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Monday, February 11, 2008

Google Android Set To Storm Mobile World Congress

Google's Android software debuts in Barcelona
The first mobile phones fitted with Google's Android software platform made their debut at an industry trade show on Monday, a key advance in the struggle to bring the power of desktop computing to handsets.

Google launched Android last year, hoping to establish its software as the dominant operating system for mobile phones and to improve the quality of web-browsing for handset users.

"What is happening with Android today is that we are seeing a number of technology companies demonstrating how Android will operate on their technology," Google spokesman Barry Schnitt told AFP on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress.

Although the technology on display Monday is in prototype form, experts and journalists were so eager to witness its demonstration that all places for private displays were booked out on Monday within the first hour of the show.

"It's definitely very promising," an analyst for technology research firm Gartner, Carolina Milanesi, told AFP. "This means that we should be on track to see commercial devices in the second half of 2008."

She stressed however that "the road between a prototype and commercial handset is a long one."

Google announced a broad 34-member group called the "Open Handset Alliance" in November last year to develop Android, including China Mobile, HTC, Intel, Motorola, Qualcomm, T-Mobile, Telefonica, LG and eBay.

The demonstrations Monday were by a handful of chip makers -- ARM, Marvell, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, NEC and ST Microelectronics -- which showed Android working in prototype form, the companies and sources confirmed.

"We're demonstrating a prototype of Android," a spokesman for ARM told AFP.

US chip maker Texas Instruments is to demonstrate another prototype phone later Monday in public.

Android is open-source software, meaning its code is available to other developers for free allowing them to build applications and features that can function on the operating platform.

The idea for Google is that Android will lead to radically improved functionality, notably for web browsing, meaning more people will use their mobile phones for Internet surfing.

Currently, surfing the Internet on a mobile phone can still be a frustrating experience, with clunky software and slow download speeds.

"There are few phones that provide a compelling web experience," explained Google's Schnitt.

"As people use the web more, they'll use Google more, and we'll be able to sell more relevant advertising."

Milanesi said that the ultimate test of Android's success would be how easily applications could be used.

"It should have everything that we see on the PC, not just shrunk down to work on a mobile phone but really being optimised for a mobile phone," she said.

Android faces competition from the world's biggest mobile phone maker, Nokia, and its Symbian system; US software giant Microsoft, the maker of Windows; and a separate consortium working on an open-source Linux solution.

The interest in a new software platform from Google stems from the company's desire to establish its brand in emerging markets.

"If you look at emerging markets, people are more likely to have their first browsing experience on a phone not a PC (personal computer)," said Milanesi.

Google surprised analysts when it unveiled Android last November. They had expected the Internet giant to announce the launch of its own gPhone to compete against Apple's popular iPhone.

"Imagine not just a single Google phone, or G-phone, but thousands of G-phones made by a variety of manufacturers," said Google chief executive Eric Schmidt at the time.

This could be Android's weak spot, however.

Taiwan's HTC and ailing US manufacturer Motorola are the two main handset manufacturers in the Open Handset Alliance.

"For it to become a worldwide platform and drive uptake, they need more manufacturers onboard," said Milanesi.

Google's Android Is Here -- iPhone Better Watch Its Back
I've just come from a demonstration of the Android software platform for portable devices here at the 2008 Mobile World Congress.

Android is an open-source operating system that is reportedly the heart-and-soul of the upcoming Google(GOOG - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) phone, among others. Open source means anyone can develop software for and freely use the platform.

I saw Android in action on a very basic GSM/GPRS handset that has a very simple 200MHz ARM processor. It was able to make and receive calls, email and SMS messages, and browse the Web, play audio and video files, handle YouTube files and even help you with directions.

Of course, since Google is the major force behind the Open Handset Alliance, which is the major force behind the software. So, it's no surprise that Android the Web browser opens to the Google search page, Gmail is Android's email client and Google Maps is what you use to find where you're going with Android.

What I've learned today is that Android will take many forms. Depending on the sophistication of the hardware involved (what the processor chip can handle or whether it has a touch screen or high-speed data connection), this new mobile OS platform will spawn many different styles and types of mobile devices.

A number of chip manufacturers here at the show, such as Texas Instruments(TXN - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Qualcomm(QCOM - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), Marvel(MRVL - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr), NEC(NIPNY - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) and ST Micro(STM - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) are quietly demonstrating what a super-duper Android device might, could and will look like in the near future.

Actually, if you're dying to see what Android looks like for yourself you can download and install the online software development kit here.

There are available versions that should run on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer.

From what I saw at today's short demonstration, it's very possible that Android phones could give Apple's (AAPL - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) iPhone a run for its money. I was amazed at how well -- and how quickly -- Android worked on a phone with a simple processor.

I can just imagine what it will be able to do on handsets with even more capable, faster, better and smarter processors.

As for when we'll see the first commercially available Android device, best-guess estimates are "sometime in the second half of this year." What that means in simple English is "in time for the year-end holiday buying season."

A Challenger For Google's Android
As leaders in the wireless industry meet Monday in Barcelona for the annual Mobile World Congress, they will be buzzing about the latest open software platform for mobile handsets. More companies are signing up to support it. A few phone makers will be flashing hot off the bench prototypes. Software developers will be snapping up just-released development kits.

The surprise is, the platform isn't the much-vaunted Open Handset Alliance set up by Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ). Instead, a year-old alliance of companies spearheaded by a group called the LiMo Foundation is horning into the spotlight.

Both are working to create a truly open mobile software platform that standardizes how developers build their applications. Currently applications developers spend large amounts of time rewriting or tuning their applications for a myriad of software environments, including Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) Windows Mobile and Nokia (nyse: NOK - news - people ) Series 60, and beginning last year, some Linux-powered phones. For consumers, an open system could translate into faster access to richer mobile applications like mobile TV and location-based services, and more affordable cell phones.

Google made headlines last year when it unveiled its Open Handset Alliance, a group of 34 technology and mobile companies that also is seeking to develop such an open and free mobile platform. That alliance will have news in Barcelona, too: Several companies, including British chipmaker ARM, are expected to exhibit prototype chips and phones running on the alliance's platform, dubbed Android. Alliance member HTC Corp. has already said it plans to offer an Android phone this year.

But Android has been plagued by reports of glitches since Google released an early version in November. Google recently announced it was tweaking its software developers kit and postponing the deadline for a contest for developers by two weeks, to mid-April. The Android Developer Challenge will provide $10 million in awards for "innovative and useful" Android-based mobile applications.

Meanwhile, LiMo has been steadily chugging away. "[LiMo] is a very practical initiative, but also a deeply philosophical one, based upon the belief that openness in handsets delivers value to consumers," says Morgan Gillis, LiMo's executive director. Inspired by this vision and the desire to exert more control over the operating systems that power their handsets, Motorola (nyse: MOT - news - people ), NEC (nasdaq: NIPNY - news - people ), NTT DoCoMo (nyse: DCM - news - people ), Matsushita, Samsung and Vodafone (nyse: VOD - news - people ) joined forces in January 2007 and set up a LiMo program office in the U.K. to facilitate collaboration.

Universal standards mean they can easily port applications from one device to another. That's roughly the same vision Google has for its Open Handset Alliance. Currently, half of mobile software developments costs go toward ensuring the application will work correctly on different operating systems.

In Barcelona, LiMo will announce nine new members, bringing corporate participation up to 32 companies, including such heavyweights as Motorola, Panasonic and Vodafone. Eighteen handsets from LG, Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung will use its platform. The lineup includes Motorola's Motorokr and Razr2, as well as the high-end 905 series of phones supported by Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo. LG is not an official LiMo member, but will be showing a prototype "LiMo Phone" at the event. LiMo partner Azingo Mobile announced in late January that it had built a full mobile Linux suite based on LiMo's specifications.

New partners are also showing strong support for LiMo. Orange, the mobile arm of France Telecom (nyse: FTE - news - people ), plans to dedicate part of its 150-person Beijing-based R&D center to working with LiMo, says Yves Maitre, senior vice president of devices. The company, which began working with open platforms in 2002, wants to have 50% of its mobile phones run on open source by 2012, he says.

Similarly another recent member, ACCESS, a global mobile software provider that runs another popular mobile operating system called Garnet, has pledged to oversee future LiMo revisions and work closely with developers. To tap a wide range of developers, LiMo's SDK suite includes native, Java and Web-based SDKs.

LiMo's official position toward Google is cordial. The two groups share three members: Motorola, NTT DoCoMo and Samsung. In November, LiMo responded to Google's announcement of its Open Handset Alliance with a press release that said the two shared "core beliefs" and technology that would allow them to "work together synergistically."

Nevertheless, these new moves bring the two closer into competition. "There could certainly be overlap," says Gillis. He hopes LiMo will attract developers by avoiding the types of delays that have beset the Open Handset Alliance. "For developers, what really matters is having a platform and having handsets available immediately, as that's what will bring their applications to consumers," he notes. LiMo is "completely on schedule" and "extremely well positioned to quickly deliver … new handsets, applications and services," he adds.

How soon American consumers will benefit from LiMo is unclear as no American carriers have yet signed onto it. Gillis says he expects they will soon, citing AT&T (nyse: T - news - people ) and Verizon (nyse: VZ - news - people )'s recent commitment to open their networks to outside phones and services, and the "strong American presence" of LiMo members Motorola, Samsung and LG. Sprint Nextel (nyse: S - news - people ) and T-Mobile, the country's no. 3 and 4 carriers, are Open Handset Alliance members.

LiMo-based phones could be a particular boon for consumers in emerging economies. Orange is proud to be the official operator of the iPhone in France, says Maitre, but the phone's high price limits it to the elite. LiMo will help Orange reach a broader population in places like Africa by enabling it to offer affordable, feature-rich handsets from well-known brands, he says.

Android is believed to be similarly targeting the mass market with low-priced handsets, but it may have a more complicated model that includes subscriptions to Internet access and mobile advertising, backed by Google's technology, says consulting firm Capgemini.

Leading handset maker Nokia may have its own open-source ambitions, judging from its recent acquisition of software developer--and LiMo member--Trolltech.

No matter who prevails, the shift will usher in a second cellular revolution, in which openness, innovation and collaboration between industry leaders and developers will transform the way people use their phones, say advocates.

It may also pump money into the telecom sector in general and encourage investors to take more risk with start-ups. Says Maitre, "That will bring value to everyone."

"number sense" that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects.

Neural Basis Of 'Number Sense' In Young Infants

Behavioral experiments indicate that infants aged 4½ months or older possess an early "number sense" that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects.

However, the neural basis of this ability was previously unknown.

In new research, VĂ©ronique Izard, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, and Stanislas Dehaene provide brain imaging evidence showing that very young infants are sensitive to both the number and identity of objects, and these pieces of information are processed by distinct neural pathways.

The authors recorded the electrical activity evoked by the brain on the surface of the scalp as 3-months-old infants were watching images of objects. The number or identity of objects occasionally changed.

The authors found that the infant brain responds to both changes, but in different brain regions, which map onto the same regions that activate in adults. These results show that very young infants are sensitive to small changes in number, and the brain organization that underlies the perception of object number and identity are established early during development.


Neural Basis Of ‘Number Sense’ In Young Infants

Cerebral imaging reveals that human infants are sensitive to numerical quantity at a very early age and that the basic dorsal/ventral functional organization is already in place in the infant brain.

Astronauts Ready For Spacewalk After Health Issues

International Space Station astronauts were quite busy on Sunday getting ready for the first spacewalk since the arrival of the NASA space shuttle Atlantis, which brought with it the European Space Agency module Columbus. The spacewalk had to be delayed due to health issues with German astronaut Hans Schlegel.

Schlegel has been replaced by Stanley Love.

Love and Rex Walheim will perform tasks to get the International Space Statioin and the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory ready for installation.

They will have to install the Power Data Grapple Fixture on Columbus, as well as other tasks.

Schlegel and Pilot Alan Poindexter will coordinate the spacewalk from inside the orbiting complex according to NASA.

The European Sapce Agency stated that the current health condition of Schlegel is “not life or mission threatening in any way, but that could affect his efficiency during a spacewalk.”

It is possible that Schlegel will rejoin Rex Walheim for a second spacewalk. NASA has not given any further information though on the matter.


Shuttle Atlantis docks with space station

U.S. space shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station more than 200 miles

above Earth on Saturday on a mission to deliver Columbus, a $1.9 billion European laboratory.

Columbus, launched aboard Atlantis on Thursday from Florida, was to be lifted by robot arm from the shuttle's payload bay on Sunday and attached to the station, giving Europe its first permanent research facility in space.

Astronauts set for ISS spacewalk

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis are preparing for the mission's first spacewalk.
The spacewalk was originally scheduled for Sunday, but had to be delayed by 24 hours after European crew member Hans Schlegel was taken ill.

Mr Schlegel was supposed to venture out into space with US astronaut Rex Walheim, but he will now be replaced.

Atlantis, which docked with the ISS on Saturday, was delivering Europe's Columbus science laboratory.

Mr Schlegel was pulled from the job on Saturday because of illness. The US space agency (Nasa) has refused to elaborate on what was ailing German astronaut Hans Schlegel, but said it was not life-threatening.

Nasa's website said that the medical issue would have "no impact to the overall mission objectives" and that the spacewalk on Monday would be conducted by Rex Walheim and Stan Love, who steps in for Mr Schlegel.

The only difference is who's going out the hatch," said Nasa flight director Mike Sarafin.

Schlegel was said to be looking and sounding well on Sunday, and was expected to take part in the second spacewalk of the mission on Wednesday.

The primary purpose of the spacewalk, which is due to begin at 1430 GMT (0930 EST) is to help install the European space laboratory, Columbus.

Columbus cost about $2bn (£1bn) and has room for three researchers in fields ranging from crop breeding to the development of advanced alloys.

The lab is the first part of the ISS that the European Space Agency (Esa) will control. Installation will now start on Monday.

Routine inspection

Before docking, the crew guided Atlantis in a back-flip manoeuvre that allowed crew on the space station to photograph the shuttle's protective heat-resistant tiles.
Engineers on Earth will check the images for any possible damage that may have been done to the tiles during lift-off.

This became a routine safety measure after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in 2003.

The 7m-long (24ft), 4.5m-wide (14ft), 12.8-tonne laboratory will be manoeuvred into position by the shuttle's robotic arm, and docked to the station's Harmony Node 2 connector.

Esa astronaut Leopold Eyharts will be staying on the station to commission Columbus, a process that should take a few weeks to complete.

Its installation will mean Esa becomes a full member of the orbital project.

Atlantis was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, and is due to return to Earth now on 19 February, a day's extension to the originally planned 11-day mission.

Once the lab is in place, an intensive programme of research in weightless surroundings will begin.

The experiments will also help researchers better understand the physiological demands of long-duration spaceflight, something that will be important if humans are ever to colonise the Moon or travel to Mars.

Development of organic solar cells

The flexible solar module is as small as the page of a book.

Organic Solar Cells:Electricity From A Thin Film
Teams of researchers all over the world are working on the development of organic solar cells. Organic solar cells have good prospects for the future: They can be laid onto thin films, which makes them cheap to produce.
Established printing technologies should be employed for their production of the future. In order to achieve this goal of suitable solar cell architecture as well a coating materials and substrates have to be developed. “This method permits a high throughput, so the greatest cost is that of materials,” says Michael Niggemann, a researcher at ISE.

Nevertheless, organic solar cells are not intended to compete with classic silicon cells – they are not nearly efficient enough to do that just yet. Because they are flexible, however, they can open up new fields of application: Plastic solar cells could supply the power for small mobile devices such as MP3 players or electronic ski passes. Another possibility would be to combine solar cells, sensors and electronic circuits on a small strip of plastic to form a self-sufficient power microsystem.

At nano tech in Tokyo, the Fraunhofer experts will be presenting a flexible solar module that is as small as the page of a book. It was produced by a method that can easily be transferred to roll-to-roll technology – a vital step en route to mass production.

A new design principle helps to save costs, too: Until now, the front electrode, the one that faces the sun, has usually been made of expensive indium tin oxide because this material is transparent. But now there is an alternative: The Fraunhofer crew has interconnected a poorly conductive transparent polymer electrode with a highly conductive metal layer on the rear side of the solar cell. This connection is done trough numerous tiny holes in the solar cell .This has the advantage that a low-priced material can be used. The idea has already been patented.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg is presenting avenues towards industrial mass production at the world’s largest trade fair for nanotechnology, the nano tech 2008 from February 21 through 23 in Tokyo.

Thin-layer Solar Cells May Bring Cheaper Green Power

Scientists are researching new ways of harnessing the sun's rays which could eventually make it cheaper for people to use solar energy to power their homes.
The experts at Durham University are developing light-absorbing materials for use in the production of thin-layer solar photovoltaic (PV) cells which are used to convert light energy into electricity.

The four-year project involves experiments on a range of different materials that would be less expensive and more sustainable to use in the manufacturing of solar panels.

Thicker silicon-based cells and compounds containing indium, a rare and expensive metal, are more commonly used to make solar panels today.

The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) SUPERGEN Initiative, focuses on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.

Right now the project is entering a new phase for the development of cheaper and more sustainable variants of these materials.

The Durham team is also working on manipulating the growth of the materials so they form a continuous structure which is essential for conducting the energy trapped by solar panels before it is turned into usable electricity. This will help improve the efficiency of the thin-layer PV cells.

It's hoped that the development of more affordable thin-film PV cells could lead to a reduction in the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in the use of solar power.

Solar power currently provides less than one hundredth of one percent of the UK's home energy needs.

The thin-layer PV cells would be used to make solar panels that could be fitted to roofs to help power homes with any surplus electricity being fed back to The National Grid.

This could lead to cheaper fuel bills and less reliance on burning fossil fuels as a way of helping to generate electricity.

Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, who is leading the research, said: "One of the main issues in solar energy is the cost of materials and we recognise that the cost of solar cells is slowing down their uptake.

"If solar panels were cheap enough so you could buy a system off the shelf that provided even a fraction of your power needs you would do it, but that product isn't there at the moment.

"The key indicator of cost effectiveness is how many pounds do you have to spend to get a watt of power out?

"If you can make solar panels more cheaply then you will have a winning product."

To aid its research the university has taken delivery of a £1.7 million suite of high powered electron microscopes, funded by the Science Research Investment Fund, which have nano-scale resolution allowing scientists to see the effects that currently limit the performance of solar cells.

One of the microscopes is the first of its kind in the UK and Professor Durose said: "This instrument will put the North East right out in front.

"We are working on new ideas in renewable energy and this opens up tremendous opportunities in research."

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