J.D. shows us how to navigate the Notifications Center on Apple’s Mountain Lion OS and Pedro has some stuff he needs to get off his chest. Let the ranting begin! In the news, Research in Motion becomes BlackBerry; Apple releases an updated iPad and a new version of its iOS; plus Twitter and Google release new transparency reports.
Data Privacy Day is January 28th each year, so start planning your 2014 parties now! Twitter and Google celebrated the event this week by releasing stats for requests from government and rights holders concerning material on the sites. To check out the stats in detail, visit Twitter’s transparency page and Google’s Transparency Report.
While Google was talking about privacy this week, it also unveiled a more detailed map of North Korea, a country known for its intensely reclusive approach to privacy. The map, created by the help of citizen cartographers including some from South Korea, shows subway stops, schools and hospitals in the capital, Pyongyang.
A digital edition of Anne Frank’s diary is now available as an app for the iPad and the Barnes & Noble Nook in the United Kingdom, with a US release expected to follow. If you find your 64-gigabyte iPad is stuffed to the max, Apple just announced a bigger capacity version of its fourth-generation iPad and the company also released iOS 6.1 this week. The update contains the usual security and bug fixes as well as the ability to tell the Siri assistant to buy you movie tickets with Fandango. The little black Apple TV also got a software update, which now lets the set-top box work with Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard (and other Bluetooth keyboards), and manage music better.
Facebook had an update for its iOS app as well, a week after it updated the Android version of its mobile software with voicemail, video recording and other perks. Twitter’s video-sharing service, Vine, arrived week the iPhone and iPod Touch and is already a favorite for people who like to share those really special pornographic moments.
Research in Motion held is BlackBerry OS 10 launch this week. In addition to announcing new phones and software and changing its corporate name to “BlackBerry,” the company confirmed that the BB10 OS is will eventually make its way to the BlackBerry Playbook tablet.
Yahoo is also trying to climb back from mediocrity and beat its fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 14 percent and YouTube is set to launch channels that require paid subscriptions. Microsoft has finally officially launched Office 2013 desktop productivity software and its Office 365 premium Web service this week.
Up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues its testing in preparation for drilling into a rock to collect a sample. And while the rover going through drilling drills is exciting, it was the news about J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars VII that really sent a tremor through the Force. (The announcement even inspired an online musical number with a tap-dancing Darth Vader.) A new hope for the galaxy, indeed.
Last week, we had a Hopefully Helpful Hint for the Windows 8 users and this week, we’re going to step it up for the Macfolk. OS X 10.8, also known as Mountain Lion, incorporates a number of programs and features that are also in Apple’s iOS system for its mobile devices. These programs include Notes, Reminders, the Calendar and Contacts, all of which can be linked together through Apple’s iCloud service so your Mac, your iPad, your iPhone and your iPod Touch all have the same information – in theory.
OS X and iOS have another thing in common: the Notifications Center. As on the iOS system, the Notification Center is your one-stop shopping location to see all the alerts you’ve gotten for new mail, GameCenter updates, missed FaceTime calls, Reminders, Calendar appointments, Twitter mentions and other things that you may want to know about. (Notifications on mobile phones are nothing new – in fact, the Android system had them first before iOS got on the bandwagon.)
To see the Notifications on your Mac, click the icon in the top right corner of the menu bar; it sort of looks like a pictograph of a bullet list. A panel slides out from the right side of the screen to reveal your notifications. If you’re using a Mac laptop with the multitouch trackpad, you can also see the Notification Center by swiping two fingers across from the right edge of the trackpad. Click the x icon to clear old notifications from the list.
You can configure which apps notify you and how they get your attention in the System Preferences area of the Mac. You can choose to be pestered by onscreen red-circle number badges on dock icons, by banners that slide down from the top of the screen and then go away, or by alerts that won’t leave until you make them.
In the Notifications preferences box, you can also choose to add sound to your alerts if you want the Mac to give you an audio cue with a notification. If you work in an open-plan cube farm, however, your co-workers may kill you unless you wear headphones all day. Then again, wearing headphones in an open-plan cube farm is the only way some people can get any work done without killing their co-workers, so a total win-win could be on the books here.
Are typed passwords passé? Google has some thoughts, and in a paper to be published later this month, suggests a number of ideas to bolster password security with hardware like a USB token that can be plugged into the computer, a ring that can authenticate the user’s identity or two-step verification with a smartphone linked to the account. Now, if only the biometric retina scanners and voiceprint identification software were ready for the home market. (Fingerprint readers for smartphones seem to be in the works, though.)
In the world of mobile devices, Research in Motion has changed the name of its online store from BlackBerry App World to BlackBerry World. The Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro tablet will go on sale February 9th in the US and Canada. Instagram recently piped up to says it still has 90 million active users, even after the fallout from its PR blunder late last year about how maybe it just might share its users’ photos with advertisers for money (a TOS item that has since been revised).
File-sharing, especially sharing of copyrighted content, is the bane of the entertainment industry, but Columbia University’s American Assembly research center has just done a public option poll that suggests that people using peer-to-peer sharing services buy 30 percent more music than those who do not use P2P sharing. Kim Dotcom, founder of the late Megaupload site that was a favorite of those sharing copyrighted content, is back with a new file-storing and sharing site. (Some have raised security concerns, however.)
Do you prefer to do your video-sharing by watching TV with the family? The research firm Frank N. Magid Associates thinks many people may be buying a new TV soon; bells and whistles like big flat screens and built-in Internet connectivity are seen as upgrade lures. And there will soon be more to watch on the stream aside. Fans of the Arrested Development TV show celebrated when Netflix decided to pick up the long-canceled show and produce new episodes that are due this May, and now Amazon may be getting into the content-production game as well. The online ultra-mega-uberstore is said to have snagged the Zombieland TV show that was under development for one of the major broadcast networks.
At least these services pretty much have the whole streaming thing down, compared to the National Hockey League, which had some trouble with its own live video app this past weekend and plenty of griping fans; the NHL did acknowledge there were issues that they were “working hard to fix.”
Meanwhile, out in space… NASA’s older Mars rover, Opportunity, is still hard at work after 10 years of leaving Earth for its own mission on the Red Planet. And Curiosity, the bigger, newer rover is expected to start drilling on that rock within the next couple of weeks in search of evidence that Mars once had flowing water.
And finally, it’s time for Rumor Roundup:
- Specifications expectations (spexpectations?) are high for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung is said to be holding a press event on March 22.
- The iPhone, which the analyst firm Kantar WorldPanel ComTech says grabbed 51 percent of US smartphone sales last quarter, is always the subject of rumors and one of the latest murmurs says Apple has a model with a 4.8-inch display in the works with the curious name of the “iPhone Math.” The name, the hardware, the phone itself are all unconfirmed, but the iPhone Math comes alongside whispers of a cheaper model and an iPhone 5S possibly this summer. Or maybe next year. (And maybe it’ll have something to make the stockholders happy again.)
- Sony’s PlayStation 4 could be getting a touchscreen controller instead of or in addition to the traditional dual-stick model. And it may have biometric feedback built in.
- Microsoft’s next Xbox looks to be a powerful presence in the living room, if the leaked specifications are anywhere in the ballpark. According to the site VG Leaks, the next Xbox may have 8 gigabytes of RAM, a Blu-ray player, USB 3.0, a hard drive and HDMI port and a built in Kinect motion controller.
One hopes the real new Xbox lives up to the rumored Xbox here. And hey, that kind of multipurpose entertainment console just might call for…a new TV!
J.D. helps us with Windows 8 this week by digging up some keyboard tricks that makes using Microsoft’s newest OS a little easier. Pedro goes to the movies and doesn’t like what he sees. Oh yeah, he also debuts his first new Tech Term of 2013. In the news, Google turns its attention to online security; Amazon aims to produce video content; and RIM gears up for Blackberry 10.
Got Windows 8 on a regular ol’ mouse-and-keyboard computer? Although some manufacturers have included a Start menu with their Windows 8 machines, many don’t have it and that can make the new system can seem hard to navigate if you’re not used to using the tiles on the Start screen. (Yes, there’s the Charms menu, but really, doesn’t the word charms bring to mind bracelets, leprechauns, or witches and NOT hidden menu icons for devices, settings, start, share and search?)
But while you can always download a Start menu alternative (like Classic Shell, Pokki or Win8StartButton), keyboard combos might make it easier to get things done without extra software. For long-time Windows users, these four shortcuts may help the most at first:
- Windows Key + X: Press this shortcut and you get a menu that pops up from the bottom left corner that’s full of system options, including Windows Control Panel, Command Prompt, Task Manager and File Explorer.
- Windows Key + Q: Tap these keys to get a menu that lets you search through a list of installed programs on the computer.
- Windows Key + D: Press these and you jump into the desktop mode, where the scenery looks a bit more familiar.
- Windows Key + C: Pressing Win+C displays Charms menu, which once you get used to it, isn’t so bad. Except for the name.
Microsoft has a full list of Windows 8 and Windows RT shortcuts here and some handy shortcuts for those using a mouse and keyboard here. These moves may take a little more human memory at first than just swiping and tapping the screen — but they still let you get around Windows 8 on finger power.
Late last week, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about a flaw in Oracle’s Java software that could have potentially put 850 million computers at risk. Apple, Mozilla and other companies advised uninstalling or disabling Java until an update was available and Oracle put the pedal to the metal and rushed out a fix over the weekend. Security experts, however, were still dubious about patch, lingering security issues or even the need to still run Java in the first place.
Java security flaws are also suspected in a wave of cyber-espionage attacks on computer networks used by several international governmental, scientific and diplomatic agencies The attack campaign, dubbed “Red October” by security firm Kaspersky Labs, seems to have been active since 2007 and continues — albeit without the brawny Sean Connery-Alec Baldwin star power of the 1990 film that was made from the namesake 1984 Tom Clancy thriller, “The Hunt for Red October.” (The film version is available to stream on Netflix, and if you have a Nintentdo Wii, you can also watch it there since Amazon’s Instant Video service is now available on your game console.)
In case you have too many online friends and can’t keep track of their interests, Facebook just introduced a new feature this week called Graph Search. This future tool lets you match up people on your friends list with things you are looking for, like buddies with similar hobbies — as long as they’ve shared the info publicly. Graph Search is in the beta stage and may cut into LinkedIn’s territory more than Google’s as some have speculated. Also in the social-network news: MySpace made its redesigned site available to the public this week.
John Scully, a former Apple CEO, said the company needs to adapt to a changing world by overhauling its supply chain to meet demand for cheaper smartphones in emerging markets. Competition from Samsung, which has now sold more than 100 million Galaxy smartphones, is probably adding to Apple’s angina. (Some research has even shown that younger buyers consider Samsung’s phones way cooler compared to the iPhone, which may feel like the 1990’s in reverse for the longtime Applefolk.)
But while Samsung and Apple duke it out in the profitability-and-popularity contest, Microsoft is still trying to get developers to write apps for its Windows Phone handsets. Perhaps in a whiff of reality-show excitement, the company launched a contest this week called “Window Phone Next App Star” that invites developers to create and submit their apps for judging and rating by public voters. Research in Motion is also in app-gathering mode and just got 15,000 new apps for the BlackBerry in about 37 hours thanks to a couple of Portathon sessions that invited developers to port versions of their apps for other systems to the BlackBerry OS for fun and prizes.
Meanwhile, up on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover is rocking out and may be doing some drilling up on Mars. Yay, science!
Finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Internet prodigy and programmer Aaron Swartz, who sadly committed suicide at the age of 26 last week. Swartz, who helped create RSS at the age of 14, worked on other Web applications and was an advocate for freedom of information and open access online, was facing a Federal trial this spring for downloading millions of scientific journals, scholarly research and other documents from MIT and the JSTOR archive. While MIT has launched an internal probe of the events leading up to Mr. Swartz’s death, activists like the Electronic Freedom Foundation have called for an overall in computer crime law. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Swartz, and thank you for making the Internet a better place.
This week J.D. has some app suggestions that will help you maintain your automobile and Pedro fills us in on his weekend tablet modding exploits. In the news, lost in last week’s CES maelstrom was the announcement of a potential Java exploit that could affect almost 1 billion computers worldwide; Facebook gets into the search business and industry experts have suggestions for Apple on how to reverse their stock price slide.
When you do some searching in your phone’s app emporium, you can probably find one, two of 50 apps that help you keep track of things like oil changes and other regular service reminders, inspection dates, gas fill-ups, miles driven and all those automotive details that come in handy for maintaining a well-running machine.
For starters, consider the free aCar app for Android or the $3 Car Minder Plus for iOS as a general maintenance minder for your vehicle. If your car does need service, the free RepairPal app for Android and iOS helps you find a mechanic in the area, get estimates and roadside assistance and keep track of your car’s service history.
Many automakers re now making their own free apps that offer maintenance and manual information for your particular model. The companies listed below are just some of the many that have their own apps. Check your particular manufacturer’s Web site for online guides, apps and more.
- Chevrolet (for iOS and Android)
- General Motors (for iOS and Android)
- Nissan LEAF (for iOS and Android)
- Mercedes Benz
With cars comes…car insurance (and let’s face it, annoying car-insurance commercials). But with a good insurance app, you can do things like check your policy, get ID cards and consult an emergency checklist of things to do if you do have an accident. It’s much easier than trying to find all this information on a wad of papers shoved in the back of the glove compartment. These companies are among those who have apps available for download:
There’s also an app called iWrecked for Android and iOS that lets you log an accident, file an accident report and store important phone numbers.
But hopefully, your driving experience is a smooth one and locating a parking spot is your only challenge. If that’s the case, check out the free Best Parking app for Android to find the cheapest spots around in 55 different cities. There’s also the equally free Parking Mate for iOS, which does a number of nifty things like set a timer for when your parking meter expires or pinpoint where you left the car on a map so you can find it again — which is always helpful.
The holidays are over and we’re back to business. While Apple just announced it hit the 40 billion downloads mark for its App Store since it opened for business in mid-2008, it may not be enough to beat Google to the Million App Mark this year, as growth-rate calculations favor the Google Play Store to get there first. Google Play is currently estimated to have 800,000 apps available. Android-based devices are also taking a bite out of Apple’s iPhone sales. ComScore’s November 2012 Mobile Subscriber Market Share Report shows Samsung on top with 26.9 percent of US sales compared to Apple’s 18.5 percent of users. The iPhone also has a Consumer Reports ranking behind Samsung and LG handsets.
Way back in 2010, the Library on Congress signed an agreement with Twitter to gain access to all public tweets sent since the microblogging service went live in 2006. As of last week, the archive now holds 170 billion Twitter messages and continues to grow. If you have an unprotected Twitter account, odds are, you’ve been archived. So remember, tweet for posterity!
Walmart has enhanced its Vudu To Go app for the PC and Mac and will soon let customers do their disc-to-digital copies at home without having the schlep a bunch of previously purchased DVD and Blu-Ray discs to the nearest Wal-Mart for conversion. AT&T is also dabbling in the streaming business with its new $5-a-month U-Verse Screen Pack, although it doesn’t quite have the massive inventory of Netflix. Still, if you have AT&T U-Verse and want to stream flicks like St. Elmo’s Fire, Hudson Hawk and The Care Bears Movie all month, it’ll cost you less than a movie ticket, even with matinee pricing.
Get ready Lego Mindstorms EV3! The new kit, due out in the late summer/early fall features all kinds of fun stuff for your do-it-yourself robot. The $350 EV3 system includes an infrared sensor, the ability to be controlled by a smartphone or tablet and a Linux-based system for programming the robot. Remember kids, practice your robotics and someday maybe you can build rovers for NASA missions. (Speaking of NASA. The agency has scheduled a press conference at the Johnson Space Center next Thursday, January 17, to preview the next two missions to the International Space Station.)
And finally, Walt Disney theme parks are going high-tech with the new MyMagic+ vacation management system, which comebines a new integrated Web site, mobile app and electronic wrist bracelet called the MagicBand to handle all your scheduling, housing and monetary needs during your stay in the Mouse House. The potential for data gathering and tracking has not gone unnoticed by privacy advocates, but the MyMagic+ system won’t be mandatory. It may be a small world (after all) — but big data is growing.