This week El Kaiser wrestles with an identity crisis and J.D. gives us the lowdown on how the micro-blogging service Twitter determines what is trending. In the news, taking down websites that offer access to pirated content by targeting their wallet; the NSA gets sued; Buzzfeed and Facebook have a slap fight; manufacturers ditch the Thunderbolt port; rumors heat up about a Microsoft smartwatch; Blackberry drastically drops the price on its flagship Z10 smartphone and Nasa discovers a new moon orbiting Neptune.
J.D. has a Helpfully Helpful Hint about how to avoid comment trolls and Pedro gives us his thoughts on the two big superhero films of the summer, “Man of Steel” and “Iron Man 3”. In the news, Facebook adds hashtags; Samsung plans to give away Jay-Z’s new album to Galaxy smartphone owners; Microsoft drops the price of the Surface RT tablet; and Yahoo continues its spending spree.
Facebook, which announced that it was adding hashtags to its service last week, is having a big announcement this week and word on the digital street has it that the company plans to unveil video as an added feature to Instagram. In other video news, Amazon announced this week that those recently purchased Nick Jr. shows like Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues are among the new material that has been added to its Kindle FreeTime Unlimited service. (The company also has the more limited Kindle FreeTime app, which is free.)
Samsung’s buying up a million copies of Jay-Z’s upcoming album Magna Carta Holy Grail to give out to Galaxy smartphone owners 72 hours before the album officially drops on July 4. The company also has a faster version of its Galaxy S4 phone on the way next month, one that promises double the speed of the current 4G LTE network. While the U.S. mobile networks may not be quite up to super-quick LTE, New Yorkers can at least juice up their batteries as AT&T has added 25 solar-powered recharging stations around the five boroughs.
Microsoft has a special deal for educational institutions buying hardware: a 32-gigabyte Surface RT tablet for $199. Its Outlook.com team up in Redmond also announced this week that it was ditching linked accounts in the name of security and switching over to aliases and the company released its Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers With iPhones app this week. The biggest Microsoft news o’ the week, however, is that nicely executed 180 on its Xbox One policies (you know, those “required Internet connection” and “restrictions on used games” policies) thanks to customer “feedback.” Your move, Sony.
As for Apple, the company’s e-book pricing trail continues in New York City with summations expected Thursday of this week, but an immediate ruling is not expected. Apple issued a statement on customer privacy in regards to the ongoing revelations about the National Security Agency and noted that its FaceTime and iMessage conversations were encrypted and said it couldn’t even crack those. The company found the time to work up a beta update for Apple TV testers that adds in iTunes Radio and a conference-room display feature.
Yahoo also joined the growing list of tech companies that have issued privacy statements to their customers. The post, from CEO Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell, said Yahoo had between 12,000 and 13,000 requests from law enforcement agencies in from December 2012 to May 2013. And the shopping continues — according to the All Things D Web site, which reports that the company made an offer of $30 to 40 million dollars for Xobni and possibly $50 million for the Qwiki video app.
In other tech news this week, Adobe Systems has officially released its Creative Cloud suite to the public and the reviews are starting to come. Wal-Mart and Staples plan to start selling Google’s Chromebook laptop. BlackBerry has issued a security warning about a critical bug in the BlackBerry Protect app for its Z10 smartphone. Ford is responding to consumer complaints that its MyFord Touch electronic touchscreen dashboard systems are too confusing by putting back the knobs, and the Oxford English Dictionary has added some new terms in its latest update.
And finally, Man of Steel broke the box office record for the biggest opening numbers in June with $113.1 million dollars last weekend. This haul puts Supes second in line behind Iron Man 3’s $174.1 million dollar opening weekend last month.
The comic-book movies of summer are doing quite well and we’re not even to the mid-way point of the season yet. Next month, The Wolverine, RIPD, and RED 2 all arrive, as does the enormous San Diego Comic-Con International, with all of its industry news and film previews. So there are plenty of things to look forward to besides the new books hitting the shelves of your local comics shop each Wednesday.
Tech companies do love the April Fool’s Day gags, don’t they? In general, some “jokes” work better than others, but everyone seems to be moving on and getting back to business as we ease into spring. Take Amazon — its Cloud Drive can now give your files that syncing feeling. The company just released a new desktop app for Windows and Mac gives that lets you copy files to your online drive by just moving them into a desktop folder, just as you can do with Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox and other services. (As Ars Technica and others have pointed out, the app requires Java, but not that worrisome browser plug-in.)
Microsoft is getting it out there: Windows Phone handsets seem to be getting some traction in the marketplace (right before BlackBerry has sold a million new Z10 phones already) and the Internet Explorer 10 almost doubled in market share, thanks to the Windows 7 version arriving in February as an automatic update. Windows 8 is still trying to find its place in the world, and has risen to claim 3 percent of the desktop operating system pie, according to Net Applications in its report for March.
Meanwhile, over at Google, Alma Whitten, the Director of Privacy, is leaving the job this summer. Lawrence You, an engineering director, will be taking over the privacy-and-security department in June. In other company privacy news, Google is facing new probes and possible fines for privacy violations in Europe. (And on the topic of international incidents, Apple CEO Tim Cook has written a letter of apology to the company’s Chinese customers. )
Talking back can get some results and Nuance, the speech-recognition company, is working on mobile ads that can talk back to customers. Hopefully, the ads will wait until they are spoken to before nattering on about the product.
Out in space, astronomers have discovered a new comet that could be one of the visibly brightest in decades. (But will it be as popular as Halley’s comet, which has turned up in song, story and tapestry for centuries? Eh, probably not.) Hopefully, the Mars rovers will get a few good shots of Comet Ison when it passes by the Red Planet — and US astronaut Buzz Aldrin hopes the United States will take a shot at sending astronauts to Mars. He lays out a plan in his new book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, due out May 7th.
And finally, spring is here on the northern hemisphere, on the calendar if not in the weather forecast. Baseball is back, and so are a few very popular TV programs, including the BBC’s Doctor Who (which featured a geektastic episode about scary Wi-Fi) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (which broke the BitTorrent Swarm record with more than a million downloads in less than a day). HBO, however, does not seem to be worried.
Fans of these two franchises can also take in David Tennant (the beloved 10th Doctor) in the BBC miniseries Spies of Warsaw this month, and enjoy John Lanchester’s 4,600-word essay on George R.R. Martin’s opus in the London Review of Books. Both might be a nice distraction for all those who were crushed to find out, alas, that Scope Bacon was not real.