Episode 47 News: SHIELDs Up!

It’s been a busy middle week of May on the pop culture front, with plenty of geeky TV news (Almost Human and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. coming to the broadcast airwaves this fall), our favorite Watson speaking out on racism in Hollywood, a new Dan Brown history cryptothriller and a big health announcement from geek-girl icon Angelina Jolie. Amid it all, there was even some tech news.

The next version of Windows is no longer Blue, but now Windows 8.1. This is an update to the current Windows 8 system that has had a few detractors since it’s release last fall. As reported by Engadget and other blogs around the Web, the upgrade will be free and available from the Windows 8 home screen when it’s done and ready for downloading. (Windows 8 itself has been dubbed Microsoft’s “New Coke” in some circles for its thudding reception, but hey, maybe it’s a marketing thing…)

BlackBerry is also updating a recent system. Version 10.1 of the new BlackBerry OS for Z10 users is rolling out. The folks at BBHQ also announced that its BBM — BlackBerry Messenger Service — was expanding to other smartphone platforms. Perhaps the expanded service will lure more users, as Gartner Research and their data reports that BlackBerry only snagged 3 percent of worldwide mobile phone sales in 1Q 2013; nearly 75% of phones sold were running Android, while Apple had around 18 percent.

Nokia unveiled the Lumia 925, a reduced-fat version of its Lumia 920 Windows Phone The Lumia 928 model, available here in the States on Verizon’s network, adds a Xenon flash to the hardware mix. (One handset that did not sell well last month: the HTC First, the original Facebook Home phone, which may be may be discontinued soon by AT&T.)

Apple could be changing up the way it deals with hardware repairs and its AppleCare extended warranty plans this fall. Of course, it’s all rumor until Apple announces something, but it sounds like the company will have quite a bit to announce around harvest time.

Google is holding its annual I/O conference this week and had many announcements. In addition to talking about its upcoming plans for Android, its new streaming music service and other products, Google-placed environmental sensors will be recording anonymous data from the attendees to analyze crowd flow and other conference happenings. (As for conference happenings, it’s unlikely the ill-fated Nexus Q will get a mention.)

Despite preparing for its big fancy conference, Google also found time to unify online storage options for its Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ photo services. The company also had a few moments to stick an Easter Egg into its Google Images service. And in a bit of corporate cooperation, Microsoft has made its Outlook.com Webmail service interoperable with the Gmail chat program and Google Chat.

Amazon has released a new version of its Cloud Player app for Windows users. Although PC users could already listen to their music stored in Amazon’s cloud through the Web browser, the new app can now store music offline. A Mac version is said to be in the works.

For those who like to cook and also love Android tablets, Archos has released the ChefPad, a 9.7-inch Jelly-Bean-based tablet. The $210 8GB tablet comes with a splash-resistant case and stand in case the home-made sauce really starts flying. Android fans who prefer gaming to cooking may want to check out the Nvidia SHIELD instead, a new $350 portable Android-based gaming system on the way next month.

And finally, three astronauts who’ve been up on the International Space Station for the past five months have returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule. Among the three was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, known for his videos on life in space and his recent cover of David Bowie’s classic track, “Space Oddity.” Welcome home, gentlemen! Just in time to grab a showing of Star Trek Into Darkness on its opening weekend and stock up on some sartorial upgrades!


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