Tag Archives: smartphones

PTJ 229: Private Investigations

Protections for consumer privacy and data collection took a hit this past week, as regulations were rolled back into nonexistence — sending some concerned Netizens to software they hope will help shield their online activity.  The big question: Does it work?

Meanwhile, Yahoo and AOL take an Oath, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 reveals some enviable features, Amazon finds yet another way to get your cash and Google tries to make sure perfectly nice advertisements don’t end up on hateful YouTube videos.  Join El Kaiser and J.D. as they discuss it all in Episode 229!

Links to Stories in This Week’s Show

PTJ 217: She’ll Always Be Royalty to Us

After a tumultuous year that saw the sad passing of actress and author Carrie Fisher (as well as Kenny Baker) the year 2017 has arrived. And so, coincidentally,  is Episode 217 of Pop Tech Jam.

On this week’s show, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss some early announcements out of the Consumer Electronics Show, what Facebook’s been up to lately and explore suggestions to the Twitter’s CEO about improving the bird-themed microblogging service.

J.D. also has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint about watching the skies. While you’re looking up, raise a glass to the memories of the actors that brought Princess Leia and R2-D2 to life all those years ago. They will be with us, always.

Links to Stories in This Week’s Episode

PTJ 204: Apple Picking 2016

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.

PTJ 204 News: Great Balls of Fire

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 farincluding 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!

PTJ 198: PokéZombie Apocalypse

Pokémon, those whimsical little Japanese pocket monsters, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in style by taking over much of the mobile world this month with the release of the augmented reality smartphone game, Pokémon GO. But while millions of people downloaded the game to their Android handsets and iPhones in the first week of release, security experts and privacy advocates have voiced concerns. Journalist Laura M. Holson drops by Pop Tech Jam HQ to discuss how Pokémon GO works, what to worry about and why it became so popular so fast. El Kaiser and J.D. also discuss the non-Pokémon headlines of the week, including Twitter’s big plans for this month’s political conventions and some truly classic code.

The Current Reality of Virtual Reality

The media world was buzzing this weekend as The New York Times jumped into a new dimension. The company gave out Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to its home subscribers and pointed them to the new NYT VR smartphone app for Android or iOS to see special videos that accompanied certain stories in the Times Magazine.

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As with other virtual-reality systems, once an Android phone or iPhone was placed in the back of the cardboard contraption and the required content downloaded, the user got a much more immersive experience than watching a 2D clip because  the whole thing had a panoramic feel to it. (Shooting a film in virtual reality can be technically challenging as well, but viewing one puts you in the middle of the action; the How Stuff Works site has a good explanation of the virtual-reality experience.) The NYT website helpfully included a frequently asked questions page for users new to the VR scene, as well as a video showing how to fold together the Cardboard viewer.

The Times got a lot of buzz for busting the move, but virtual reality has popping up all over the past year. On the high end of the spectrum, the new Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual reality system has been kicking around for years and is scheduled to finally make a commercial debut early next year. The $99 Samsung Gear VR system, (shown below) also powered by Oculus technology, is now available for pre-orders and works with Samsung’s newer Galaxy devices; older Samsung VR headsets are also around. Microsoft’s HoloLens system, which is advertised more as an augmented reality system as opposed to virtual reality, may also jump into the mix when it officially rolls into town next year.

samsungvr

So, what do you need to see the new virtual reality? You need a virtual-reality app that can display the videos on the appropriate format. To get the most of the experience, you also need a Cardboard-style viewer and a pair of headphones to immerse yourself in the audio. These range in price online from about $4 up to $30 for the sturdier, fancier models that look less like pieces of a packing box and more like sophisticated binoculars.

hungergames

And, along with the hardware, you need content to look at. The Google Cardboard site has a list of VR apps that work with the viewer. But much more content is coming or is already here. The Wall Street Journal announced last week that it, too, was adding virtual reality content to its video app. Facebook is said to be developing its own virtual reality videos app and YouTube’s blog just announced last week that the site had added support for VR, including a The Hunger Games Virtual Reality Experience, (shown above), a trailer from the Apollo 11 mission and many others.

If you don’t have the viewer, you can also watch some videos in standard mode on muse smartphones or in a desktop browser. While you can just turn your head to get a panoramic view with a viewer, you can usually drag your finger or mouse around the frame to see more of the surroundings on the home screen or video window.

Is VR the future or just a fad? Time will tell, but people are testing out the format in all sorts of places. Last month’s Democratic debate on CNN even had a virtual reality version, although viewer response to the experiment was mixed. Some things, after all, may be better off in their own reality.

PTJ 162 News: Surface to Air

Now it’s Microsoft’s turn on stage! The company held a big press event on Tuesday here in New York City and showed off a great big pile of new devices all designed to run its Windows 10 operating system. There was the Surface Book, a laptop/tablet combo that starts at $1500, the Surface Pro 4 tablet with an $900 entry-level model, three new Lumia phones, and the second version of its fitness tracker called Microsoft Band 2 for $250. The Xbox One console got a Windows 10 update and Microsoft announced the HoloLens Development Edition because HoloLens headsets will start shipping out the first quarter of 2016 for $3000 each. So, who on your gift list wants Windows 10 this holiday season?

Roku was also out with The New this week and introduced  the Roku 4 set-top box, which can handle 4K video along with the now-standard voice search and gaming. Roku also has apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone to let you command the box from your mobile device. The Roku 4 is expected to ship October 21.

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Also fresh for the fall fashion season: Google has officially released Android 6.0 Marshmallow and is pushing out updates to recent Nexus devices. Google also updated the YouTube app for iOS with its Material Design look and tools for editing videos within the app itself, many users do not like the redesign. Not at all.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has purchased Perceptio, a company developing technology for artificial intelligence software for smartphones.  The Perceptio purchase goes with another recent purchase, the start-up VocalIQ, and company which makes software for processing natural language. Siri may be getting a brain transplant soon.

In Apple’s own software, the company says it has now resolved problems with the App Thinning feature promised in iOS 9 and has included it in the recent iOS 9.0.2 update. Apple has also made its keynote addresses searchable by keyword, if you search for a feature announcement by keyword.

Reddit has spun off a new site called Upvoted. The new site features some of the same content as its mother board, but none of the user comments, which are thought to. er, drive advertisers away from the main site.

upvoted

Facebook, which has discussed drones and other various ways to bring the Internet to places that don’t have access, announced this week that it would be launching a satellite with a French communications company to bring the Internet to mobile phones over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook, your eye in the sky now, too.

The European Union Court of Justice has smacked down a deal that let companies transfer personal user data from Europe to the United States with the Safe Harbor system. The EU court ruled the system invalid because it subjects users in the European Union to spying by US government agencies.

And finally, we’ve recently talked about vinyl making a comeback, but now audio cassettes seem to be having a smaller, but similarly nostalgic return these past few years. Some people have stubbornly held on to the format for decades despite CDs and digital downloads. Cassettes peaked in the late 1980s from almost a billion units. But by 2001, they accounted for only 4 percent of all music sales and by 2005, sales had fallen to fewer than 1 million. National Audio Company of Springfield, Missouri, still makes pre-recorded and blank cassettes and sold 10 million of them last year, with sales up 20 percent this year. Do we think this might be a Guardians of the Galaxy effect? Are cassette lovers just . . . hooked on a feeling?

tape

PTJ 161 News: Life on Mars

5XGoogle’s turn! Yes, it’s Google’s turn for the big fall product announcement event, which the company held this Tuesday in San Francisco. Among the revelations, the LG Nexus 5X (top) and the Huawei Nexus 6P (bottom). Both are in Google’s Nexus line and available for online pre-order in in the Google Store.  6PYou have to buy the phones from Google and then pick a carrier plan, but the new handsets also work with Google’s Project Fi, a wireless experience made up of Wi-Fi networks and partner 4G LTE carriers.

The Nexus name didn’t continue onto tablets, however, as Google also announced its new Pixel C device, which looks like a tablet with an optional and magnetically attachable keyboard. The 10.2-inch Google-designed gadget (shown below) has already been compared to Microsoft’s Surface tablet.

pixelc

ChromecastGoogle also updated its $35 Chromcast dongle for streaming media this week. The new version of the regular Chromecast has been redesigned into a small, puck-like ChromecastAudioobject with a smaller connector to the back of the TV set that may fit a little better when you have a bunch of other stuff plugged it. As shown here at the top, you can get it in three different colors. If you don’t care about video and just want a way to stream the tunes on your mobile devices over Wi-Fi to a pair of big-ass speakers in the house, there’s the Chromecast Audio dongle (below). That one’s also $35 and available in basic black.

LG Electronics, which makes appliances, television sets and some very nice high-end Android smartphones, is bringing its laptop business here to the States. Like its smartphones, LG’s laptop line, called the Gram series, leans to the fancier end of the spectrum, with a MacBook-like Air look with Intel Core processors and HD displays. Prices range from about $900 to $1400.

Public Service Announcement: People, stop posting that status about Facebook charging money to keep your profile’s privacy settings! The copyright thing is bogus! It was a hoax three years ago and it’s still a hoax today! It does play on fears about privacy, though, which is a sensitive topic for many people. Microsoft published a post on its Windows blog this week that addressed privacy concerns some users have voiced with Windows 10.

vrkitObservers noticed the Microsoft offering its own variation of Google’s Cardboard viewer called the Microsoft VR Kit for its Lumia phones, at least for participants at a Russian hackathon.  In other reality-avoidance news, Re/Code is among those reporting that YouTube is getting ready to launch an ad-free subscription service next month that will also include access to its YouTube MusicKey streams.

Twitter is also moving away from and supplementing its original service model. Reports are circulating that the company is building a new product that would let users post content longer than 140 characters. Twitter itself is not commenting about that or the TV Timelines feature it’s been working on since March of this year. However, Twitter is seen to be making a bigger grab for more television show fans as the new fall season rolls out by adding shortcuts to its TV Timelines feature on TV-related tweets.

cardreaderOctober is here and along with heartier fall-themed beers, many retail merchants are finally upgrading their credit-card terminals to accept dips from cards with smart chips. Merchants who do not up their security by installing chip-reading credit card terminals could be liable for fraudulent transactions in their stores.

Big news from NASA earlier this week: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has new findings that provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water is flowing on Mars.

NASAAnd finally, Mars will be all up in the news this weekend as the new film, The Martian opens around the country. The movie stars Matt Damon and  is based on a best-selling novel originally self-published in 2011 by Andy Weir, a software engineer who used apps and diligence to get the science plausible and right within the story. Ridley Scott directed the picture and worked with NASA consultants to make the visuals technically accurate, and the agency highlights nine real and developing NASA technologies used in the film. (Since NASA has been such a big booster of the film, Yahoo News is among those wondering if the agency even timed Monday’s Mars announcement just ahead of the film’s release on Friday.) But perhaps even more exciting than water on Mars, however, is that Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara are in the film as well — and they get to play actual astronauts instead of astronauts’ wives.
Now that’s progress.

martiancast

 

The Galapagos Syndrome

There were two news items this week that really resonated with me. At first glance the similarities weren’t obvious but as I kept going over the findings in each story the connection became clearer.

First off, streaming audio continues to grow in 2014 with almost 80 billion streams reported. Not a surprise. Neither is the fact that CDs continue their apparent inexorable slide into oblivion, registering a 14% plunge when compared to equally dismal sales figures from 2013.

But here’s the eyeopening point. According to Rolling Stone magazine and other news sources, interest in vinyl continues to be a noteworthy music industry trend.

The 12-inch record had its best sales year in decades, moving 9.2 million units; a 52 percent increase over 2013.

Vinyl sales now account for six percent of all physical music sales.

The other fascinating business bulletin was out of Japan. Market researcher MM Research Institute noted that flip-phone shipments rose 5.7 percent to almost 11 million in 2014 while smartphone shipments fell 5.3 percent to just shy of 28 million, down for a second year in a row.

The argument can be made that both flip-phones in Japan and vinyl records in the United States are experiencing a phenomenon known as the Galápagos Syndrome.

This term refers to an isolated development branch of a globally available product and alludes to the phenomena Charles Darwin encountered in the Galápagos Islands which helped in the development of his Evolutionary Theory.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Japanese cell phone technology was years ahead of what electronics companies were producing in other countries. Smartphones like the iPhone have taken a huge chunk out of the Japanese market but the flip-phone is still extremely popular.

Vinyl, while technologically inferior to the CD, offers a more tactile and satisfying experience for the listener. The combination of the warmer analog sound, larger album art, and traditional liner notes and sleeves makes vinyl a much more attractive option for the music lover.

After being derided by their manufacturers and generally ignored by consumers, the 12-inch record and flip-phones continued their evolution with incremental improvements.

Record companies use heavier virgin vinyl at pressing and better quality paper for sleeves and gatefolds. Enhanced recording techniques make audio quality vastly superior to what was being produced at the height of vinyl’s popularity.

Flip-phones offer similar functionality to what’s found on smartphones and have features like physical keyboards and voice-call quality that in many cases are superior to what you’d get on a rectangular slab.

Both the record companies and electronics manufacturers believe the sales spikes are fads but come on admit it, deep down we all miss flipping our Startacs open like Captain Kirk did with his Starfleet issued communicator…

‘Tis the (Flu) Season

We’ve made it through the holidays, with all the family fun and travel involved. So now we’re all back in the office and it’s time for us all to get . . . sick. Maybe it’s just an airplane cold or general post-holiday fatigue, but keep in mind, we are already more than a month into the annual flu season and it’s shaping up to be a nasty one.

If you’re not ill yet — but are worried about getting the flu — there are some things you can do to hopefully lessen your chances of getting it. Yes, you can still get a flu shot. (Keep in mind, scientists have noted that the flu has mutated a bit and the shot isn’t as effective in year’s past, but it’s likely better than nothing.)

The Center for Disease Control also recommends that you:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects that carry germs.

wipesNow, these surfaces and objects can include your tech gear. To help keep your gadgets cleaner and hopefully less germy, you can get disinfectant wipes for both your computer keyboard and smartphone; online shops and office-supply stores should carry them. UV sanitizers (like PhoneSoap and CellBlaster) that use ultraviolet-light to kill bacteria and disinfect phones are also out there. And Apple has its own disinfection tips for its Mac and iOS gear.

If you want to see where influenza is hitting the hardest, you can use the Web to see roughly where waves of flu have been reported. The Google Flu Trends site, which uses aggregated search data to estimate outbreaks around the country, is one place to look; note that some scientists say the site has been off the mark in its annual estimates, though.

The CDC has a weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report that has information about flu cases around the country. The WebMD site has an interactive map where its members can report cold-and-flu symptoms from the states they live in. And if you really want to get into it, there’s the Sickweather.com site and mobile apps (below). Sickweather gathers data from social networks, personal reports and reported outbreaks to create as they call it, a Doppler radar of local illness, complete with a map and real-time sickness alerts.

sickweather

If you do happen to get sick, stay home — don’t try to go to work or school where you can become part of the plague and spread it. Get your bed-rest, keep up your fluids and take any medications the doctor may prescribe. And when you start to feel a little bit better, use the time to catch up on your mindless TV viewing — or rewatching that stash of Agent Carter episodes.