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!
This summer is turning out to be a big one for space news and demoted-planet Pluto is due for its star turn next week. NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft, which woke up from hibernation last December, had a bit of a glitch that knocks it into Safe Mode on July 4th, but scientists say the craft is ready for its close flyby of Pluto on the morning of July 14th. If everything goes according to plan, New Horizons is expected to pass less than 7,800 hundred miles from the surface of little Pluto, which is relatively close in space terms; The New York Times has a great video on the topic. (And earlier this week in space, scientists on the Philae lander project were hoping to find signs of alien life on old Comet 67P, but comet experts are now pooh-poohing the notion.)
More than a dozen pre-eminent cryptographers and computer scientists have come together to produce a paper called “Keys Under Doormats: Mandating Insecurity By Requiring Government Access to All Data and Communications,” and in this paper, they challenge the intelligence agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom over government desires for special backdoors to be built into encrypted communications. The cryptographers find the government proposals to be unprincipled and unworkable. Many of the same cryptographers came together back in the 1990s to take down the Clinton administration’s proposed Clipper Chip, which would have provided a hardware backdoor into encrypted communications.
The British Broadcasting Corporation does more than just global news shows, historical costume dramas and Doctor Who. This week, the Beeb introduced its new initiative to help kids get into tech. The organization, along with 29 corporate partners, is giving out a programmable, pocket-sized “BBC Micro:Bit” bare-bones computer to all Year 7 students. Microsoft, ARM and Samsung were among the corporate partners on the project.
While Samsung helps out in the UK, its overall corporate intake dipped in the second quarter this year. The South Korea-based company reported a four-percent drop in 2Q, thanks in part to weaker-than-expected sales of its new phones. You can, however, get $200 off a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 if you buy it before July 26th.
Speaking of Microsoft, the Redmond giant is gearing up for its Windows 10 launch at the end of the month. The RTM, or Release to Manufacturing edition, is reportedly out the door this week, the preview of the revamped Bing Maps arrived and the Xbox Music service has now been rebranded as Groove. Xbox Video is now called Movies & TV, and there’s a special Windows 10 beta version of Minecraft on the way July 29th as well. And over in the experimental labs of Microsoft Garage, a new app called Tossup (shown here) is out now for Android and iOS smartphones.
Word from the Appleverse blogs has it that selected third-party accessory makers hoping to sell their wares in official Apple Stores will have to use new packaging co-designed by Apple itself. The reported shift is said to be part of a transition to a “premium feel” for products sold in Apple emporiums, as well as reducing clutter on store shelves.
Also in Apple news, many Kaisers, er, users were up in arms last week when it was discovered that the iOS 8.4 update that brought the Apple Music service into the world also took away the longstanding music Home Sharing feature. Home Sharing, which had been around since iTunes 9 back in 2009, allowed the streaming of one’s music library between devices and Macs and PCs running iTunes. While most people assumed the feature was yanked due to the legal tangle of music rights wadded up in Apple Music, Eddy Cue, Apple Senior VP and Taylor Swift best buddy, said the company is working to restore Home Sharing in the upcoming iOS 9.
Photographers who like Instagram but feel the 640 x 640 resolution was way too low for quality presentation will be happy to know that the service has quietly goosed up the rez to 1080 x 1080 pixels. A company representative said the Instagram apps for Android and iOS are bring updated to take advantage of the new feature.
Also in photography news, GoPro, which makes those small wearable video cameras for recording first-person action adventures, now has an even smaller camera on the way. The company’s new model, the Hero4 Session, is half the size of the Hero4 Black model. The new tinycam is expected to start shipping next week and has a decidedly not-tiny price tag of $400.
Twitter has added the ability for users to list their birthdays on their Twitter profiles. If you have a massively public feed or draw a lot of hate tweets, though, perhaps you want to skip the sharing there.
Giant robot battles just aren’t for the movies anymore. Last week, MegaBot USA threw down the big iron gauntlet at Japan’s Suidobashi Heavy Industry and challenged the company to a giant robot duel with a video. Naturally, Suidobashi responded with its own video to accept and the battle is on for next year. Get ready for some mecha-stomping good times!
And finally, summer is here and the backyard grilling and barbecuing is in full flame. Texas and the rest of the South may get all the press for the quality barbecue eats, but don’t forget about that Yankee ingenuity. Way up yonder in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 16 engineering students from Harvard University have built what Wired is calling “the ultimate BBQ Bot” that brings science to the smoke. Admit it: you are totally hungry now, aren’t you?
It liiiiiiiiives! After its batteries ran down last fall, many people forgot about the European Space Agency’s Philae lander and the whole Rosetta mission to explore a comet. But the little lander woke up over this past weekend, sending scientists scrambling to collect and analyze the data it’s resumed sending back to earth. The lander had been in hibernation after it ran out of power and shut down last November, but the comet’s travels have now brought it in better line with the sun so Philae can recharge its battery and get back to work.
Hello Earth! Can you hear me? #WakeUpPhilae
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) June 14, 2015
How about a network of 4,000 inexpensive satellites to bring Internet access to the unwired parts of the world? That’s the plan, anyway, as SpaceX founder Elon Musk has filed the official paperwork with the government asking permission to proceed with the project. No word from the Federal Communications Commission yet on approval, but at least Mr. Musk has good timing, as Facebook recently shelved its own plans to for popping up an Internet-service satellite.
LastPass, the password-manager service, notified customers last week that it found suspicious activity on its network. Not exactly what you want in a password-manager service.
Facebook has yet another app to help you share your personal data with the company, oh, and your friends. The Social Network announced its new Moments app this week that uses facial-recognition software to automatically recognize your Facebook friends in random snaps and then sync all the photos between you all. If this sort of thing interests you, the app is now available in the Google Play and iOS App Stores.
Google Maps wants to save you even more time and aggravation. When you punch in directions to a particular store or business, the app does its calculations and warns you if you will arrive too late because the place has already closed for the day. Creepy, helpful and handy!
Apple sleuths digging through the iOS 9 betaware say they’ve found references in the code to some sort of device with a much larger keyboard than the pixel dimensions of the current 9.7-inch iPads. Could the long-rumored large-screen iPad Pro be on the way this fall?
Amazon may be going all Uber with the package delivery and ditching official courier services like FedEx and UPS in favor or regular people with cars dropping off your orders. The company hasn’t announced anything yet, but The Wall Street Journal is talking to people in the know over there. Amazon also uses its Amazon Locker service to store deliveries for pickup in public places, and may expand those options as well.
And finally, an intrepid interactive programmer at The New York Times took a peek inside the hidden source code of Jeb Bush’s website and found quite a few paragraphs not about Republican policies, but a plot summary of the 1988 Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard. The text was not publically visible on the website and has since been removed after The Times discovered it, so here’s to you and your dreams, Die Hard-loving console cowboy.
J.D. will help you get to your destination by plane, train or automobile as she runs down some useful travel apps just in time for the power eating U.S. holiday known as Thanksgiving.
El Kaiser finally gets an invitation to Google Inbox and…let’s just say things don’t go smoothly.
In the news the European Space Agency is still on comet duty; AT&T gets called out by the FCC; the Federal Trade Commission has settles a score with TRUSTe; the US State Department gets hacked; New York City plans to convert payphones into spiffy hotspots; Facebook continues spinning off features of its service; Disney partners with Walmart’s Vudu streaming service; and Google and Stanford University work on software that uses artificial intelligence to create descriptive photo captions.
Oh, and KaiserNet is finally active… MUAH HA HA HA!
The Rosetta mission rolls on and scientists at the European Space Agency continue to gather information about Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After we recorded last week’s show, the Rosetta spacecraft released Philae, its small lander vehicle, onto the comet’s surface. The failure to harpoon itself to the surface — or get its solar panels in the right position to recharge its batteries — led to a shorter period of productivity than anticipated. However, there’s hope Philae could charge up its batteries if it gets a little sunlight. (The last commands the ESA were able to send the lander were for repositioning its solar panels.) Still, the lander hit a moving target way out there in space and Philae did send back some data before going dark, including evidence of organic molecules on the comet. And there’s the possibility a little sunpower will awaken it out of standby mode so it can get back to work. Philae, we salute you!
This week in Waiting for the Net Neutrality Decision news: AT&T got called out by the FCC after the telecom titan’s CEO said it may have to have to “pause” its planned 100-city high-speed Internet expansion plans due to the possibility of regulation. AT&T’s expansion plans, however, have been criticized as being vague, so the FCC sent a letter to the company asking for more information about this “expansion decision” and all documents related to it. AT&T has until November 21 to get back to the FCC with those details.
In other government-agency items of note, the Federal Trade Commission has settled a score with the TRUSTe privacy seal and certification company. Oh, the US State Department got hacked —officials said the unclassified branch of the agency’s email network was temporarily shut down this week to update security.
Payphones have never been the same since they stopped being private little rooms (and the cellphones took over anyway), but New York City has something in mind for the space and connections used by all those half-booths cluttering the sidewalks. The Mayor’s office has announced plans to convert that rotting old payphone infrastructure around town into spiffy new gigabit WiFi hotspots. A company called CityBridge is team up with the Big Apple on the LinkNYC project, which will eventually bring 10,000 “Links” — as the hot spot stations will be called — to the five boroughs. Here’s a mock-up of one in Brooklyn:
Facebook has spun out the Groups function into its own standalone app. In a product announcement on the company blog, Facebook said, “we’re introducing a new Facebook Groups app that helps people share faster and more easily with all the groups in their life.” Groups, for those who don’t use them, can be public, private or secret online clubs for people all interested in the same topic or discussion. As for now, the company says you can still use Groups in the main Facebook app and on desktop. For now. (The Financial Times is reporting that so-called Facebook at Work site is in the works to provide professional networking and collaboration, but Facebook isn’t commenting.
Apple released updates to both its Yosemite and iOS 8 operating systems this week. OS X 10.10.1 for Mac was intended to address Wi-Fi issues and other bugs some Mac folks have been complaining about for a month, but some users have posted on Apple support forums that the update still hasn’t fixed their disappearing Wi-Fi connections. The iOS 8.1.1 update was intended to improve performance on older hardware like the iPad 2 and iPhone 4s.
Two items of note from the Wonderful World of Wearables. For one, Intel is getting into the jewelry business and teaming up with fashion firm Opening Ceremony on a fancy Internet-connected bangle called the MICA, also known as the My Intelligent Communication Accessory. One of the models is shown here, and yes, it costs around $500. And second in wearable news: Fitbit data is now being used as evidence in court.
Streaming music service are having a bad month. First, Taylor Swift pulls her albums from Spotify, sending millions of teenage girls into a panic, and now Sirius XM lost a copyright battle in US district court with the 1960s rock band, The Turtles and may have to start paying for older music. (Also not having a good PR month: Uber.)
Google and Stanford University have been working together on software that uses artificial intelligence to more accurately describe the contents of photographs that previous programs. The rise of the machines starts with descriptive photo captions, folks.
And finally, Thanksgiving is next week and the gang over at Google Maps has looked at traffic conditions in 21 American cities for the past two years to figure out the worst and best times to leave for that homeward journey. (Hint: Wednesday afternoon blows.) Also, get your booze, pie and ham early if you want to avoid crowds.