HP Recalls 50K Laptops After Reports of Batteries Catching Fire

Today’s topics include HP recalling 50,000 laptops after battery fires and melting; Samsung beating out Intel as the world’s largest semiconductor maker; Google removing 22 malware-laden Android apps from its Play store; and Johnson Controls adding Microsoft’s Cortana to a new smart thermostat.

HP is recalling about 50,000 laptops, notebooks and mobile workstations due to eight incidents of fires, overheating and melting of their lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

The recall was announced Jan. 4 by HP in conjunction with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and covers a wide range of laptops and notebooks, including HP ProBooks, the HPx360 310 G2, HP Envy m6, HP Pavilion x360, HP 11 and HP ZBook Mobile Workstations.

The affected machines were sold from December 2015 through December 2017 at Best Buy and other stores, and online through Amazon.com, hp.com and other websites. The recall only applies to specific batteries that were used in some of the machines named in the recall.

For the first time since 1992, Intel is not the world’s largest semiconductor maker. That honor, according to Gartner analysts, goes to Samsung Electronics, thanks in large part to a shortage of product in the memory market that drove up prices.

Samsung is the No. 1 supplier in the memory space, which saw a 64 percent increase in revenue in 2017, accounting for 31 percent of all semiconductor revenue. Samsung’s semiconductor revenue increased 52.6 percent in 2017, hitting more than $61.2 billion. Intel, in second, saw revenue rise 6.7 percent, to more than $57.7 billion. Samsung’s share of the market was 14.6 percent, while Intel’s was 13.8 percent.

However, Andrew Norwood, research vice president at Gartner, said, “Samsung’s lead is literally built on sand. … Memory pricing will weaken in 2018. … [Gartner then expects] Samsung to lose a lot of the revenue gains it has made."

Google recently removed nearly two dozen applications from its Play mobile app store after security vendor Check Point Software Technologies on Jan. 5 discovered them to be infected with ad-serving malware. Before they were removed, those apps were downloaded between 1.5 million and 7.5 million times worldwide.

The malware, dubbed LightsOut, was embedded in 22 different Android utility and flashlight applications that were designed to generate illegal ad revenues. The apps presented a menu of options for enabling or disabling additional features. But even when users chose to disable the ad-serving feature, LightsOut would override the decision and continue to display ads out of context to what users might be doing or viewing on their mobile device.

Apps containing the malicious code were designed to remove their icon from the user's device, making it next to impossible for the user to remove the app or disable the ad-serving feature.

HVAC equipment vendor Johnson Controls is rolling out a new smart thermostat, called GLAS, that will use Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant to allow people to set home environmental controls via voice commands.

Powered by Windows 10 IoT Core, GLAS helps homeowners save money by automatically detecting whether or not a residence is occupied, switching between Home, Away and Sleeping profiles accordingly. Besides Cortana and Windows 10 IoT Hub, GLAS also relies on another Microsoft technology, Azure IoT Hub, to manage GLAS devices in the wild.

GLAS is outfitted with a touch-enabled translucent OLED screen, and is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410E embedded system on chip with integrated WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Preorders start in March ahead of its first-quarter release, and buyers can expect to pay $319 for the smart thermostat.