesome trade off, maybe, but possibly better than nothing.

ampy_ap.jpgThe wireless-charging technology Qi makes it possible to charge a phone without plugging it in. Instead, you lay it down on a special pad and let electromagnetic field coupling do the work. Wireless charging has always been much slower than wired, although Qi’s backers say it’s speeding up. But wired charging is getting faster, too, at least for phones with the latest hardware- and with Qi, you still have to line up your device just right on the sometimes fussy pads.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Gamaya Legends Mixes Nintendo Amiibos With The Ramayana

Gamaya Legends Mixes Nintendo Amiibos With The Ramayana

The toys-to-life category is a relatively new one that picked up steam in the US just about five years ago, and brings together physical toys and video games. Essentially, you can use real life toys to unlock in-game content that varies from game to game. For example, Nintendo’s Amiibo figurines can be used with Splatoon for the Wii U to grant players access to a lot of single-player content. With the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros., the Amiibos open up new levels and costumes, and you can save your character data to the toy, turning your Amiibo into a portable memory card of sorts.

Aside from Nintendo, Activision and Disney both have a large stake in the category with their Skylanders and Disney Infinity toys. Warner Bros. is a late entrant with Lego Dimensions. Skylanders alone is estimated to be worth 3 billion dollars. So it’s perhaps no surprise that someone is now experimenting with the model as well, with changes to suit Indian sensibilities.

Which, in this case, means toys and games set within the Ramayana, thanks to California-based Gamaya, which recently launched its Android and iOS game Gamaya Legends. It’s set in the Ramayana, and your adventures will take place against the backdrop of this mythological epic. Aside from this, Gamaya has also launched a number of toys you can buy, which connect to the game via Bluetooth. Doing so lets you unlock a character to use in-game which evolves as you keep playing.

amiibo_group_nintendo.jpg(Also see: Nintendo Launches Subscription Service for Amiibos; 2DS Gets New Colours)

“As a kid I listened to many stories from my grandmother that inspired and entertained me. As a parent I want my kid to have the same experience but today’s kids are harder to please – they are used to slick animation and engaging games,” says Gamaya CEO, Narayanan Vaidyanathan. “For most parents, the story seemed similar; how can we help kids connect with culture? So we set out to create an experience that spoke in a language our kids understand – a highly engaging presentation that blends the real and the virtual worlds.”

An old hand at Electronic Arts, Vaidyanathan was the technical director for the MySims franchise. Through Gamaya Legends he “seeks to rekindle an interest” in the stories of the Ramayana.

“The elegance of great epics like the Ramayana is that it is wrapped up in multiple layers,” he explains. “There is the adventure, magic, and pure storytelling aspect. Then there are the religious and moral aspects as well. Each of these layers appeals to a different part of our psyche.”

At the same time, religion is a hot-button topic in India, and Gamaya has to balance creativity and religion. Vaidyanathan says it’s all about being careful not to offend sensibilities.

“We have taken great care to show the characters from the Ramayana in the great light through our design and production quality, so they get the respect they deserve,” he believes. “The religious and moral aspects are personal choices of families and kids, and we don’t want to interfere with that.”

ram_gamaya_legends_gamaya.jpgThat’s also why, though the game is based on the Ramayana, you aren’t playing one of the characters from mythology. Rather, you’re on a mission to ensure that the epic exists.

“In the Gamaya Legends game, you are not playing the Ramayana but you are saving it. A sinister evil is trying to destroy the legendary scrolls that represent the Ramayana,” he elaborates. “The characters from that world have been brought into our world to protect them from this evil. In our world these are but lifeless toys but you as the player have the power to send them back into their world, fight this evil and restore the legend.”

The idea, according to him, is to give kids “a window into the original story.” It also allows Gamaya to enhance the game with lore known to experts in Hindu mythology.

Selling Gamaya Legends
Unlike most startups, employees at Gamaya aren’t fresh out of college. Rather, it’s helmed by video game industry veterans who have worked at studios such as Electronic Arts, LucasArts, and Activision.

“The experience the team and founders have in the games industry was essential in quickly crafting the core experience and making sure it is fun,” he professes. “We also partnered with Woohing, a 40 year veteran toy company based in Hong Kong to produce the highly detailed toys.”

gamaya_legends_screenshot_gamaya.jpg(Also see: Skylanders: Swap Force review)

It’s a bold move, as the toys-to-life category is pretty much non-existent in India. Barring a few token attempts by distributors to bring in Activision’s Skylanders range, and parallel imports of Amiibos, there’s been very little to show in India. Vaidyanathan is aware of the challenge of being one of the first to market. He’s hopeful that the quality of the game and toys would be enough to drive interest.

“The trick now will be in working with the right channels and arriving at the right price points to get wider market acceptance,” he affirms.

For now though, the Gamaya toys will only be available online. You can purchase them from eitherAmazon India or Gamaya’s own website. “There were a few reasons. The core of our target market is connected families and with e-commerce on the rise in India, it felt like the right channel to start with,” says Vaidyanathan. “Also given our tight launch schedule (we only had 5 months of production) it was not possible to engage with traditional retail channels. We do however want to augment our current launch with physical retail in the near future.”

Next, Gamaya plans to sell toys individually. At the moment you can only purchase the starter pack that has 10 characters. Plans for a sequel are also in the works as well as a launch for international markets.

gamaya_legends_screenshot_2_gamaya.jpgWhat’s interesting though, is its strategy for in-app purchases for the game. A quick check on Google Play shows the IAPs selling for a staggering Rs. 988.70 upwards. Vaidyanathan states this was intentional.

“The IAP on Android are equally priced as the physical toys [that unlock the same IAP],” he points out. “This is so as to not devalue the physical game itself as the whole point is the engagement between physical and virtual worlds.” It’s on the higher side considering that revenues on IAPs in India are problematic for most developers. So much so that stalwarts like Rovio have struggled here.

Nonetheless, it is early days for Gamaya, and Vaidyanathan wants to extend its grip on tales of yore with his sights on the Mahabharata next, though he doesn’t rule out other genres and moving beyond mythology either.

“We will include licensed IP and expand into other genres like sports in our future products,” he states. “[But right now] Our goal is to focus on the adventure, magic, and storytelling aspects and to inspire the next generation of kids with a highly interactive experience.”

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

There’s a Serious Problem With Voice Control That We’re All Ignoring

There's a Serious Problem With Voice Control That We're All Ignoring

The other day, I received a text message that made me realize something big about modern etiquette and voice control and just how rude I’ve been without even thinking about it. I’d just flown a red-eye in from Las Vegas, my hands were full of luggage and I was not in the mood to drop everything to answer the text. So, I did what I tend to do at home when my hands are covered in soapy water or flour.

I said, in a clear and somewhat stern tone, “Hey Siri . . . . ”

Immediately, the woman in front of me turned around and started to open her mouth almost as if to reply, but then stopped. She looked both puzzled and almost offended. Was I talking to her? Was I, in fact, issuing an order to a complete stranger?

This got me thinking. As we look at new ways of controlling our gadgets, it’s becoming clear that some of them are more suited to being used in public and others are best left to more private use. To me, voice control which is becoming a big feature in many, many gadgets — falls firmly into this second category, because it’s something best done when you’re one-on-one with your phone.

After all, if you hate it when your dinner companion is bent over a screen, how much worse is it for them to be carrying on an entirely different conversation without you? Have you ever had a half-conversation with someone who turns out to be talking on the phone using a Bluetooth headset or headphones? Getting caught up in someone’s conversation with their inanimate assistant is just like that, only worse.

I’m not alone in thinking this way.

“I do think that there are places where having that speaker out loud isn’t appropriate: out on the street, in the subway, the elevator, in a car, standing in line to get a sandwich or coffee. Those are places I wouldn’t use it,” said Lizzie Post, the great-great-grandaughter of etiquette extraodinaire Emily Post and writer and podcaster on etiquette in the modern age for the Post Institute.

Post also noted that, even when you’re in a more private setting, there are still times when it feels odd to bring your technology into the conversation. She said that she’d once been brainstorming a project with someone who pulled out his phone and asked it to find an item for him online. It was off-putting, Post said.

“There was no reason not to type it in he had no reason to be hands-free,” she said. “It starts to sound like you’re dictating to a secretary when you don’t need to be.”

I’m not saying voice control technology is bad. In the car, it can be a literal life-saver if it keeps you from fumbling with a touchscreen behind the wheel. I’m as excited as anyone about reports that Apple’s working on wireless earbuds that let you control Siri, or that Amazon is working on a more portable version of its voice-controlled Echo. In your home, with your family, it feels kind of neat to speak to your gadgets to set timers or reminders.

But those are all situations when you’re either alone, or where it’s acceptable for you to pull your attention to the side for a moment. In other social settings many people tend to pitch their voices as if they’re issuing orders when talking to their technology, as I did at the airport. That makes people sit up and take notice, even if you think you’re being discreet. “Remind me to buy deodorant” is not something you want to bark into your phone on the bus. Ditto to dictating emails within earshot of your co-workers. (Bonus rudeness points if the emails are about your co-workers.)

Even if you’re saying something totally harmless “Hi sweetie, running a little late” saying it out loud in public still drops people into discussions in which they never asked to be participants. That can be uncomfortable, particularly if it comes out of the blue and makes those around you feel as if they’ve wrongly stumbled into a private conversation. And making the people around you uneasy is pretty much the definition of rude.

Which gets back to the notion of public technology versus private technology. I’ve come up with a basic way to categorize this: If it’s something you’d feel goofy doing at your cubicle, it’s probably a private technology. To define it even more clearly, here are some examples. Eye-tracking screens, for instance, are fine to use in public because they’re unobtrusive. Virtual reality is private, because you are literally cutting off all sensory inputs to the outside world. Augmented reality, which blends the digital and virtual worlds, walks a fine line but is arguably more public because you still interact with the world (and people) around you. Gesture control depends on the situation. If you’re having to make big arm-waving motions, that’s best done at home. If it’s more subtle, like a hand swipe to get to the next presentation slide, you’re probably fine.

This isn’t to say that either of these is more useful than the others, or even more social using VR with another person is surprisingly wonderful for conversation. The same is true of voice control: Using your voice to dictate messages can save you time or let you be more coherent than you could be in a fast, thumb-typed message. But those are situations when you’re using your phone to facilitate communication, not to step away from it.

So, yes, talk to Siri or Cortana or Google or Alexa, but think about the context. “The blanket tip we offer for all technology is to think about the people you’re with first,” Post said.

That’s good advice for using voice control, and for whatever other crazy and wonderful technologies may come down the pike.

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Trouble in Taiwan’s Tech Sector

Trouble in Taiwan's Tech Sector

With its offices sporting wood flooring, a roof painted bright orange and conference rooms named after target markets in Southeast Asia, AppWorks, one of Taiwan’s few startup accelerators, has the look and feel of the American counterparts it’s modeled on.

But its founder, Jamie Lin, 37, does not sound much like the optimistic entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Instead, he is glum about the future for Taiwan’s tech industry.

“It’s like you’re riding on the Titanic, and you know it’s going to hit an iceberg, and you’re trying to turn the rudder, but you know it’s not turning fast enough,” he said in a recent interview.

Five years ago, Taiwan’s tech industry was riding high. The device maker HTC had surpassed Apple to become the largest smartphone vendor in the United States, while the computer company Acer had leapfrogged Dell to become the world’s second-largest personal computer maker. Such successes helped lift Taiwan’s economy, building on the country’s longtime work on computer chips and moving the island nation into its next phase as a tech power.

That trajectory has turned. Last year, share prices of the computer makers Acer and Asustekplummeted 43 percent and 22 percent as the PC market sagged, while HTC plunged 45 percent. Taiwan electronics exports have been falling since February 2015, and in the third quarter the country’s gross domestic product contracted partly because of weakness in the tech sector.

As voters went to the polls and elected a new president over the weekend, a rare point of agreement between Taiwan’s fractious political parties was that the tech industry needs help. Just days before the election four years ago, major Taiwan tech figures took to television to argue that the policies of the incumbent president, Ma Ying-jeou, of improving relations with China would lift the industry.

Yet rising competition from Chinese manufacturers and slowing growth there have had a mixed impact on Taiwan tech since. With the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen – who won a decisive victory Saturday- vowing to renew Taiwanese innovation and build out a new tech hub here, a crucial part of Taiwan’s immediate political future depends on whether it can be turned around.

Taiwan’s tech problem, as Lin sees it, is the result of a culture and government that have failed to generate the talent and flexibility to move beyond the manufacturing prowess that made the island a tech hub in the 1980s and 1990s and forward to the software and Internet industries driving Silicon Valley’s current boom. The dilemma became apparent to him in 2009 when he saw a commercial forApple’s iPhone.

“The commercial said whatever you want to do, there’s an app for that,” Lin said. “Immediately, I realized that’s the end of Taiwan. We’re so good at making cheap computers and phones, but we’re so bad at making an app for anything.”

Taiwan’s tech industry is rooted in a conservative business culture built around a now-aging first generation of high-tech industrialists, critics said. Unlike Silicon Valley, which has 31-year-old Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and China, which has the 44-year-old founder of Tencent, Pony Ma, Taiwan’s tech leadership includes Morris Chang, 84, of the chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., and Terry Gou, 65, the founder of Foxconn, the Taiwan-based contract manufacturer.

That has solidified a “survival mentality” unsuited to innovation, with tech executives unwilling to spend on the marketing and design that could set their firms apart from competitors, said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies Taiwan’s tech companies.

One example of that philosophy was on display recently at Silicon Power, which produces branded portable hard drives and USB drives. When the company, based in the affluent riverside neighborhood of Neihu in Taipei, received a flood of orders ahead of Christmas last year, it sent employees responsible for marketing, design and sales – all key to building a brand – to the factory floor, according to one employee, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the policy.

Yvonne Chang, a Silicon Power spokeswoman, said the move was meant to improve communication between office workers and the factory, not to cut costs. An internal email announcing the plan, however, called for an “emergency mobilization” of employees to help on the manufacturing “front lines.”

Some of Taiwan’s larger tech companies have suffered from a similar philosophy. HTC did not put enough emphasis on branding, Shih said, adding that Acer failed to adequately transfer to mobile devices as the personal computer market sagged. Many of the Taiwanese companies are now beholden to bigger branded companies, mostly in the United States, for computers, servers and smartphones.

Acer and HTC did not respond to requests for comment. Nick Wu, the chief financial officer of Asustek, said the company anticipated the shifts in the industry and was working to expand into robotics, as well as computing devices for the home and car.

“Transition is not something that can be completed overnight,” Wu said. “It takes strategic planning and solid execution, especially when our industry is undergoing a massive paradigm shift.”

Taiwan’s entrepreneurial scene, meanwhile, is growing but remains small. Many of those trying to start new companies said they had often run into the conservative mindset that shunts younger people into risk-averse positions at established companies. Entrepreneurs also have to grapple with a maze of regulations that have restricted online payment platforms and limited tech startups’ ability to list in Taiwan.

Lin of AppWorks recalled a moment last year when he and four others in the tech industry met with 30 legislators to work on a law to regulate online payments like PayPal. Of the legislators in the room, only a few had ever used any form of online payment platform.

“If none of them has used it, what rights do they have to criticize it or say it’s not useful?” he said. “You have to at least do your homework.”

Some organizations are working to jump-start the tech industry. Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, or ITRI, a government-sponsored group that supports and builds out new tech companies, recently began spinning off more companies early, whereas before it had been doing more to aid extant firms, according to a general director, Stephen Su.

The institute is also spearheading an initiative to link Taiwanese companies and offer their services to hardware startups in places like Silicon Valley that are in need of quick prototyping and manufacturing, with the aim of bringing in new business from the United States. And the organization has created a research group to work on regulatory problems.

Anita Huang, the head of Taiwan Startup Stadium, an initiative started by the government to lift startup funding and training, said there was a need for more role models to show the way for aspiring entrepreneurs. She pointed to one of Taiwan’s best-funded startups, Gogoro, as an example.

Co-founded in 2011 by Horace Luke, a former HTC executive, Gogoro has raised $180 million (roughly Rs. 1,218 crores) and produces scooters powered by replaceable batteries stored at stations around Taipei. The company grew to more than 600 employees in 2015, up from 15 in 2011.

Luke said his goal was to avoid relying on larger companies and to build a platform by offering services and devices based around the replaceable battery stations. Because of his strong local reputation, Luke said he had been given freedom by investors to run the company as he wanted. He said he encouraged employees, many of whom are under 40, to shun short-term considerations in favor of longer-term innovation.

Luke said Taiwan’s lack of urgency around tech was receding. In the last 18 months, an “alarm bell went off” over the tech scene, he said. “Business leaders here, everyone is talking about that,” he said. “Awareness is the first step to a correction.”

[“source-gadgets.ndtv”]