Sony is developing power outlet technology that will track energy consumption. The next logical step? Charging users by how much energy they consume while charging their smartphones, laptops and other devices.

The technology uses IC chips to authenticate users of power outlets, according to a press release, determining the identity of people who plug in and whether or not they should be allowed to do so. While that advance in hardware capability could lead to better energy conservation, it could also be used to gouge digital-minded travelers and people who work out of cafes and other public places.

“Such as deployment to the waiting room or airport lounge cafes and restaurants, the station can be expected,” reads a Google translation of Sony’s Japanese press release.

Sony demonstrated the technology on Tuesday in Tokyo, according to IDG News. IDG News reports that Sony has not set a date for when the technology will become available, but that the company “hopes to cooperate with appliance makers, power companies, and large infrastructure developers in rolling it out.”

While Sony says the authenticating power strips will utilize technology and hardware already in use elsewhere, implementing such a plan would require adding adapters to outlets if not replacing the outlets themselves. But Sony is also developing technology that could enable just one “reader” to monitor an entire household, IDG News reports.

Would you be willing to pay to charge your smartphone like you do to fill up your gas tank? Let us know in the comments.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, ramsey everydaypants

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Imagine you’re a gaming console manufacturer, and some kid hacks your console to do “neat tricks.” Do you help him or sue him?

The question isn’t a hypothetical one; currently, two rival companies have each taken one of these roads. What remains to be seen is which approach will be more profitable, both financially and in terms of gamer goodwill.

Microsoft is set to release a Kinect software developer kit (SDK) to academics and enthusiasts later this spring; the company really is welcoming hackers and curious minds to go to town on its hands-free gestural control interface.

Who could have guessed that the Windows maker, which has struggled to shake an unjustly stodgy image, would be the first to invite experimental development on its gaming platform? Or that its biggest rival in the gaming space, Sony and the PlayStation 3, would be gathering some bad PR of its own for suing PS3 hackers at the same time?


Why Is Sony Suing?


Here’s the skinny: Sony is suing, among other entities, George Hotz, a.k.a. geohot, a 21-year-old hacker who is well known for his iPhone jailbreaking. In fact, Hotz created the first-ever public software exploit for jailbreaking the iPhone 3GS. After working on jailbreak software for the iPhone 4, iPad and a slew of other Apple devices, Hotz turned his attention to the PlayStation 3.

Hotz hacked on the PS3 for at least seven months, successfully opening up the console for homebrew games and PS2 emulation. Along the way, he released the root key (also known as the metldr key), which decrypted the PS3′s loaders, allowing anyone who wanted to open up their own PS3s to do so.

Because of that, Hotz is now knee-deep in a bitter lawsuit with Sony, a lawsuit that’s cost him more than he can afford to pay. In fact, he had to beg the Internet for the more than $10,000 he needed to cover his legal bills.

While Sony says Hotz violated copyrights and committed computer fraud, Hotz, who claims to have never played a pirated game in his life, retorts, “They don’t really care about piracy; they care about control.”


How Microsoft Is Helping Hackers


In a stark contrast, Microsoft seems to not give two shakes about control, at least as far as hacking with the Kinect is concerned.

The company’s brand new gestural control system is as hot as it is financially successful. While many corporations would keep a money-maker like that tightly locked down, Microsoft is doing everything it can to invite more hackers to play with and create experiments with the Kinect.

Microsoft’s big test came last November when a prominent Google engineer staged a Kinect-hacking contest. Previously, Microsoft had made statements that it wanted to make Kinect tamper-proof and would work with law enforcement to ensure that it remained so. But the company changed its tune last November, saying it was “excited to see that people are so inspired” by the possibilities inherent in the Kinect.

Since then, hackers have used the Kinect for everything from World of Warcraft “magic” to music video production.

And today, given the success of Kinect hacking for Xbox, Microsoft announced it will release a non-commercial “Kinect for Windows” SDK. The company says the reason for “a starter kit for application developers is to make it easier for academic research and enthusiast communities to create even richer experiences using Kinect technology.”

The SDK is coming from Microsoft Research (MSR) in collaboration with the Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB), and it will give devs “deep Kinect system capabilities such as audio, system APIs, and direct control of the sensor.”

A commercial version of the SDK will be available soon.


Which Company Is Right?


The bigger picture Microsoft is trying to convey is that, as a company, Microsoft has long been excited about natural user interfaces; and it wants you, the hacker, to be excited about them, too. Granted, there are still likely some strings attached, and we doubt the company would be tickled to have you blog about Xbox jailbreak codes.

Nevertheless, suing users who hack your console versus helping users who hack (part of) your console are two interesting and opposed actions that are likely to be judged with great relish in the court of popular opinion.

How should Sony be handling geohot and other PS3 hackers who just want to make the console do neat tricks? Is this lawsuit really doing anything other than garnering the multinational corporation a boatload of bad PR?

In the comments, tell us what you would do if you were a Sony exec. We look forward to reading your responses.

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Spotify may finally be on track to come to the United States, as the startup has reportedly struck a deal with Sony Music Entertainment.

The deal will be similar to the ones Spotify already has in Europe, reports MediaMemo. In other words, you should be able to stream several hours of SME music for free, but have to pay to access the ad-free or mobile versions. Sony Music’s artists include AC/DC, Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis, OutKast and Michael Jackson.

Rumors about a potential deal surfaced last week. Spotify is also rumored to be in talks with another label, though it’s unclear which one.

While popular in Europe, Spotify has been unable to break the U.S. market due to the hesitation of the U.S. labels. They are not convinced that Spotify’s freemium model is economically feasible. Spotify also lost $26.7 million in 2009, giving labels more reason to doubt its profitability.

That looks to have changed, though. With Sony reportedly signed up, the other major labels could soon follow. Spotify will need at least one or two more record labels on its roster to have a large enough library for U.S. consumers. We’ll be watching and listening to find out who will be next to strike a deal with Spotify.

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Social Media News

Welcome to this morning’s edition of “First To Know,” a series in which we keep you in the know on what’s happening in the digital world. We’re keeping our eyes on five particular stories of interest today.

Apple Sells 7 Million iPads in Record-Breaking Quarter

One day after announcing that Steve Jobs was taking a leave of absence from the company, Apple reported record-breaking earnings, with revenue of more than $26 billion for its fiscal first quarter. During the quarter, Apple sold 7.3 million iPads, 16.2 million iPhones, 4.1 million Macs and 19 million iPods.

Comcast-NBC Merger Approved

The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have voted to approve Comcast‘s merger with NBC Universal, giving the cable and ISP giant majority ownership of NBC and its media properties, including a piece of Hulu.

Sony To Announce New PSP Next Week

Sony will unveil a new version of its handheld game console PlayStation Portable on January 27, as well as a gaming-oriented smartphone in February, Bloomberg reports, citing two people with knowledge of the company’s plans.

Twitter Launches in Korean

Twitter has launched the Korean version of its popular service, bringing the total of supported languages to seven.

Starbucks Starts Accepting Mobile Payments Nationwide

Nearly 6,800 company-operated Starbucks stores in the U.S. will begin accepting mobile payments today. Customers using the Starbucks Card Mobile app on their iPhone, iPod touch or BlackBerry will now be able to use those devices as tender.

Further News




Sony will unveil a new version of its handheld game console PlayStation Portable on January 27, as well as a gaming-oriented smartphone in February, Bloomberg reports, citing two people with knowledge of the company’s plans.

Rumors of Sony working on a combination of a portable gaming device and a smartphone surfaced early last year, but the details about the device were very scarce, and they still are.

No new details have been revealed about the next generation of PlayStation Portable, except that it will be revealed at a briefing on January 27, which Sony has declined to comment. The PlayStation phone will have a touch screen, and will be presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, held February 14 to 17.

Regardless of the technicalities, it’s clear that Sony needs to rethink its portable gaming strategy, as recent numbers show that the iPhone and Nintendo DS are causing Sony’s share in the portable gaming market to rapidly shrink.

Sony plans to do exactly that. The company will outline a new strategy to combine its various online services and enable users to share games, movies and music among devices such as handhelds and TVs, Bloomberg‘s sources claim.

[via Bloomberg]

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