J.D. tells us how we can make a correction on a Google Map and Pedro hopes The Big Apple finally gets its recommended daily allowance of Google Fiber. In the news, Amazon is said to be working on its own line of smartphones; Facebook is ripping out the messaging functionality from its smartphone apps; Google purchases Titan Aerospace out from under Facebook; Samsung’s Galaxy S5 makes its official debut; Windows Phone 8.1 is getting raves; and a Linux distribution that leaves no trace on the host computer.
Merely having its own tablet and TV set-top box is clearly not enough to keep up with Google and Apple: Amazon is said to be working on its own line of smartphones now as well. According to the Boy Genius Report site and a few other sources, the flagship Amazon touchscreen phone will run a modified version of Android and sport a glasses-free 3D interface that can quickly whisk you to Amazon’s various online store departments. (And of course, the Web, where you can check out the True Detective/Family Circus mashup, Time is a Flat Circus.)
So much for the all-in-one approach: Facebook is ripping out the messaging functionality from its smartphone apps and forcing users who want to exchange messages within the service to download its separate Messenger app. Facebook claims the division of services makes messaging better and faster, but privacy advocates suggest a visit into the app’s settings to turn off location stamps and other potential annoyances like those Chat Head things.
Has there been a bit of upstreaming with the drones? According to The Wall Street Journal, Google has now slipped in and purchased Titan Aerospace, the drone maker of Facebook was flirting with earlier this year. However, The Social Network is paying $20 million for Ascenta, a company based in the United Kingdom that also makes unmanned solar-powered vehicles.
In mobile news, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone went on sale last week and seems to have sold a few units, even though Samsung has not released official sales figures yet. T-Mobile continues to stomp the data-plan paradigm and says it’s going to stop charging penalty fees for customers who go over their monthly limits. The company’s CEO also threw down the virtual gauntlet with an online petition and challenged its national-carrier rivals AT&T, Sprint and Verizon to lay off the overcharges as well.
Windows Phone 8.1 is getting some good reviews, including one from the Ars Technica site that calls it “a magnificent smartphone platform.” The new mobile OS can apparently accept passes designed for Apple’s Passbook app and the new Cortana assistant got special raves.
Hopefully, everyone has their servers patched and their passwords changed after the Heartbleed bug hit the headlines last week. The National Journal notes that while the bug was publicized on April 7th, the Google engineer and the Finnish security team at Codenomicon actually uncovered the flaw earlier in March. Google fixed its own servers and told a few other companies about the gaping security hole, but didn’t tell the US government.
Last week’s revelation of the Heartbleed bug sent a lot of people scrambling to change their passwords and shore up security — and for good reason. A new report from the Pew Research Center says 18 percent of adults using the Internet now say they’ve had important personal information stolen and 21 percent say they’ve had an mail or account with a social networking site compromised. (Remember when an occasional AOL email spoofing used to be the worst thing that ever happened?)
Talk about facetime: The FBI plans to have its state-of-the-art face recognition database up and running by this summer with more than 52 million photos on file — including those of people who have never committed a crime and have no reason to be in a law-enforcement database. Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation requested documents regarding the FBI’s biometric database, Next Generation Identification, and published its findings. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is also keeping tabs on the NGI.
And finally, if privacy and security are on your mind, check out Tails. It’s the operating system Edward Snowden used in his work with the NSA. The Tails system is a Linux distribution that can run on almost any computer from a USB stick, SD card or DVD, where it leaves no trace on the host computer. Tails can offer anonymity to its users —unless of course, there’s a camera and face-recognition software nearby.
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.
Cable companies are hooking up — with each other. Late last week, Comcast announced it had reached an agreement to take over Time Warner Cable for $45 billion dollars. Criticism over the deal flared up quickly, including a statement from former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who said the merger would let the two companies “run roughshod over consumers in the end.” Several consumers took to the Internet themselves, lamenting a possible future of even more high prices and bad service. (Last year’s American Consumer Satisfaction Index survey ranked Internet providers and cable companies even lower than the airlines, another industry that’s seen a lot of mergers and a dwindling number of choices over the recent years.) The deal, which has not gotten the official government seal of approval yet, includes no breakup fee if it falls through. The Ars Technica site has an analysis of the proposed deal and how it might play out if the FCC steps in. In addition to consumer fears, the Comcast-Time Warner deal could derail a deal between Time Warner Cable and Netflix.
Meanwhile, much smaller cable company RCN is teaming up with TiVo and Opera Software are all joining forces together to bring the Opera TV Store to certain TiVo’s recorders. (Never heard of RCN? It’s a smaller outfit with service mainly along the major East Coast cities and Chicago.)
On the phone front, Federal lawmakers have followed the California Senate in proposing a new law that would require a kill switch on smartphones. Dubbed the Smartphone Theft Protection Act, the bill aims to cut down on theft and save consumers $30 billion a year in lost hardware and related costs. The wireless phone industry is not too keen on being told how to build phone hardware, however. Whatever happens, at least there are basic remote recovery tools in many phone operating systems now, like Android Device Manager, Find My iPhone or Windows Phone remote wipe.
Details about the Samsung Galaxy S5 phone are starting to percolate. Bloomberg News reports that the S5 will have a 5.2-inch display screen that’s sharper than the screen on the current S4 model, and have an improved camera and better battery life. Other sites claim the new model will have a fingerprint sensor and a spiffy new physical design.
The Kickstarter crowdfunding site got hacked this past weekend. If you’re a member of the site, change your password if you haven’t already. In a post on the Kickstarter company blog, CEO Yancey Strickler said no customer credit-card information had been accessed.
Sony’s PlayStation continues to outsell its main rival the Microsoft Xbox One. Sony announced it’s sold 5.3 million PS4 consoles since the hardware debuted last November, comparde to Microsoft’s sales of 3.9 million Xbox One units since its own November debut. Nintendo’s Wii U console has sold about 6 million units since it arrived in November 2012. Nintendo may be zeroing in on a certain segment of its user base, however. Over in the United Kingdom, the company has launched a new YouTube channel aimed at female gamers. It’s called Nintendo Girls Club and it features videos from British actors and bloggers on the latest gameplay and trailers.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day last week, Facebook added more than 40 new gender terms for users to use with their profiles on the site, expanding from the binary male/female to include transgender, intersex and a whole lot more. While many called the move progressive move into the modern world of gender identity, and editorial in the Guardian suggested that Facebook should get really radical and remove all gender options instead.
Also in the V-Day vibe, the Facebook Data Science group did a series of posts last week, sharing some of its research. One post was called “The Formation of Love,” and explained how Facebook can tell when you’re about to start a new relationship.
Ken Burns, a documentary filmmaker so iconic that he got a special effect named after him in Apple’s iPhoto software, now has an iPad app of his own. It, too, is called Ken Burns. Software Ken Burns is free to try and $10 to buy.
Many New Yorkers have not been shy in complaining about the winter weather this year, but is there science behind it? (The weather, not New Yorkers complaining.) A study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, research was presented that suggested warmer temperatures in the Arctic have caused the jet stream to shift father south and take a longer path across the globe — and making for more sustained weather systems.
And finally, NASA says it’s solved the mystery of the jelly-shaped donut rock on Mars that seemed to suddenly appear in front of its Opportunity rover last month. The rock, as Mars-watchers know, looked like it showed up out of the blue in pictures the rover sent back to earth within the span of 12 Martian days. This set off all sorts of speculation about just how the rock got there, but NASA now says it was a broken-off piece of another rock that the rover ran over while it was exploring the area. Let’s hope Opportunity has its insurance card in the glove compartment in case the Martians file a claim.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these podcasters from sharing their hi-jinks and shenanigans! Well, actually gloom of night might give us pause… This week J.D. gives us some helpful hints on how to prevent our children from making unapproved in-app purchases and Pedro tells us what apps to use to navigate and experience NYC like a native. In the news, Verizon buys Intel Media’s OnCue Internet-based television service; the Internet of Things gets hacked; the video game console war rages on; Hewlett-Packard brings back Windows 7; Samsung Galaxy S5 rumor mill picks up the pace; a comet chasing spacecraft wakes from a long nap; and The New Yorker magazine reminds us that there is still nothing quite like the power and reach of live over-the-air radio.
A deep winter chill may have settled over a large part of the country this week, but things are heating up in the streaming-TV business. Still on a roll from last week, Verizon has now reached out and purchased Intel Media’s OnCue Internet-based television service for an undisclosed sum. OnCue, which is still under development, includes a traditional bundle of TV channels, but delivered over the Internet instead of by coaxial or fiber-optic cable. Especially since a recent survey from the research firm NPD Group found that US households that subscribe to premium cable channels dropped six percentage points from March 2012 to August 2013. In that same period, homes that signed up for Internet video-on-demand subscription services rose four percentage points. (The study can’t scientifically show cause-and-effect, but still, ya gotta wonder…)
According to the security firm Proofprint, the Internet of Things has been hacked. (Didn’t take long now, did it?) Researchers for Proofprint report that along with hacked laptops and tablets, more than 100,000 smart, Internet-connected appliances like multimedia set-top boxes, game consoles, routers, television sets and even a refrigerator were compromised by intruders, looped into a botnet and used to send out more than 750,000 malicious email messages. (Keep in mind, though, that the company making this discovery did have a dedicated interest in putting out a press release on the incident as quickly as possible.)
The console wars, which escalated late last year with the arrival of both the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, rages on, but Sony appears to have the upper hand. But while Sony and Microsoft slug it out, Nintendo is not doing so well in hardware sales. A reported profit loss and disappointing sales figures for its Wii U console have sent its stock price down and some analysts are saying the company should get out of hardware and stick to software and game development.
Google has booted two browser extensions out of its Chrome store for violating the company’s terms of service. The “Add to Feedly” and “Tweet This Page” extensions got kicked to the curb when it was discovered that code for serving up ads when browsing websites had been quietly added in an update. And Windows 8 continues to get dissed, now even by at least one major OEM. HP has been touting new machines running Windows 7 on its home page, as part of a “back by popular demand” sales campaign. The company has pushed several desktop and laptop models with Windows 7 preinstalled to the spotlight, while keeping Windows 8 in the background.
Microsoft, however, is still fighting for Windows 8 acceptance and has published a new, free how-to guide to the system called “The Windows 8.1 Power User Guide for Business”. Run, don’t walk to get your copy, folks.
Photos purporting to be the new Samsung Galaxy S5 are leaking out online, and those who have seen the new user interface describe it as “looking like an attractive Google Now.” While officially unconfirmed by Samsung at the moment, most expect the schmancy new phone and UI to make a splash at next month’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.
Meanwhile, out in space, NASA reports that the Rosetta spacecraft woke up from a 957-day hibernation on January 20th and is getting back to work on its mission of chasing Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The Rosetta project, which began back in 1993, is actually a mission of the European Space Agency, but scientists from NASA contributed three of the 25 scientific instruments the spacecraft will use to monitor the roaming comet.
And finally, while the consumer world is all abuzz with streaming online radio stations, high-fidelity equipment, satellite receivers and other high-end gear, The New Yorker has an insightful article online right now about the humble analog pocket AM/FM radio, specifically the Sony SRF-39FP. While broadcast radio may seem like a quaint notion from yesteryear, the article is another reminder that there’s nothing quite like the power and reach of live over-the-air radio. And it’s still one of those few entertainment activities you can even do when your Internet connection is down. Imagine that.