Apple unleashes a second fall product announcement and while most of the updates were expected, they still managed to surprise. J.D. has a Hopefully Helpful Hint detailing how to configure Twitter and other services to deliver emergency alerts directly to your smartphone. In the news, Nokia holds what could be their last phone hardware event before the unit becomes part of Microsoft; Microsoft’s new Surface 2 tablets arrived in stores and Windows 8.1 was finally made available to the public — but not without problems; Lenovo launches a new Android-based convertible laptop/tablet; BlackBerry releases the long-awaited Android and iOS versions of its popular BlackBerry Messenger software; Google provides free voice calling; Netflix continues its surge; and a British mathematician develops a formula for the perfect pizza. The podcast revolution continues…
Over yonder in Abu Dhabi, the Finnish firm Nokia held its presumed last phone hardware event before the phone unit melds into Microsoft. As for Microsoft, the company’s next generation of Surface 2 tablets arrived in stores earlier this week. Last week saw the arrival of Windows 8.1, which will hopefully bring some relief to people who were hating on 8. Download Day was not without its problems, however, including installation errors and the unceremonious yanking back of the Windows 8.1 RT update for what Microsoft termed “a situation” and several users called “the blue screen of death that won’t let my tablet boot.” Microsoft released a Surface RT recovery image two days later.
Code explorers poking around version 4.4 of Google Play think they’ve found signs that Google is planning its own Android-based Newsstand in the near future. And as we’ve seen with other products, Android’s not just for tablets anymore. Lenovo, maker of giant 29-inch desktop computers, also has a new Android-based convertible laptop/tablet. No word on if the Lenovo A10 will hit the US yet, but is available in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asian Pacific countries.
Facebook had a case of the Monday Morning Blahs this week — the site was acting erratic and refused to let its users post comments or photos, update their status lines, send messages or “like” posts. “Network maintenance” was eventually blamed for the issues.
The hardware may have tanked, but BlackBerry was able to put out Android and iOS versions of its popular BlackBerry Messenger software that was formerly constrained to BlackBerry devices. The company reported that six million people signed up for information about the app before it was released.
Also in app news, Google has added free voice calling to its Google Hangouts app for iOS. The updated version of the iOS app arrived last Friday and brought with it free in-app voice calling to numbers within the U.S. and Canada, plus incoming call support to a user’s Google Voice number.
On the entertainment front, Netflix announced that it now has 40 million subscribers worldwide and announced that its quarterly earnings had quadrupled. Orange Is the New Black, the women’s-prison drama that arrived in July, is the company’s most-watched original series ever. And the Hollywood Reporter and Variety are both reporting that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton are in talks for a sequel to 1988’s Beetlejuice.
Feeling hungry? A mathematician at the University of Sheffield in England has calculated a formula that is supposed to create the “perfectly proportioned margherita pizza.” Dr. Eugenia Cheng’s equation factors in the volume of dough, the constant volume of toppings, and the ratio between base to topping to find the “optimum mouthful.” (Who cares about P versus NP when the optimum mouthful problem has been licked?)
Oh, yeah. Apple had an event on Tuesday. It announced some stuff, namely the release of OS X Mavericks, new MacBook Pro laptops, more information on the tubular Mac Pro, new free iLife and iWork software and, oh, new iPads. Time to start guessing when the iPhone 6 will arrive!
As expected, Apple announced two new iPhone models on Tuesday. The first was the lower-end iPhone 5C with a plastic back in white, pink, green, blue or yellow and specs similar to the now-discontinued iPhone 5. The second was the high-end iPhone 5S, a 64-bit handset with a fingerprint reader, better camera and three color options: gold, silver and “space gray.” Not sure about taking a bite and upgrading? As with every tech-acquisition decision, there are pros and cons.
In other news, Apple announced that its own iApps — iMovie, iPhoto, and the iWork trio of Pages, Numbers and Keynote — will now come free with newly purchased devices running iOS 7. As for iOS 7, Apple’s new flatly designed mobile operating system will be available for download on September 18th. And with iOS 7, you get iTunes Radio. Not mentioned during this week’s Apple press event: iPads, iPods, iTunes, OS X Mavericks, MacBook Pro updates, Apple TV updates, mythical iTV sets or imaginary iWatches. Maybe next month.
Try as it might, Apple could not hog all the headlines this week. Microsoft is preparing to launch the Surface 2 tablets later this month. Hoping not to get lost in the press for iTunes Radio, Microsoft also launched mobile apps for its Xbox streaming music service. Users can now stream the service on iOS and Android devices. Xbox Music has about 30 million songs in the jukebox.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 console is on the way later this fall, as is a new version of its handheld PS Vita and its PlayStation Vita TV hardware. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch made its official debut last week. The fancy timepiece can link with Android devices running version 4.3 or later.
Facebook seems to be trying to catch up with Twitter as the social-media place people go to get and discuss news events and other topics that trend. The Social Network released a pair of new tools for news organizations that could give those companies a better understanding of real-time social conversation surrounding things like breaking news, TV events like Sharknado or live sports. Google+ has added embedded posts and author attribution to its world. Google+ sign-ins are now integrated with Google’s Authorship program. Google+ also follows Twitter and Facebook into the world of embedded posts. And Twitter, perhaps looking to make some money in advertising, just bought the MoPub mobile advertising exchange for $350 million dollars.
FilmOn, one of the streaming broadcast TV services we mentioned recently here, has lost a major court battle over copyright in the District of Columbia and has been ordered to shut down by preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs in the case, which include ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, were pleased with the decision but FilmOn has vowed to fight on with an appeal. FilmOn’s rival, Aereo, is no doubt watching these events closely.
And finally, AM radio, perhaps the original wireless network that brought people together, has been losing audience and influence for years, but a lone member on the Federal Communications Commission is trying to get his agency to overhaul the technology and save it. In today’s world of satellite channels and audio streaming into your computer or phone from around the world, it’s easy to forget the crackly comfort of good ol’ amplitude modulation, but AM radio is still a vital part of rural communities and a beacon of information in times of emergency. (For a historical perspective on radio’s influence on the world, check out the excellent 1992 documentary Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio by Ken Burns, which is available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.) If you’re now feeling nostalgic, go on — dig up that old transistor radio you’ve got tucked away in the junk drawer, pop in some fresh batteries and give the dial a spin for old times’ sake.