PTJ 102 News: It’s About iTime

Could Apple’s mythical smartwatch be edging closer to reality? The iWatch watchers were all titter earlier this week when the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a patent for an electronic wristband. The original paperwork was actually filed back on January 31, 2011, and the patent just granted this past Tuesday, but it’s full of sketches and diagrams — and the working name “iTime.”

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Things are not all shiny with Apple, as Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensic scientist (who also happens to be a hacker and an author of five books on iOS-related topics) revealed what he says are attack points, system backdoors and surveillance mechanisms purposely built into iOS devices — and that these entry points could give user information to government agencies. Apple, for its part, denied that it has ever worked with government agencies to create drive-thru windows for personal data pickup, but said that diagnostic functions were built into iOS for enterprise IT departments, developers and Apple itself for purely troubleshooting purposes.

While it hasn’t had any major public privacy flaps of its own this week, Facebook is tinkering with new ways to buy and save — as detailed in a pair of recent posts on company blogs. First, The Social Network announced it was testing a Buy button on advertisements and product pages so users could purchase goods right there. Second, the company is rolling out a Save feature that lets users mark a post or link for reading later.

On to the next round. After overwhelming demand, system crashes, and a deadline extension, the Federal Communications Commission finally closed out the first round of public comments on its proposed new rules for Net Neutrality. The Consumerist blog has gathered up a selection of the highlights for your reading pleasure. (Oh, and Netflix, a company that would really like to see the Net stay neutral for its own corporate well-being, just announced it hit the 50-million global subscriber mark and the second season of Orange Is the New Black, helped bring in some new members who’d heard good things.)

One of those big telecom companies, Verizon Wireless, just launched a rewards program for its customers. In order to participate in the Smart Rewards program, you need to consent to let Verizon track you around the Web. In other Verizon news, the FiOS broadband department is rolling out faster upload speeds for customers. FiOS customers will soon have symmetrical upload and download speeds. Take that, cable!

Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited plan last week. The service costs $10 a month and gives readers access to about 640,000 ebooks and audiobooks. Not everything Amazon sells in the Kindle format is available, though, so many people are already complaining about the limits of Kindle Unlimited.

Google is working on a new file type called WebP. Google’s developer page said the format makes for smaller and richer images that help make the Web faster.  (And while Google would like to change image formats to make the Web faster, Italy would like Google to change its data-use practices.)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the groups here in the States that consistently fights for the digital privacy and rights of the common user, and now the group has taken its own action. The EEF has developed its own browser plug-in that’s supposed to block third parties from snooping on your Web travels. The plug-in, which is just out of alpha and into beta now, is called Privacy Badger, and it works with Chrome and Firefox so far.

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The P-Badger is just one of the options out here for people who’d like to avoid being tracked — or want to know just who is tracking them. The Ford Foundation has also helped sponsor Lightbeam, an add-on for Firefox that provides interactive visualizations for the first and third-party sites you encounter while surfing. AdBlock Plus, Disconnect and Ghostery are even more options for shielding yourself.

Samsung is not letting Apple and Google make all the expansion and acquisitions this year. The South Korean company has its own “Level” line of fancy high-end headphones available now in the States. The products in the family cover most headphone styles and are available on the Gilt.com luxury-product site. So while it has its own high-end headphones like Apple now has with its Beats acquisition, Samsung is also trying to keep up with Google in the Internet o’ Stuff department and has reportedly bought a company called SmartThings, which develops home-automation software.

Refugees pining for the return of the real Windows Start menu button might have some hope next year. Leaked screenshots, (like the one below) supposedly of Windows 9 in development, show Microsoft getting closer to the Start button known and loved from Windows 95 to Windows 7.

win9

Speaking of tech nostalgia, Sony is still tinkering with its Walkman line, first released in 1979 and the iconic personal cassette player that changed how we ignore each other on the subway. Sony’s new upscale NWZ-ZX1 Walkman, however, costs $700 but offers 128 gigabytes of storage for high-quality lossless music files.

And finally, if you are a fan of The Simpsons, the FXX cable network will soon be holding the longest-running marathon in TV history. The network plans to show all 552 episodes of the classic animated series, as well as The Simpsons Movie, in chronological order from August 21 to September 1. That’s 25 seasons of quality Bart jokes and tidbits for mathletes. In case you’re on vacation or your DVR melts, wait until October, when the company launches Simpsons World, streaming on-demand portal (with apps) for all the episodes and plenty of extras. Bulk-buy your snack food of choice and settle in through Labor Day!

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