Huawei Mate 8 review

Huawei Mate 8 in white

If you think Huawei is still relatively unknown in the U.S., you’d probably be right. At least, it’s still not a household name among the general non-techie population. But you may be surprised to learn that it’s not exactly well known in Asia outside its home turf of China, either. Not yet.

All signs, though, point to 2016 being the year when that starts to change for Huawei. The 2015 launch of the Huawei-built Nexus 6P really did a lot to raise its profile globally, and especially in the U.S.

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Chinese smartphones go global

While Xiaomi is the Chinese brand that has until now stolen most of the limelight from international tech media — often at the expense of Huawei and Lenovo — I think it’s fair to say that the tides are beginning to shift a little more in Huawei’s direction. Xiaomi, meanwhile, has been faced with unexpected setbacks and likely missed its own 80 million unit sales target last year.

Huawei’s new 6-inch flagship, which launched internationally this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, is called the Mate 8, and it’s certainly generated a good amount of buzz. That’s despite the fact that it’s not even available in the U.S. yet, with its “global” launch largely limited to Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and Mexico. It launched in China back in November.

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I’ve spent a couple weeks with the Mate 8 over the holiday period and into the new year, and while Huawei has produced a solid, premium-feeling Android smartphone, I can’t find a single reason as to why I’d recommend it over other widely-available phablets like the Nexus 6P, the Moto X Pure, the gorgeous OnePlus 2, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, or even the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium with a 4K display. All retail at similar or lower price points as the €600-€700 Huawei Mate 8 (based on its European pricing). Heck, you can even pick up an iPhone 6 Plus at these prices.

But, if you’re dead set on making this the year you check out a smartphone from a Chinese OEM, it’s probably still worth waiting until February to see what Xiaomi has in store with its delayed Android flagship, the Mi 5. Yes, that will be a smaller phone — probably no larger than 5.5 inches — but it’s expected to retail at under $500 and will likely pack a better screen than Huawei’s. The other obvious contender from China is the OnePlus 2, as I’ve already mentioned.

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Design and screen

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the Mate 8 is that it feels premium. It’s a 7.9mm-thick, all-metal unibody design weighing 185g — Huawei says it’s “aerospace grade aluminum metal” — with chamfered edges and an 83 percent screen-to-body ratio. That means it has extremely thin bezels and actually manages an impressively small device footprint considering the 6-inch full-HD display.

At 367 PPI, it’s not the best screen around (the upcoming Xiaomi Mi 5 is expected to have between 550-600 PPI), though contrast and viewing angles are good. Some have complained about a slight blueish tint to the display. The screen curves slightly at the edges, but it’s not as prominent as on the iPhone 6. With Corning Gorilla Glass 4 hopefully protecting it from careless drops, it’s certainly not a screen I’d complain about using day-to-day. But it also wouldn’t be my first choice.

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The outside of the phone is largely predictable. Volume rockers are under the power button on the right, a dual-SIM card slot is on the left (one slot doubles as a micro SD slot, expandable up to 128GB). Down below are speaker grills and — perhaps disappointingly for 2016 — a microUSB port instead of USB Type-C for charging.

Up top is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Round back is Huawei’s much-improved circular fingerprint scanner as we saw on the Nexus 6P (the one on the previous generation Mate 7 was square). It’s fast, and certainly comparable to the one on the iPhone 6S except that it scans the index finger instead of the thumb. Another use: triggering the camera shutter.

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Cameras

As for cameras, the main shooter round back is a 16MP Sony sensor with an f/2.0 aperture, dual-flash, and three-axis optical image stabilization. The front-facing camera is 8 MP, and offers a “beauty algorithm for taking the perfect selfie.” We’ve seen a big focus on selfies from a range of OEMs last year. Huawei says it invested $98 million over three years to develop “the first proprietary image sensor processor for faster focusing, higher clarity, and more accurate color shading.”

That’s all well and good, but in my experience the cameras are just decent — good enough for every day use, but not the best on the market. They’re also far from bad or inadequate. Here are some example shots in a range of lighting conditions that I took in Singapore this week (sorry, no selfies included):

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The camera software comes with all the features you’d expect of a flagship Android smartphone in 2015/16, including a professional/manual mode that allows you to tweak all sorts of levels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t shoot in 4K, but it does have time-lapse and a range of filters. In my use, it snaps pictures fast and reliably, and I don’t really have any gripes with the camera hardware of software.

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Hardware and software

The Huawei Mate 8 comes in two versions: either 32GB with 3GB of RAM or 64GB with 4GB of RAM (and four colors: Champagne Gold, Moonlight Silver, Space Gray and Mocha Brown). It’s running on Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 950 octacore chipset that it unveiled back in November (four high-power Cortex-A72 processors running at 2.3 GHz, and four low-power Cortex A53 processors running at 1.8 GHz). Graphics are handled by a Mali-T880 processor. In my use, the phone is snappy and lag-free, even with Huawei’s heavily-skinned version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow — which it calls EMUI 4.0 (more on that after). Game performance is excellent.

The 4,000mAh battery is impressive as heck, easily getting you through two full days of light-to-normal use. Even on heavy use, you’ll likely have juice left over after a full day. Its quick charge functionality tops up 37 percent in 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the new Kirin processor (which Huawei says boosts power efficiency by 70 percent compared to the Kirin 925 that we saw in the Mate 7) and the fact that it’s not pushing a 4K display (like an increasing number of phones are this year) really helps conserve power. Google’s new Doze feature, which it baked into Android Marshmallow, also helps by putting the phone into a “deep sleep” state to conserve power when it’s not being used.

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EMUI 4.0 gets rid of the app drawer, instead showing all your apps and folders on the home screens. Xiaomi’s custom Android skin, MIUI, also does this. It’s probably a discrete nod to Apple in a market where iPhones are still seen as the most premium offering (yes, I’m talking about China). As you’d expect, there’s a bunch of ways you can tweak the look and feel of EMUI by playing around in settings.

While I don’t think EMUI completely butchers Google’s efforts with Marshmallow, it certainly isn’t my cup of tea. App icons are squared-off (also like Xiaomi), and folders display in grid view by default instead of stack, so there can appear to be lot of empty space on the home screens if you only have a couple of apps in a folder. And just to rant real quick, I found it frustrating that Huawei won’t let you swipe down to check notifications from the lock screen if a passcode is set.

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That said, it’s not all bad, and if you’re not so much of an Android purist you may not mind. Huawei has a cool recording app that allows you to directionally control audio input (and output in playback) by manipulating levels on the three microphones. While this is clever and potentially useful, it remains to be seen whether people actually end up using it. EMUI 4.0 also comes with a “built-in automatic defragmentation service,” which in reality is a pre-loaded version of Clean Master that you can simply uninstall if you wish.

In all, Huawei says it’s made “hundreds of user experience tweaks and improvements”. (I hope it means improvements over EMUI 3.0, rather than Google’s stock design. It would be easy to agree with the former — but much harder, if not impossible, to agree with the latter claim.) In any case, if you really don’t like what Huawei has done with EMUI 4.0, you can always install a custom launcher like Nova. There is a split-screen mode that I didn’t find myself using, and multitasking feels like it’s taken a step backwards from the new card-stack layout that Google introduced in Lollipop — instead opting for a horizontal side-by-side layout.

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Verdict

Ultimately, while it’s hard to fault the Mate 8 on paper — it’s a solid, if expensive, phablet that does the job — I still don’t find myself particularly excited about it. In today’s day and age, the spec war is largely over and smartphone makers are staging battle on much more of an emotional playing field. Is there something that makes me want to reach out and touch the phone, to pick it up and use it even if I’m not trying to do anything in particular? Is it just a joy or thrill to use or look at?

For me, the Mate 8 doesn’t quite achieve any of that. By comparison, devices like the Nexus 6P or the OnePlus 2 do achieve that mysterious, intangible quality that keeps me excited about smartphones while much of the industry shifts the discussion to the IoT push by brands like Samsung and LG, or insane concept cars and collision-avoidance drones.

Should you buy the Mate 8? Probably not. Is it a disaster if you end up with one as your daily driver? Again: probably not. I just don’t know why you’d want to based on the rest of the offerings available on the market today — ironically, including Huawei’s own Nexus 6P.

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Alibaba’s 2015 year in review — and its plan for 2016

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Alibaba’s CEO Daniel Zhang — not to be confused with its better-known founder and executive chairman Jack Ma — this week vaguely laid out the Chinese ecommerce titan’s expansion strategy for 2016 during a speech to employees at its Hangzhou headquarters.

“Global import, rural e-commerce, and top-tier cities are the three key battlefields for Alibaba in 2016,” Zhang said. Here’s the rest of his comments, as shared by Alibaba in an English-language translation:

We are going to consolidate and expand our current market, particularly by enhancing reputation, optimizing user experience and increasing our market share in first-tier cities … We are going to build our businesses around the two brands [Tmall Global and Taobao Marketplace’s niche global channel], in order to raise their awareness among customers and offer optimal user experience … In 2016, we are going to ramp up our efforts to bring quality goods to rural buyers, and deliver local produce to urban customers so the rural market can be connected to the whole country and even the whole world.

Alibaba’s 2015 year in review

Unsurprisingly, Alibaba had one heck of a busy 2015. It kicked off the year in a partnership with Tencent to launch a consumer credit rating service, and the same month (January) outlined a new plan to help U.S. businesses better sell in China in what some interpreted as the beginning of a “U.S. invasion.”

Last year saw it push more seriously into supporting QR codes — its online payments platform, Alipay, has been using QR codes for in-store mobile payments since 2011. But Alibaba struggled with meeting Wall Street expectations as the year kicked off, and had a tussle with the Chinese government over alleged illegal business practices.

Rumours surfaced in late January that Alibaba may have been planning to make its own gaming console after it pumped $10 million into struggling Ouya. By March, it had launched its first U.S. cloud data center (more about Aliyun here and here; it opened its second cloud data center in October), and began expanding aggressively into media and entertainment (more of that was evidenced later in the year when it bought Chinese video-streaming giant Youku Tudou in a multi-billion-dollar deal).

Yahoo was often in the headlines alongside Alibaba in 2015 concerning the spin off of its stake in the ecommerce giant (it then backtracked on that decision). By May, QR codes were back in the headlines as Alibaba embraced new visual QR tech for its offline-to-online transactions. In July, we learned that the company was investing a whopping $1 billion to expand its cloud business into Japan, Europe, and the Middle East.

China’s economic downturn around August hit Alibaba — and fellow Chinese companies including Tencent and Lenovo — hard. By September, it was trialling its own video-streaming service in what was immediately interpreted by the industry as a direct challenge to Netflix. The same month, it inked a deal with the United States Postal Service to develop international shipping solutions and enhance cross-border ecommerce between the two countries.

Coming back to payments, an Alibaba partner unveiled a $110 payments-focused smartwatch for the China market, and Alibaba itself inked a strategic investment in India’s ecommerce giant Paytm. That deal was said to be worth $680 million and left Paytm valued at around $4 billion. McDonald’s also started accepting Alipay at its restaurants across China.

2015 was an important year for Alibaba’s global push — it’s desperate to be better understood outside China. Towards the end of the year, its main rival, JD.com, opened its first office in the U.S. as competition between the two reached new heights. At the same time, Alibaba opened new offices in Europe, making clear to all that it had no signs of slowing down international expansion.

Fake goods continued to plague Alibaba’s perception in the West and at home, and it narrowly avoided the U.S. government’s fake goods blacklist. But as a testament to its ecommerce might, it generated an astonishing $3.9 billion in sales in the first hour of Singles’ Day. It further evidenced its media intentions when rumors flew that it was in talks to buy the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong (that deal closed in December).

In a soft-power highlight for the company, its founder Jack Ma interviewed President Barack Obama at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila in November. Alibaba was the same month one of a handful of major tech companies that committed to investing in clean energy, alongside the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Amazon.

Looking to the year ahead, one analyst firm pegged Alibaba’s spending power for investments and acquisitions over the next 12 months at around $38 billion. No matter what you think of the Chinese powerhouse, the world is sure to be watching it closely in 2016.

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Uber’s China rival Didi Kuaidi sees 1.4M requests on new test-drive service in first 90 days

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Didi Kuaidi, Uber’s market-dominant leader in China, says it received 1.4 million test drive requests since launching the service in October. That’s based on 1.8 million user sign ups, and is by all accounts a staggering number for the first 90 days. We’ve reached out to Didi to clarify how many of those test drive requests were actually delivered.

At the time of Didi’s test drive launch barely three months ago, I wrote about how ridehailing apps are now opening up entirely new advertising channels for car makers (and revenue streams for the startups/apps themselves) through test drive services. Margins on rides hailed through the app are likely thin.

Indeed, Didi is today announcing that it plans “to build out its fast-growing test drive business into an open, big data-driven automobile service platform.” That’s quite a mouthful, but makes perfect sense from a business perspective, especially in a huge walled-in market like China where it reigns supreme. A market where, like the U.S., everyone is attached to their smartphone.

Beyond ridehailing: The new transportation ecosystem

Didi further explains in a release: “In the future, the Didi app will connect carmakers and dealers with Didi’s robust mobile user base to realize a full range of auto-related services including pricing and demand projections, targeted product recommendations, and other auto ecommerce initiatives. Drawing on Didi’s powerful data integration and analysis capabilities, the platform will enable carmakers and dealers to build more effective and mutually-beneficial connections to users, buyers, and car media.”

Didi started selling cars online in China last month — in what seems to have been something of a pilot test, it sold 200 new models sourced from among its 19 automobile “partners” (which include brands like Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, and Audi) in just two hours. As of today, Didi’s test drive service is available in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Hangzhou (Chengdu is notable Uber’s most important city in the world), but the company says it plans to expand the service into 20 more cities in China this year.

Crucially, though, here’s where Didi gets crystal clear about its intentions to be so much more than just a ridehailing competitor to the likes of Uber:

Automobile ecommerce, as well as other services offered by top carmakers and dealers, are expected to become part of Didi’s day-to-day operations in the near future.

And here’s how Didi is really going to make use of all that big data on the back end that it’s been gathering about its users in order to help car makers sell more effectively (through targeted marketing campaigns), and in turn make itself big bucks while competitors like Uber continue to bleed:

The data and networking capabilities from Didi’s test drive platform, for the first time, accurately grasp customers’ car use and purchasing needs … Positioned between car manufacturers and dealers, Didi Kuaidi is in the best position to create customized intermediary services … By optimizing consumption patterns and improving sales efficiency, [we] aims to contribute to the transformation of the car industry and the new transportation ecosystem.”

As it was last year, China will continue to be an exciting tech market to watch in 2016 for new innovations — no longer content with being just a copycat following in the footsteps of the West. And, to me at least, this proves that Didi is an incredibly exciting Chinese startup in the transportation space that it’s probably unwise to underestimate.

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Huawei is the first Chinese smartphone maker to ship more than 100M units in a year

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(By Yimou Lee and Ritsuko Ando for Reuters) — Huawei Technologies Co has become the first Chinese handset vendor to ship more than 100 million smartphones annually, defying a market slowdown to challenge leaders such as Samsung Electronics Co and Apple Inc.

The Shenzhen-based company said on Wednesday its smartphone shipments rose 44 percent annually to 108 million in 2015, thanks to strong sales in China and Western Europe as it seeks to shed its budget supplier image to target higher-margin premium models.

Hauwei’s upbeat performance comes at a time when industry leaders are facing a tough year ahead. Samsung said it expected a difficult business environment in 2016 due to weak global economy and heightened competition, while a Nikkei report said Apple was expected to cut production of its latest iPhone models by about 30 percent in the January-March quarter due to mounting inventories.

Analysts said it was too early to say if Huawei could become a serious rival to Samsung and Apple, as smaller Chinese players such as Xiaomi Inc and Lenovo Group Ltd often swapped rank in price wars.

“In China it’s true that Huawei grew tremendously over the past six months, but it’s a bit of a dog fight within the Android ecosystem,” Kantar Worldpanel ComTech analyst Carolina Milanesi said.

“Huawei’s going after Xiaomi and all the other smaller Android players.”

Huawei remains a distant third, with a smartphone market share of 7.5 percent in the third quarter after Samsung’s 23.8 percent and Apple’s 13.5 percent, according to research firm IDC.

Huawei said revenue for its consumer business group, which sells products such as smartphones and tablets, jumped 70 percent year-on-year to $20 billion in 2015.

Worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to grow 10.4 percent in 2015, down from 27.5 percent in the previous year, according to IDC.

(Editing by Stephen Coates)

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In direct challenge to Skype, WeChat now lets users call mobile phones and landlines

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Following Line’s move back in August to redesign its mobile chat app with a focus on low-cost calling, Tencent has now added the ability to call mobile phones and landlines from within the WeChat app. Its new calling service is being branded WeChat Out — Line calls its service Line Out. Hmmm.

The feature is currently only available in the U.S., Hong Kong, and India, but Tencent says more countries and regions are coming soon. WeChat Out claims to offer “super-low calling rates” and “excellent call quality,” and is just one more way the Chinese Internet giant is luring users to add a credit card to their WeChat account.

WeChat Out now appears as a new option in the expandable menu when users click the ‘+’ symbol at the top right of the home screen. Every user can redeem $1 in credit when they start with the service, and Tencent says it’s also giving away 100 minutes of free calls to “most numbers around the globe.”

Tencent rolled out an update to WeChat back in October that enabled nine-person video calling, but this time it looks to be challenging services like Skype in a much bigger way as it pushes out of China in earnest.

As I noted in November, Tencent is opening up its mobile payments service to overseas transactions for the first time, meaning that paid services — including this new ability to call mobiles and landlines that would have been previously bound to China users because of the need to attach credit cards to an account — are now being offered up to users in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Clearly, WeChat remains a force to be reckoned with as we move into 2016.

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Sugr Cube is a wireless speaker from China designed as a homage to Steve Jobs and iOS

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The founder of Sugr, the wireless speaker from China that hit a $60,000 Kickstarter goal in January 2015, has told VentureBeat that the product was designed as a homage to the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, as well as iOS. The comments come as Sugr launches for sale globally at $229 after successfully shipping units to Kickstarter backers in June and July.

“Besides the technology, we want to present our respect to Apple and Jobs, so we designed the speaker to be iOS icon shape with authentic wood surface,” Sugr CEO Sean Song said. China is a country where Apple continues with an aggressive push, and where iPhones remain status symbols due to their perception of quality, U.S. design, and fact that they outprice much of the market where cheaper Android phones by the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, and Samsung still reign.

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One of the first thing that strikes you about the Sugr Cube is its beautiful design, finish, and attention to detail. It’s available in both maple and cherry wood sourced from North America, and comes with some nifty hardware that allows you to skip tracks forwards or backwards by tilting the unit 45 degrees on one of its corners. Placing your hand on top of the unit pauses or starts a track.

I’ve been playing Spotify through it, which connects easily via AirPlay on my iPhone. It’s also compatible with Android and services like Pandora, and has 4GB of internal storage in case you want to load up songs on the device itself and take it outside. It claims 24 hours of nonstop playback on a single charge. The dedicated Sugr app allows you to interface with the speaker, and set up is straight forward. In my experience, though, the iOS app could be better. (The company says it’s pushing out regular updates every 2-3 weeks.)

This thing gets loud, going up to 90dB, and the sound quality is excellent. The Sugr team hope to draw comparisons with big name brands like Bose and Sonos. “The team spent a whole year building hardware and software prototypes,” Song said. “Looking for factory partners, many of them refused us: they did not understand why we [incorporated] many aspects in one product.”

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He continued: “We were frustrated sometimes. But we did meet people who understood us. We found a speaker factory who agreed to offer our customized driver unit. We found a wood factory who spent six months with us to tune the wooden box of Sugr Cube. We together tried over 20 kinds of wood, and 12 kinds of painting processes.”

Issues with the capacitive touch sensor not working correctly in low temperatures were eventually solved, and what we’re left with is the unit available today. After playing with it for a few days, I can recommend it. The company says it ships to the U.S. in 5-7 days, and right now it’s available at a discounted holiday price of $199. Of course, Bose also has wireless speakers on sale at this price point, such as the SoundLink Mini speaker II. Sonos has the similarly priced Play:1.

But if you feel like getting something a bit more exotic and handcrafted, the Sugr Cube could be a fun new year gift for yourself or a loved one.

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Microsoft Will Warn Users About Suspected Attacks By Government Hackers

shutterstock Microsoft Microsoft users will now be notified if a state-sponsored attacker tries to break into their accounts, the company said in a blog post. The announcement comes the same day as a Reuters report that Microsoft did not warn Hotmail users their email accounts had been accessed by a group associated with the Chinese government. Read More

Microsoft failed to warn victims of Chinese email hack: former employees

An electronic Microsoft logo is seen at the Microsoft store in New York City, July 28, 2015.

(By Joseph Menn, Reuters) – Microsoft experts concluded several years ago that Chinese authorities had hacked into more than a thousand Hotmail email accounts, targeting international leaders of China’s Tibetan and Uighur minorities in particular – but it decided not to tell the victims, allowing the hackers to continue their campaign, according to former employees of the company.

On Wednesday, after a series of requests for comment from Reuters, Microsoft said it will change its policy and in the future tell its email customers when it suspects there has been a government hacking attempt.

The company also confirmed for the first time that it had not called, emailed or otherwise told the Hotmail users that their electronic correspondence had been collected. The company declined to say what role the exposure of the Hotmail campaign played in its decision to make the policy shift.

The first public signal of the attacks came in May 2011, though no direct link was immediately made with the Chinese authorities. That’s when security firm Trend Micro Inc announced it had found an email sent to someone in Taiwan that contained a miniature computer program.

The program took advantage of a previously undetected flaw in Microsoft’s own web pages to direct Hotmail and other free Microsoft email services to secretly forward copies of all of a recipient’s incoming mail to an account controlled by the attacker.

Trend Micro found more than a thousand victims, and Microsoft patched the vulnerability before the security company announced its findings publicly.

Microsoft also launched its own investigation that year, finding that some interception had begun in July 2009 and had compromised the emails of top Uighur and Tibetan leaders in multiple countries, as well as Japanese and African diplomats, human rights lawyers and others in sensitive positions inside China, two former Microsoft employees said. They spoke separately and on the condition that they not be identified.

Some of the attacks had come from a Chinese network known as AS4808, which has been associated with major spying campaigns, including a 2011 attack on EMC Corp’s security division RSA that U.S. intelligence officals publicly attributed to China. To see the report click here http://www.secureworks.com/cyber-threat-intelligence/threats/sindigoo/

Microsoft officials did not dispute that most of the attacks came from China, but said some came from elsewhere. They did not give further detail.

“We weighed several factors in responding to this incident, including the fact that neither Microsoft nor the U.S. government were able to identify the source of the attacks, which did not come from any single country,” the company said.

“We also considered the potential impact on any subsequent investigation and ongoing measures we were taking to prevent potential future attacks.”

In announcing the new policy, Microsoft said: “As the threat landscape has evolved our approach has too, and we’ll now go beyond notification and guidance to specify if we reasonably believe the attacker is `state-sponsored.'”

Requests for comment from China’s Foreign Ministry and the Cyberspace Administration of China were not immediately answered. The Chinese government routinely issues strong denials of involvement in all hacking activities.

Internal debate

After a vigorous internal debate in 2011 that reached Microsoft’s top security official, Scott Charney, and its then-general counsel and now president, Brad Smith, the company decided not to alert the users clearly that anything was amiss, the former employees said. Instead, it simply forced users to pick new passwords without disclosing the reason.

The employees said it was likely the hackers by then had footholds in some of the victims’ machines and therefore saw those new passwords being entered.

One of the reasons Microsoft executives gave internally in 2011 for not issuing explicit warnings was their fear of angering the Chinese government, two people familiar with the discussions said.

Microsoft’s statement did not address the specific positions advocated by Smith and Charney. A person familiar with the executives’ thinking said that fear of Chinese reprisals did play a role given the company’s concerns about the potential impact on customers.

Microsoft said the company had believed the password resets would be the fastest way to restore security to the accounts.

“Our primary concern was ensuring that our customers quickly took practical steps to secure their accounts, including by forcing a password reset,” the statement said.

It is unclear what happened to the email users and their correspondents as a result of Microsoft’s failure to alert them to the suspected government hacking. But some of those affected said they were now deeply worried about the risks, especially for those inside China.

“The Internet service providers and the email providers have an ethical and a moral responsibility to let the users know that they are being hacked,” said Seyit Tumturk, vice president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose account was among those compromised. “We are talking in people’s lives here.”

Hundreds of lives

Unrest in Xinjiang, the Chinese region bordering Kazakhstan that is home to many Uighurs, has cost hundreds of lives in recent years. Beijing blames Islamist militants, while human rights groups say harsh controls on the religion and culture of the Uighurs have led to the violence.

Until Wednesday, Microsoft had rejected the idea of explicit warnings about state-sponsored hacking, such as those Google Inc began in 2012, the former employees said. In the 2011 case, the company also opted not to send a more generic warning about hacking. Yahoo Inc and Facebook Inc have been issuing such warnings for several years, former employees of those companies told Reuters, including when the principal suspect was a government. Both companies, along with Twitter Inc, announced in recent months that they would follow Google’s lead and explicitly notify users about suspected state-sponsored hacking.

Google said on average it now issues tens of thousands of warnings about targeting every few months, and that recipients often move to improve their security with two-factor authentication and other steps. Reuters interviewed five of the Hotmail hacking victims that were identified as part of Microsoft’s investigation: two Uighur leaders, a senior Tibetan figure and two people in the media dealing with matters of interest to Chinese officials. Most recalled the password resets, but none took the procedure as an indication that anyone had read his or her email, let alone that it may have been accessed by the Chinese government. “I thought it was normal, everybody gets it,” said one of the men, a Uighur émigré now living in Europe who asked not to be named because he left family behind in China.

Another victim identified by Microsoft’s internal team was Tseten Norbu of Nepal, a former president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, one of the more outspoken members of a community that has frequently clashed with Chinese officials. Another Microsoft-identified victim was Tumturk, the World Uyghur Congress vice president who lives in Turkey. Microsoft investigators also saw that emails had been forwarded from the account of Peter Hickman, a former American diplomatic officer who arranged high-profile speeches by international figures at the National Press Club in Washington for many years.

Hickman said he used his Hotmail account on Press Club computers to correspond with people, including the staff for the Tibetan government in exile, whose leader Lobsang Sangay spoke at the club in 2011; Tumturk’s World Uyghur Congress, whose then-president Rebiya Kadeer spoke in 2009; and the president of Taiwan, who spoke by video link-up in 2007. Hickman said he didn’t recall the password reset. He said he never suspected anything was wrong with the account, which he continues to use.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn. Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing. Editing by Jonathan Weber.)










Qualcomm Signs New Patent Licensing Deals In China

qualcomm shutterstock Qualcomm announced today that it has inked new patent licensing deals in China with smartphone manufacturers Beijing Tianyu Communication Equipment and Haier Group. The San Diego-based chipmaker has made a series of similar agreements over the past two months as it recovers from an antitrust investigation by the Chinese government. Read More

5 Chinese crowdfunding products we wish we got for Christmas

dobot

Christmas is over, but there’s always room in the stocking for one more gadget. In case Santa left you feeling a little disappointed, here are five great Chinese products that met their crowdfunding goal this Christmas:

1. sProjector

projector

The sProjector is about the size of an iPhone and very lightweight (150g). This projector, worth $190 USD, was made by a Beijing-based team. The projector supports 1,000 lumens projection and a battery boost, it can last for up to five hours of projection without external power supply. Its energy-efficient design provides an auto lamp dimming function and auto brightness adjustment function to lower the total cost of operation. The campaign closed on December 25th, and surpassed its Indiegogo goal by almost fifty times, with over $498,000 USD pledged of a modest $10,000 goal.

2. Seed Smart Water Bottle

SMART bottle

Shenzhen-based Seed is a smart water bottle that tells you when to drink more water. It tracks a user’s water consumption and provides reminders to meet a daily goal. The lid features an LED touch screen display, and shows the real-time water temperature when touched, as well as the percentage of daily intake consumed. Moikit app, available free on iOS and Android, integrates seamlessly with third-party apps and devices via Bluetooth, including Jawbone and Apple’s HealthKit. The battery will last over a year and can be replaced easily by users. This project doubled of its goal $20,000 USD, reaching $50,450 USD with 16 days left to go.

3. Czur Scanner

czur scanner

Conventional scanning can leave documents with flattening curves, fingerprints and other frustrating glitches. Czur Scanner makes it easier to scan pages, books, and even sculptures. Its smart algorithm can automatically flatten the curve, erase the fingerprint, purify the background, and correct the distortion. Sold at $299 USD, a fraction of price of traditional scanners, Czur Scanner is also 20 times faster. It can be also used as a video presenter by connecting the screen through HDMI. Developed by a Shenzhen-based team, the project has reached over thirty times its pledged goal, raking in $682,588 USD in funding as of December 7th.

4. Robotic Arm Dobot

robot arm

A Shenzhen-based team created a desktop industrial robot arm, Dobot. The arduino-based Dobot Arm can perform repetitive actions like writing, printing and drawing with its 0.2mm precision mechanism. The robotic arm can be controlled by PC, app, leap motion, gesture and voice. Dobot is open-sourced and supports three types of OpenSource Firmware for special applications and developers with different programing preferences. A robotic arm sold at $499 USD, the campaign reached over twenty times their goal and completed $13,188 USD in funding as of December 23th.

5. LIVALL Helmet

Livall helmet

These Shenzhen-based makers were passionate about bikes, and wanted to proved that helmets can be smarter. The LIVALL helmet enables cyclists to communicate with each other. The helmet comes with an app, Windbreak mic and Bluetooth Speaker, which lets users speak to other cyclists via walkie-talkie, as well as listen to music while cycling and covert messages into voice messages. When a rider falls, the G-sensor on the helmet will sense an unusual gravity acceleration and send an automatic alert to emergency contacts. Total funds of $257,835 USD were raised as of September 30th, more than 10 times their goal.

Image Credit: Indiegogo

This story originally appeared on TechNode.