No more tunneling to better streams? Netflix has announced it’s going to start blocking viewers using proxy servers and virtual private networks to get around regional restrictions on certain movies and TV shows. Wired, however, has an article that casts a bit of doubt on Netflix actually being able to block out every type of VPN or proxy service out there. Ever feisty, Netflix also got into a little tussle with NBC over remarks made at a Television Critics Association press event this past weekend. A researcher at NBC Universal threw down the gauntlet by saying Netflix and its little herd of bingeable shows were not a threat to the traditional TV-viewership model and claimed to have ratings data on Netflix taken by a third-party company. Netflix execs, however, gave it right back to NBC, saying its survey was based on “really remarkably inaccurate data.”
Also in the world of subscription services, the WhatsApp messenger service is dispensing with the 99-cent annual subscription fee and making itself available for free. And supposedly, without ads.
Amazon has now enabled its voice-commanded Alexa assistant on its tubular Amazon Echo devices to read Kindle books out loud for free. The feature works with a number of Kindle titles, but don’t expect the melodious tones of a professional audiobook narrator here – it’s the Robot Lady Voice reading them to you. Also in Amazon Land: Amazon’s vice president for global public policy recently had a chat with Yahoo’s David Pogue about how Amazon Prime Air, the company’s infamous drone delivery program, is coming along; they at least have new press photos of the drones, as shown here. (Amazon, ever so busy, also announced this week that the first devices that use its Dash Replenishment service to automatically order new supplies for themselves are rolling out. Yo, better keep an eye on that printer so it doesn’t go buck wild with the toner orders.)
Apple bounced out the first beta of its upcoming iOS 9.3 software last week and the update has a lot of new features for something that doesn’t get its own big honkin’ Apple keynote event. Among others, the Macworld site wonders if Apple is perhaps changing its update strategy and just releasing a regular stream of substantial iOS improvements instead of saving them all up and making a big deal about everything at a press conference.
AOL may also be getting some changes — and perhaps even a new name. Verizon, which now owns the former America Online service, is said to be pondering an image makeover that could include a new name for the brand. Hopefully, a better logo will come along, too.
Microsoft is slowly revealing more details about its coming Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality goggles. According to reports from a Microsoft event in Tel Aviv, the HoloLens will have a battery life of 2.5 to 5.5 hours, depending on the task at hand. The headset will also be able to run any universal Windows 10 app and hook up with just about any other gadget with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.
Google is said to be testing the ability for Android users to install apps directly from the search screen in Google’s own eponymous — without having to go through the Google Play store. Because really, what could go wrong there?
The cable networks are readying their campaign teams for Election 2016, and Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio are banding together and combining their resources to bring their traditional no-nonsense approach to coverage. The PBS-NPR team-up, an early version of which was announced last year, will bring shared digital, video and audio content from the primary debates to election night to whatever happens after that.
In rocket news, SpaceX continues its testing with the Falcon 9 rocket — and getting it to land in one piece so it can be reused. After a successful Falcon 9 recovery from the ORB-COMM mission last month, a mission last week saw the returning rocket fall over and explode on the landing pad. Or, as SpaceX found Elon Musk tweeted, it had a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” event on the deck.
If you want a snapshot of how social media has evolved over the past decade or so, check out “The History of Twitter’s Rules” by Sarah Jeong on VICE’s Motherboard channel. (Yes, trolls mucked a lot of things up.) Twitter, incidentally, had a service outage earlier this week.
And finally, old school gamers can go back to school now that one of DOOM’s creators, John Romero, has created another level for the iconic first-person shooter after 21 years. Boom! DOOM!
P.S. Like tidy lists? Don’t miss the SplashData’s 25 Worst Passwords of 2015 and GeekWire’s Worst and Weirdest of CES 2016 observations. Both may boggle your mind, but for different reasons…