J.D. goes all Winslow Homer on us this week and introduces us to apps she uses to convert photos into digital works of art on her smartphone. In the news, Samsung reportedly spends $20 million on Oscars product placement; Facebook looks to fill the sky with drones; Radio Shack closes 1100 of its retail stores; the US Department of Justice sides with broadcasters in fight with Aereo; Google barge ordered to pull up anchor and scram; Sony’s PS4 arrives in Japan; and Pizza Hut developing an interactive touchscreen pizza-ordering table.
Everyone wants to be near those little gold men out in Hollywood. Samsung reportedly spent $20 million on advertising for this year’s Academy Awards show and also got huge product placement with the Selfie Seen Round the World when Bradley Cooper used a Galaxy Note 3 to snap a group shot with Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt and several other celebrities during the show. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung and its media-buying firm negotiated to have the phone integrated into the broadcast at various points (although there didn’t seem to be any Samsung ads on those pizza boxes that arrived midway through the show). TheOscar selfie and its retweet (times two million) is said to have crashed Twitter Sunday night. All in all, it was a busy few days for Twitter, which also apologized to a small number of its users on Monday after unintentionally sent them unnecessary password reset notices.
Facebook is reportedly in talks to by Titan Aerospace, a company that makes near-orbital, solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without having to land. As one of the major backers for the Internet.org initiative, the company seems to be doing its part to bring affordable Internet access to some of the five billion people around the world who have no online resources. TechCrunch says it hears Africa may be one of the first areas to see Facebook’s NetDrone Squadron if this all works out.
RadioShack announced earlier this week that it will be closing up to 1,100 of its retail stores this year as it tries to find its place in the 21st century. As Business Insider pointed out, a RadioShack ad from 1991 shows products that have all been replaced by the smartphone, so the chain could definitley do with some reinvention.
Aereo, the tiny-antenna company known for its service that provides streams of broadcast television channels over the Internet, may also be in for a future bummer. In papers filed recently, the US Department of Justice has sided with the television broadcasters who are currently suing Aereo for harvesting their over-the-air signals without paying the standard retransmission fees. The major broadcast television networks said last week that a Supreme Court decision in favor of Aereo would destroy the broadcast TV model. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on April 22th.
Officials in San Francisco have ordered Google to stop work on its mystery barge out in the Bay and tow the structure 80 miles to the Port of Stockton. (No permit? No mystery barge, Google.)
Verizon Wireless has rebooted its prepaid wireless service with its new AllSet plans. The new no-contract plans now let customers carry over unused data allowances from one month into the next. Plans start at $35 a month for regular phones and 500 voice minutes and $45 a month for smartphones with unlimited messages and 500 megabytes of data.
The annual Mobile World Congress event took place in Barcelona last week when we were on vacation, but just to recap the big announcement: the Samsung Galaxy S5 will have a 16-megapixel camera, fingerprint scanner, heart-rate monitor, 5.1-inch screen and Android KitKat, as well as $500 worth of gifted news, productivity and fitness apps when it arrives next month. Other stuff got announced, too.
Cortana, Microsoft’s own personal virtual assistant software is expected in the next update to the Windows Phone software. More details should arrive early next month at Microsoft’s Build conference.
Apple’s “iOS in the Car” project has formally emerged as CarPlay, and is the company’s system for linking the iPhone with the dashboard infotainment system built into certain automobile models. CarPlay is expected to show up later this year on models from Ferrari, Volvo and Mercedes.
Coming sooner: Apple’s iOS 7.1. a major update to last fall’s love-it-or-hate-it iOS 7, should be out any day now. (Also in Apple news, Microsoft may be looking to bring its Xbox Live gaming network to Android and iOS devices.)
Sony’s PlayStation 4 launched in Japan late last month and sold 370,000 units in its opening weekend. The company says it’s now sold 6 million PS4 consoles worldwide.
Georgetown U is headed to the annual SxSW conference down in Texas. The university will be hosting a panel called “Designing the Future University From the Inside,” which will look at the school’s own experiments in finding alternative ways to deliver a quality education and how universities can be proactive in their evolution in today’s world of technology and globalization.
While we were on vacation last week, the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange collapsed in a $460 million pile of FAIL. Hackers were said to have made off with the big bucks; the company also has another $27 million missing from its bank accounts. Wired has an excellent rundown of The Great Bitcoin Banjax.
A new survey reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere finds that 1 in 10 Americans think HTML is a sexually transmitted disease. It was perhaps not the most scientific survey with the most rigorous methodology, but remember, not everyone out there is a geek. (If you know some non-geeks, though, warn them of the fake Netflix phishing scam going around.)
Speaking of warnings, Microsoft is starting to sent out pop-up alerts to Windows XP users telling them that April 8th is the last day of support and to please, please, please upgrade. The company is trying to lighten the upgrade load by providing free copies of Laplink’s PCmover Express migration software that copies the files and settings on an XP machine to a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 machine. If you’re interested in upgrading, click here. (If XP users need to migrate programs as well, Laplink is offering its PCmover Professional program for $24, which is 60 percent off the regular price.)
And finally: Chaotic Moons Studio, which has been helping Pizza Hut develop mobile apps for online ordering, has a new concept project. It’s the interactive touchscreen pizza-ordering table. It’s still a concept, but you can bet if it ever goes mainstream, you’ll be able to play Angry Birds on it while you wait for your pie.
Need a holiday gift for the technology enthusiast in your life, but you’re not sure what platform to buy for? Want to skip the whole iTunes/Amazon/Red Lobster prepaid card thing? Overwhelmed by the sheer number of phone and tablet cases out there?
Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Tablets are great for reading ebooks or watching videos in bed, but who wants to hold the darn thing up the whole time, especially when trying to relax? The $33 Peeramid Pillow is great for propping up your tablet — or even a hefty treeware tome — when one is inclined to recline.
2. Crazy weather and power outages can happen anywhere and you know how we get when our phone batteries slip into the red zone. If your gift sense leans toward the practical, consider a deluxe combination USB charger/radio/LED flashlight powered by solar panels or hand cracking; the $60 Eton FRX3 fits the bill — and you can also connect an MP3 player to pump out some tunes in the dark. The company makes several other charger models branded by the American Red Cross as well.
3. If you’ve got a radio lover in the family, consider a portable Wi-Fi model like the Mutant Innovation M-Wavio, which you can pick up online for around $80 from sites like NewEgg and Amazon. Once connected to a wireless network, this little baby can pull in streams from about 12,000 radio stations around the world, including those from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio France and other international broadcasters. You can also tap into college radio stations from around the country, specialty streams and some Internet-only stations. And if the power goes out, flip the radio over to the regular FM band to get live news and make sure the zombies haven’t gone all apocalypse now.
4. For those young learners and engineers-to-be, check out the many educational kits from Radio Shack, like the $15 Tin Can Robot, the $13 Velleman Traffic Light Kit and the $70 Electronics Learning Lab. Science is the most fun when you can do it yourself and see it in action.
5. If the programmer on your list eschews the traditional can of Red Bull for a more stately approach to caffeine consumption, there’s the $20 Star Wars Death Star Tea Infuser, designed to brew up that cuppa with Imperial flair. And if you’re not shy about mixing movie franchises, you can back-order a $15 tin of officially licensed Star Trek Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. — which should be back in stock from ThinkGeek around January 4th. (Hmmm, January 4th. Why does that date seem so familiar? Oh…yeah.)