PTJ 103 News: Shoot the Messenger

Facebook’s move to shove users onto its separate Messenger app is reportedly coming soon — if it’s not here already by the time you read this. Millions of people are already using it, and Facebook says the Messenger app is a faster and more efficient for sharing text and multimedia messages. The company has plans to monetize Messenger with a payment system as well. The Messenger app’s Terms of Service is causing some concern with the privacy-minded, though, and some users are complaining about the forced march.

Splitting up app services seems to be a popular move. Foursquare recently divided its eponymous mobile software for checking into places and reviewing them into two apps They are Foursquare and the new Swarm app, available for Android and iOS. Swarm is now the app required for all the check-in-with-your-pals activity, while Foursquare has been transformed into a user-reviews database. The split has gotten media criticism and a fair amount of backlash from users who are checking out of Swarm, but the company did just release another update earlier this week. (Yelp, the service Foursquare seems to competing with most, updated its own mobile app this week and now allows users to add short video clips to their reviews.)

fakefoxAnd about apps… there are new reports of a security problem with the way apps are identified by Google’s Android operating system. The research team at Bluebox Security says the new “Fake ID” vulnerability that it has just discovered allows malicious applications to essentially copy the identity certificates and credentials of trusted apps and get into places where malware is normally not allowed. The research team said this security hole has been around since Android version 2.1 in January 2010 and devices that haven’t been updated with last April’s patch for Google bug 13678484 are vulnerable.  Bluebox waited 90 days to publicize its findings so Google had time to get out the April patch.

Apple has just purchased BookLamp, a book-recommendation service in what’s said to be a shot across Amazon’s e-book bow. Also in Apple’s shopping cart: Swell, the podcasting app described by some as “Pandora for talk radio.” The Re/code site reports that Apple is scooping up Swell for about $30 million and could put Apple’s own poorly reviewed Podcasts app out of its misery or boost iTunes Radio. (Apple has now  quietly confirmed the dealthe Swell website has been shut down now and the app has been removed from the App Store.)

This summer marks 15 years since the Napster peer-to-peer file-sharing service stormed onto the scene and made MP3-swapping all the rage. At its peak, Napster claimed 80 million users before its original incarnation was shut down by court order for copyright violations in 2001. After several years of being bought and sold, the remains of the company eventually merged with the Rhapsody streaming service and this week announced it had just hit the two-million subscriber mark. On the way back up at last!

Beats Electronics, another of Apple’s more recent acquisitions,  is getting sued by Bose Electronics. Bose, which makes a line of high-end and very popular noise-cancelling headphones says Beats infringed on five of its patents. Sounds like QuietComfort is getting ready to rumble…

Microsoft is also finding itself in a spot of legal bother this week, as the Chinese government is investigating the company for violations of its antitrust laws. Chinese officials have also investigated Qualcomm for alleged anti-trust violations in recent times.

Legal troubles overseas haven’t dampened Microsoft’s sense of fun when it comes to giving Apple a virtual wedgie on TV. The mighty Redmond giant is running a new television commercial for Windows Phone that shows off its Cortana virtual assistant being much more talented and helpful than Apple’s Siri software. The general theme of the ad is similar to last year’s Microsoft spots that touted its Surface tablets over Apple’s iPad.

raspberryMicrosoft is also cooking up its own recipe for Raspberry Pi. But while the bare-bones Pi computer (shown here) costs a mere $40, Microsoft’s own version of the naked circuit board computer is called Sharknado 3, er,  The Shark’s Cove and runs about $300. The Shark’s Cove is intended to be a serious dev board for programmers and less of a hobbyist gadget like the Pi. The Microsoft Shark board does come with a copy of Windows 8.1 and the oomph to actually run it.

A lower-cost cable plan that brings broadband, basic channels and HBO for about $49-a-month is said to be in the works. The budget package had a trial run with Comcast last year. Game of Thrones for fewer bones, perhaps?

marscakeAnd finally, up on Mars. We’d like to congratulate NASA’s Opportunity Rover for setting an off-world driving record. The rolling robot has been cruising around the Red Planet since 2004 and in that decade, racked up just over 25 miles on its little odometer.  And a big “Happy Birthday” this week to NASA itself. The agency came into existence on July 29, 1958, after Congress and President Eisenhower made it so with the creatively named National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The mission? “To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.”  It’s not quite as poetic as, To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before,” but hey, you have to start somewhere.

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