It’s September and you know what that means: Apple will hold forth a mighty media event in San Francisco to formally reveal its fall lineup of hardware and software. As today is Apple Event Eve, we here at Pop Tech Jam thought we’d pass the time with technologist Don Donofrio to speculate about what tomorrow’s announcements will bring. And on next week’s show, we’ll regroup to see how many things we guessed correctly. Feel free to play along at home, Jammers! And for those of you who care not for the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, we have news on Samsung’s exchange program for the overly combustible Galaxy Note 7 and the end of the Rosetta mission to good ol’ Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Samsung’s hot new Galaxy Note 7 phone has gotten a little too hot — to the point of bursting into flames due to a battery issue — and the company stopped selling it late last week. Samsung is now trying to reel back the million units that were sold with an exchange program. As The Consumerist blog reports, Samsung’s voluntary exchange is not one of those official U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls, but that’s expected soon.
While Samsung is trying to play boomerang with its flaming phones, The Repair Association is trying to make it easier for people to fix their older, less combustible gadgets, even if it means violating certain manufacturer legal policies. The Repair Association was founded in 2013 by a group of service, security and environmental organizations and is dedicating to fighting such restrictive repair policies. Although most of the early attempts at Right to Repair legislation have been killed so far — including Senator Phil Boyle’s bill in the New York State legislature this past June, the group plans to reintroduce their proposals soon.
Speaking of smartphones, research firm comScore says as of this past July, it finds that 50 percent of all the time Americans spend derping around online is now done with smartphone apps.
As you may have already heard, SpaceX suffered another “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event last week as one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and took Facebook’s first satellite with it. There was no human loss of life, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was displeased. Mr. Zuckerberg posted some thoughts on his Facebook wall.
We haven’t had a good robot sailboat story in a while — if ever — but here’s one now. The New York Times reports that a company called Saildrone has remote-controlled vessels busily counting fish and monitoring seals in the Bering Straight off the coast of Alaska while their operators are 2,500 miles away in California.
And finally, the European Space Agency has found its lost little Philae space probe at last. Philae landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November of 2014, but soon lost power and contact with mission operators. But thanks now to high-resolution photos from the Rosetta spacecraft (which launched Philae and hung around to orbit the comet), scientists spotted the probe wedged in a dark crack on the comet’s surface. The Rosetta craft itself is scheduled to end its mission of September 30 as it completes a controlled descent onto the comet’s surface before the iceball-with-a-tail heads off toward the orbit of Jupiter — and out of range for solar power and communications. Thanks for the memories, Rosetta!
Oh, look! It’s September again and Apple has announced a bunch of new stuff this week, including:
• An update to the Apple Watch operating system, new watchbands and the “Hermès Collection
• The iPad Maxi, er, iPad Pro with fancy optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil and a flexible Smart Keyboard
• The long-awaited hardware update to the Apple TV with Siri-powered remote and games
• The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
• The arrival of iOS 9 on September 16th
Oh, and rose gold is apparently a thing.
But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.
The fall tech bounty does not begin nor end with the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, however. The annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin just ended this week and like the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas each January, companies preview many products and tech journalists look for trends. Meanwhile, LG Electronics did some fun stuff with flat televisions, like making a double-sided 4K OLED set (shown here, and probably just a prototype). And if you like a lot of pixels, Canon announced that it’s developed a 250-megapixel sensor that’s still small enough to fit inside a DSLR camera.
Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30 for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!
A 7-inch display for the Raspberry Pi barebones computer went on sale this week for $60. Here’s what you can do with it:
The publishing industry and Amazon had a very public spat last year over e-book pricing, which eventually led to new distribution deals with the under mega-everything store. But while several publishers got to charge more for their e-books and lose less income to Amazon’s deep discounts, recent sales reports show that their e-book revenue declined overall in the last quarter.
Microsoft really, really, really wants you to use its new Edge browser and has even employed its Bing search engine to steer you away from the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. If you happed to search for an alternative browser with Bing on Edge, you see a little box at the top of your search results declaring that Microsoft Edge is really the best browser for Windows 10 and click this here link to learn why. However, the browser does not actually stop you from stepping off the Edge.
A writer over at BuzzFeed is disputing the recent PageFair study that estimated ad-blocking software would make sites lose $21 billion in ad revenue this year, bit even squishy numbers do not soothe The Interactive Advertising Bureau. According to Advertising Age, the trade group met this summer to discuss what to do, including filing lawsuits against companies that make ad-blocking software, but nothing major has been decided yet. The IAB did vote to move away from Adobe Flash and make HTML5 its new standard for online ads. And in related news AdBlock Plus just announced its first official ad-blocking app for iOS and than it was back in the Google Play store for Android.
NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July. The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.
And finally, September 4th last week was Force Friday, the day retailers unleashed a giant wave of new officially licensed Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise into stores around the world. Global celebration events included midnight sales and twerking stormtroopers in Times Square. And as the BBC has noted, all of these merch sales could make this seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise “the biggest film ever.” December 18th, folks — or even earlier, if you happen to live in popular parts of Europe. Okay, who’s checking mid-December airfare to France now?
That noise you heard Monday was not an F5 tornado — it was just the sound of Apple inhaling all the press as it held a Major Media Event to officially announce the price and availability of the Apple Watch. If you’re interested in the Watch, check out the full specs but in a nutshell, the app-driven, sensor-laden wrist computer/fitness tracker will be available for preorders on April 10th and officially released April 24th. Prices start at $349 for the smallest of the sporty versions and go far north of $10,000 for the fancy digital luxury Rolex-wannabes with the shiny 18-karat gold bits and bobs.
People who run and do a lot of fitness activities may be especially interested in the Apple Watch, as well as those with a huge pile of disposable income and a yen for fancy tech. But check out the tiny print on the Apple Watch splash page:
Yes, to use the Watch, you also need an iPhone 5 or later. This requirement led The Verge site to note that the main function of the timepiece is to spare you from taking out your phone every few minutes to check on your world when you can just glance at your wrist more discreetly. Forbes also observed that the Apple Watch seems to be in the Nice to Have category instead of the Must Have so far. However, most industry watchers are keeping an eye on those sales figures next month.
The long-awaited high-tech wristwatch was not the only thing Apple brought forth. The company also announced an exclusive three-month deal for the new standalone cable-free HBO NOW service. Subscribers will be able to stream HBO content for $15 a month when the service launches next month in time for the premiere of Game of Thrones Season 5, and there’s a free 30-day trial period for new customers who sign up through Apple. To sweeten the deal even more, Apple also knocked $30 off the price of its Apple TV set-top box that brings high-def streams of HBO and other participating providers right to your TV screen.
Apple also took time during its event to highlight its work in medical research. Executives showed off ResearchKit, its new open-source software framework for creating medical research and data collection apps for use in iOS devices.
The MacBook also got a major refresh, as Apple unveiled its latest version of the popular notebook computer. The new models weigh just two pounds, come with a 12-inch screen, a full-size keyboard, revamped battery and a Force Touch trackpad. The new MacBook is barely 13 millimeters thick, a feat that was achieved in part by lack of external ports. The new MacBook has a headphone jack and just one other port – a new USB Type C jack that handles charging, data transfer, device connection and video-out all on its own. (Need to do more than one of these activities at once? There’s a $79 Apple adapter in your future purchase plans.) The new MacBook will be out later this spring. Apple also beefed up the processors and various other components in its other laptops as well.
Reactions to Apple’s announcements from other companies ranged from “meh” to cheeky. Executives at Pebble, which announced a new addition to its own smartwatch line late last month, took to Twitter during Apple’s grand event to provide a little commentary on the proceedings:
— Eric Migicovsky (@ericmigi) March 9, 2015
Employees also tweeted pictures of medical research apps for Pebble watches and even retweeted snarkier posts from others, especially about the price tags:
The official Pebble Twitter account did point out, however, that everyone loves Game of Thrones. Hey, the Apple Watch may be out of the price range for a lot of people, but at least HBO is now more affordable.