Hotspot Shield is top grossing mobile VPN for third year running

Anchorfree’s Hotspot Shield VPN is still the top VPN app by consumer spend worldwide, new figures have shown.

According to mobile app analytics company AppAnnie, while Hotspot Shield – which is listed in our best free VPN list – has maintained its supremacy on iOS, its hegemony has been challenged by NordVPN, which took top spot on Android.

At the time of writing, both apps had reached 10 million downloads with Hotspot Shield having four times the amount of reviews as NordVPN.

AppAnnie’s report highlights actual revenue generated by the apps rather than sheer downloads. In-app product prices range from $5.49 to $78.99 for NordVPN and from $7.49 to $43.99 for Hotspot Shield. 

TurboVPN, which is headquartered in Singapore, is the undisputed leader in mobile VPN at least on Android, with its free offering that has raked in more than 100 million downloads

Its in-app products costs between $0.89 and $32.99 and the freemium model worked for them as the company was ranked fifth in terms of revenue sandwiched between Norton WiFi Privacy Secure VPN and Avast Secureline.

Has mobile VPN peaked?

Elswehere. other popular VPN brands, including our current editor’s choice ExpressVPN, as well as the likes of IPVanish, Surfshark or Cyberghost did not make the top 10.

A worrying stat for VPN providers everywhere is that the number of mobile downloads worldwide has decreased for the first time. There were 103.5m downloads in the first half of 2019 across both iOS and Android, compared to 104.5m in the second half of 2018.

Although this is a 29 percent year-on-year rise, the increase seen in H1 2018 was up on the previous half by more than 50 percent, with recent Chinese and Russian bans on VPN one possible explanation as to why growth has stalled.

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Slack update brings more speed to your chats

Slack has revealed a significant upgrade to its dekstop app that should make online collaboration easier than ever.

The company says that its desktop app now launches 33 percent faster and uses 50 percent less RAM than previous versions thanks to a number of tweaks and changes to the back-end of its software.

The improvements, which Slack says are the result of nearly two years work, will apply across both Windows and macOS, with the updated app available to download today.

Need for speed

Slack says that business customers using multiple workspaces will see the most benefit from the upgrade, with the app much less of a drain on your computer’s hardware.

That’s because the company has redesigned the underlying code behind the app to be far more friendly towards multi-workspace users, espeically those switching frequently between channels. The result is that Slack will no longer create a standalone copy for each workspace and take up RAM for each instance. Instead, it reuses components and uses a more modern codebase.

Connecting to incoming Slack calls is now ten times faster, and message history will be available to read even if your internet connection drops. The app interface itself has also had a refresh, featuring a new smaller and smarter autocomplete menu, as well as profile cards that match those in the mobile app.

“As more conversations, information and apps run through Slack, the underlying technology that supports it must scale too,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the news.

“That’s why we rebuilt Slack’s desktop experience to run faster and more reliably across a growing number of workspaces and channels. This latest desktop release makes it easier to stay responsive and collaborate efficiently across teams, whether you’re an organization of 10 or 10,000.”

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How Mastercard and OpenText are set to transform business payments

OpenText has announced a major new partnership with Mastercard which it hopes should take much of the pain out of business payments across the entire supply chain.

The software giant will work with the global payments firm across a number of new products and platforms to allow companies of all sizes to ensure their transactions stay safe and protected.

“We think this is an incredible partnership to bring new payment, new cash management, a new source of financing,” OpenText CEO Chris Barrenechea said at the company’s recent Enterprise World event in Toronto.

Track

The partnership is at the heart of Mastercard Track, a new unified payment platform that will allow businesses more clarity into their partners, customers and clients. 

Building a directory of 200 million companies across the world, Track allows businesses to search for their next big partnership. It will also serve as a single, secure and reliable place to manage bank accounts, view anticipated payments, and keep tabs on managing credit risks and even potentially negative media coverage that could affect payments.

The service will initially be available across OpenText’s automotive identity network, made up of around 200,000 automotive parts suppliers across the world, meaning that customers will be able to compile, pay and track invoices quicker than ever before, simplifying what is often an incredibly complex supply chain.

The partnership should also help to reduce the risk of transactions that go over the network, allowing for suspect payments or demands to be flagged by OpenText’s digital authentication and authorisation services.

(Image credit: shutterstock)

Mastercard’s acquisition of Vocalink a few years across signalled its intent towards the B2B space, and the company says the OpenText partnership is the next step along in this journey.

“Over the last few years, we recognised that a lot of the things that are needed in the consumer space, such as reconciliation and identity, payment, facility, financing, etc, also exist in the B2B space,” Carlos Menendez, Mastercard president of enterprise partnerships told TechRadar Pro at Enterprise World.

“What we want to bring is the is the payments is facilitation and reconciliation, the directory of who you’re dealing with, and join these two.”

“When we entered into the B2B space… we naturally started with payments, but as we got into it, and we got deeper and deeper, we realised there are so many other unmet needs, and B2B is still very fragmented,” Claire Thompson, executive vice president of enterprise partnerships at Mastercard added.

“There’s a lack of interoperability and there’s a patchwork of processes, making it so far from the consumer experience that we all enjoy today.”

“We quickly realised there’s there’s a lack of trust in the B2B space, because of this inefficiency, by then really understanding who you’re trading with, who your trading partners are, and being able to trust them.”

“We saw a really natural opportunity and a great strategic fit to work with OpenText on this.” 

The new platform is set to launch worldwide in January 2020.

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Trump ‘agrees’ to quick action on US Huawei licensing decisions

US President Donald Trump has made promises to several major tech firms that the government will make a rapid decision on applications for licenses to deal with Huawei.

Huawei has been frozen out of the US device and telecoms equipment markets for several years, and earlier this year was effectively blacklisted by Washington on national security grounds.

The ruling limited Huawei’s access to components and meant its handsets would no longer receive updates for the Android operating system from Google or access to its popular applications.

US Huawei

Although Huawei is building its own operating system and produces its own components (it already makes its own Kirin processors), the absence of key services like Google Maps and the Google Play Store is a huge blow in terms of the appeal of its devices in Western markets. Meanwhile, the production of components such as modems is an expensive, laborious task.

American technology firms have been lobbying the US government to reconsider its approach, with several set to lose significant revenue streams if they can’t supply Huawei.

The pressure appears to have paid off, with the US confirming some vendors will be able to do business with Huawei – so long as there’s no national security risk. It’s unclear which product categories are deemed to be safe, and it’s worth pointing out that the ruling is still effective, meaning it could be enforced once again if trade talks stall.

The White House has confirmed the chief executives of Broadcom, Cisco, Google, Intel, Micron, Qualcomm and Western Digital all attended a meeting with Trump, requesting expediated decisions.

“The CEOs expressed strong support of the President’s policies, including national security restrictions on United States telecom equipment purchases and sales to Huawei,” a White House spokesperson is quoted as saying. “They requested timely licensing decisions from the Department of Commerce, and the President agreed.”

Huawei has persistently denied any accusations of wrongdoing, while the US has never produced any evidence to support its claims that the company’s networking equipment represents a threat to national security.

Via Reuters

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The ultra-sensitive sensors on the 2019 Jeep Cherokee work like a charm

I knew something was up when my leaf blower triggered an alarm on a 2019 Jeep Cherokee. I was driving the rugged four-wheel-drive crossover into my garage, and passed a hair too close to the battery-powered lawn implement.

If you’ve ever driven a brand new car that doesn’t have a scratch on it, especially one with a base price of $25,740 (about £20,600, AU$36,500), you know it’s a bit scary to brush up against another car, a bike, or even a leaf blower.

The sensors are all around the vehicle (you can see them on the bumpers, for example) and are definitely not new. I recall testing cars seven or eight years ago with similar sensors that can monitor the proximity of other objects, including people and garage items. What I don’t recall is this level of sensitivity, which is adjustable on most vehicles including the Cherokee. No car has ever warned me about being too close to a leaf blower.

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

In another garage incident, I pulled in too close to a kid’s bike. The sensors warn you with chimes but also show a large image of the car in the instrument cluster above the steering wheel and bright yellow warning lights. They get your attention. I stopped, jumped out, moved the bike just in case, and pulled in. I won’t say it’s actual artificial intelligence – it’s just a sensor that sends out a signal and can tell when something is too close.

The reason this is more important than ever, though, is that the sensor tech in cars is now much more affordable. I imagine every production car will provide proximity sensors like the ones in the Cherokee soon. I know the LIDAR sensors used for self-driving cars from a company called Luminar cost around $500 (about £400/AU$700), which is far cheaper than anything we’ve seen before.

A sense of the future

There’s something to be said for public perception about automated tech in cars as well. I now expect a car to have proximity sensors, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise, but most drivers these days are still adjusting to back-up cameras.

Most American drivers do not drive a different test car each week like me (sarcasm alert) or even buy a new car once every few years. Cars last much longer, and drivers are not purchasing as many new cars.

Sensors like the ones in the Cherokee will help. In everyday driving situations – at the mall, to church, with kids in the back – I now expect to hear the chimes and see the alerts in every car and I’m surprised when a vehicle doesn’t warn me.

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

(Image credit: Josiah Bondy)

In the future, sensors will become more common not just on the cars we drive but on everything else. The garage will communicate with the car as well, and the bikes and leaf blowers might even be connected to a sensor network someday so that we always know about any impediment or obstruction (or, I should say – the gadgets will know).

That’s when AI will come in handy, not just warning us in the moment about problems but warning us far ahead of time. “John, there’s a bike blocking the garage stall” is a message I’d like to receive, and maybe not even in the car but on my phone before I ever drive anywhere. Apply this sensor tech and network concept to autonomous cars, with an AI that knows which routes to take, any accidents on the road and other delays.

Then go much further and provide richer information – such as real-time and incredibly accurate traffic maps. I’m picturing an AI-controlled sensor net that makes driving much smoother and faster.

Whether that means a Terminator-like overlord is a question for another day…

On The Road is TechRadar’s regular look at the futuristic tech in today’s hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who’s been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully self-driving cars.

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Are Microsoft’s disappointing gaming earnings tied to Fortnite slump?

Microsoft’s recent fiscal results were healthy, but there was one blot on the landscape, and that came in the form of below-par gaming revenue – takings which have allegedly been dragged down by Fortnite’s slumping earnings.

In its fourth quarter (financial year 2019) results, Microsoft revealed that gaming revenue was down 10% year-on-year – crucially missing its own expectations – with gaming hardware down 48%, and gaming software and services (subscriptions) having dropped by 3% compared to the same quarter last year.

The latter is the point we’re most interested in here, and as The Motley Fool highlighted, Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst at Niko Partners, reckons that a key third-party game which contributed to these lower sales was Fortnite. (Microsoft mentioned a detrimental third-party title, but without clarifying what it was).

So, assuming this is a correct assertion, how bad have things got for Epic’s battle royale juggernaut of late?

Levels of in-game spending in Fortnite have dropped considerably in recent times, and while the game still took $203 million (around £160 million, AU$290 million) in May, according to SuperData, that represented a 38% drop year-on-year. Revenue fell even more sharply back in January 2019 to the tune of 48% month-on-month.

Of course, the game is available across a raft of mobile and console platforms, but its player spend will clearly have an effect on Microsoft in terms of the Xbox version, where Epic has to give Microsoft a cut of its earnings (on the PC and Windows, Epic distributes Fortnite through its own store, of course).

How big an effect isn’t clear, because we simply don’t know the percentages and figures behind-the-scenes, but if Ahmad is right in his assertion, it would certainly make sense that a massive game such as Fortnite could pull gaming earnings down when having a bad time of it.

What does this mean for Microsoft? Well, there’s obviously not a great deal the company can do about it, other than hoping Epic can manage to stem any cashflow issues and reignite interest in its battle royale.

However, Microsoft certainly isn’t down about the future of gaming and the money it can make in this arena. In its financial results, the company did note that the drop in games software and service revenue was partially offset by increases in Xbox Live takings and Xbox Game Pass, the latter of which recently became available to PC gamers.

Cloudy future

CEO Satya Nadella sees these ‘fast-growing’ subscription services as the key to Microsoft’s future success, along with Project xCloud, Microsoft’s game streaming service that allows you to play anywhere on any device (and will hit its public testing phase later this year).

Nadella observed: “We are in gaming because of what we believe are going to be the secular changes in the gaming addressable market for us. We’ve always had a gaming position with console as well as the PC, but going forward, we think that any endpoint can, in fact, be a great endpoint for high-end games, which is where our structural position is.

“And we now have a business model with Game Pass as well as all the supporting mechanisms for Game Pass like game streaming. We have a social network in Xbox Live that is the best in the business. So, I feel that we are well positioned to what is going to be a much larger market than what was traditionally gaming, in spite of all the success we’ve had over the years in gaming.”

The nearer future, however, won’t be quite so rosy, what with Microsoft coming to the end of this Xbox generation, with the obvious implications therein for folks waiting for the new machines.

Talking about the current quarter, Microsoft CFO Amy Hood commented: “And in Gaming, we expect revenue to decline year-over-year at a similar rate to Q4 as we move through the end of this console generation and a challenging Xbox software and services comparable from a third party title in the prior year.”

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How to turn a spare hard drive into an external USB 3.0 drive

If you’ve upgraded your laptop or PC with an SSD, you’re probably wondering what to do with the old hard drive. For little money, you can install it in an external enclosure and use it as an external USB drive. Here’s how.

Can an internal drive be used externally?

Yes. Hard drive caddies – or enclosures – are effectively SATA-to-USB converters and allow you to turn an internal SATA hard drive into an external one that you can use for storing or backing up files, or to keep a library of videos that you could leave attached to your TV.

A quick word of warning, though. If your hard drive is old, it’s unwise to use it for backing up important files as hard drives have a limited life span. You’ll be doing well if your hard drive is still going after five years, but it is a high risk to entrust photos and any other files you can’t replace to an old drive. It’s best to buy a new one, or buy a portable USB drive which is less hassle, or ensure you make several backups on different drives – and the cloud – for better protection.

Assuming your drive isn’t ancient and is working well, you’ll need to buy the appropriate external enclosure. There are two main types: 3.5in and 2.5in.

3.5in hard drives are mainly used in desktop PCs, while 2.5in disks are used in laptops. Laptop hard drives vary in thickness (either 7mm or 9.5mm), so make sure your chosen caddy has enough height inside to accommodate your disk.

We’re using a 9.5mm drive here and an Inateck USB 3 enclosure, which you can buy for £11.99 from Amazon and will accept both 9.5mm and 7mm drives, including SSDs as well as traditional hard drives. If you’re in the US, it’s even cheaper at just $7.99 from Amazon. There’s also a USB-C version if you’d prefer to use the latest USB standard.

USB-C ports are slowly becoming the standard and you’ll find these on the latest laptops and PCs.

Aukey sells a USB-C enclosure that you can buy for £12.99 from Amazon UK and $13.99 from Amazon US.

Aukey USB-C external enclosure

Theoretically the USB-C connection on this caddy can operate at up to 5Gb/s or 625MB/s, but it will be limited by the hard drive you put inside it.

Most hard drives use a SATA connector (you can see this in the photo below), but so make sure you buy an enclosure which is compatible with your drive. 

How to install a hard drive into an external enclosure

1. If you haven’t already done so, remove any brackets and screws from the hard drive.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

2. Open up the caddy: the Inateck FE2005 we’re using is a tool-less model, so it’s a simple case of unlocking it with the switch, sliding open the end and inserting in the hard drive. Be careful to slide the hard disk in the right way up – look inside to see the orientation of the SATA port.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

3. Use the included USB cable to attach the enclosure to your PC or laptop.

4. Depending on what’s on the disk, it may show up in Windows File Explorer and be ready to use. Because our disk was from a Windows laptop, it was formatted as NTFS and was assigned a drive letter automatically.

You can treat it like any hard drive, copying files to it, or formatting it. If you plan only to use it with Windows, you can leave it formatted as NTFS, but it’s best to use exFAT if you want to connect it to other devices such as set-top boxes for video playback.

What you might not want is for the drive to show up as two disks, as ours did due to a 100MB system partition from the old Windows installation.

We’ll deal with this in the next step, which also applies if your disk doesn’t appear when you connect it.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

5. If it doesn’t show up in Windows Explorer, search the Start menu for Disk Management and then look for a disk with unallocated space, or a disk without a drive letter assigned. You can then right-click on it and format it.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

If, like us, you need to remove an unwanted ‘System Reserved’ partition, just right-click on it and choose Delete Volume. It will then be unallocated space, and since it’s only 100MB, we will just leave it unused.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

 


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