We’re baaaaack! In an effort to burn off some of the calories we packed on during our time off we’ve put together a super-sized show. J.D. pits voice enabled personal assistants from Google and Apple against each other in a Hunger Games-style battle to the death! Okay, that may be a little heavy on the hyperbole but she does see what each can do. Musician, recording engineer, record producer and vintage home audio enthusiast Michael Puretz visits with El Kaiser to discuss affordable high-end stereo equipment. In the news Amazon tests drone deliveries for their Prime subscribers; Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One battle each other for holiday sales supremacy; Motorola has a Cyber Monday Meltdown; Apple’s iPad grabs close 70 percent of holiday tablet sales so far; and NASA confirms that Comet ISON has largely disintegrated.
Yes, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his ideas about drone delivery that he shared during his appearance on the CBS news show 60 Minutes last weekend grabbed a lot of attention — but was it real or a PR stunt? Octocopter dreams aside, the company is having a good time poking fun at Apple’s grandiose iPad commercials with one of its own comparing the new iPad Air with its own Kindle Fire HDX. But it wasn’t a total Week of Win: the US Supreme Court has decided not to take on the Amazon’s appeal in the fight with New York State over collecting sales tax.
The Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One and have been battling each other for holiday sales as well. Microsoft said its Xbox One also sold 1 million units in its first 24 hours to match the PlayStation 4’s opening-day numbers, although analysts have pointed out that the Xbox One debuted in 13 markets its first day, while the PS4 only launched in two countries at first. Sony recently announced the PS 4 has now sold 2.1 million units worldwide across 32 countries since it first arrived on November 15th here in North America.
Motorola, which was hoping to lure holiday shoppers with a $349 off-contract Moto X phone deal, had a Cyber Monday Meltdown. The Motomaker.com Web site reportedly crashed and burned due to intense demand, forcing Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside to issue an apology on the company’s blog and announce that the $349 deal will now also be valid Monday, December 9th.
Some industry watchers are forecasting Apple’s iPad line to have grabbed about 70 percent of the holiday sales market so far, and the company also seems to be getting some hefty sales on its new iPhone models as well. The research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech said Apple got a significant sales bounce for the third quarter thanks to the release of the iPhone 5S and candy-colored iPhone 5C.
Apple, for its part, seems to be planning for the future with a couple of corporate acquisitions. The recent weeks, the company bought Topsy, a social-media analytics firm and PrimeSense, a company that makes motion-sensing technology. And Yahoo has whipped out the checkbox again as well, buying SkyPhrase for an undisclosed about of money. (SkyPhrase makes natural language processing technology and will be joining the Yahoo Labs team in New York.)
While this year is winding down in terms of new software updates and hardware releases, ZDNet reports that Microsoft is working on updates for its three major operating system platforms — Windows, Windows Phone and the Xbox One — for spring of 2015. Microsoft isn’t commenting, but there was one thing it did officially release this week: its long-promised cloud-based Student Advantage Office 365 Education offer for young academics is now live as of December 1st. And the company’s deal to buy Nokia’s handset business has gotten regulatory approval from the United States.
Google, which has six snow-globe-shaped temporary stores to sell its Chrome and Nexus wares, may be looking for more year-round retail space. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Google mystery barge that’s been under construction out in the San Francisco Bay is actually the first of three floating retail stores. Google says it plans to the use the structure as “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”
And finally, NASA has confirmed that Comet ISON, which astronomers first saw on September 21, 2012, largely disintegrated during its recent trip near the sun’s corona on November 28th. Check out the memorial post by astrophysicist Karl Battams and NASA’s explanatory page on ISON’s demise. Requiescat in pace, sweet Comet ISON, fragmented into history at the approximate age of 4.5 billion years.
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.