Smartphones that open up into mini-tablets are on the way, thanks to several companies gearing up to expand the traditional rectangular slab into new form factors. Samsung had a big event to introduce its bendy Galaxy X, even though a smaller company called Royole jumped out in front of the pack with its own FlexiPai device a few weeks ago. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss this new look for phones, as well as East Coast expansion efforts by Google and Amazon, and other news of the week. J.D. also explains what those “waterproof” and “water-resistant” ratings for mobile devices really mean. Press the Play button to unfold Episode 292 of Pop Tech Jam!
The ThingMaker printer wasn’t the only geekworthy news Mattel made at the Toy Fair. The company also announced an update to its View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer. The 2.0 model has been reworked to handle varying sizes of smartphones without the need for an adapter, and it also has improved access to the phone’s headphone jack.
Speaking of virtual reality, the technology is also starting to turn up as a tool for real-estate brokers to sell you an apartment. As a recent story in The New York Times explains, companies like Halstead are using virtual reality headsets to let prospective buyers look around apartments for sale or rent. Thanks to contractors like Virtual Xperience and ArX Solutions who create a VR rendering of the future space based on architectural plans, prospective tenants can get a feel for the place — even if it hasn’t been built yet.
The notion of turning smartphones and their sensitive motion detector chips into earthquake sensors isn’t original, but there’s a new Android app called MyShake out from UC Berkeley Seismologicial Laboratory that has some research cred. The app sits quietly in the background until it senses the earth rumbling, and then it uploads a small amount of data to the centralized database created by the seismologists as an earthquake early-warning system. According to the companion paper its creators published on the Science Advances site, the app analyzes motion to see if the “newly incoming data are similar to previously defined human activities.” If it’s not a toddler birthday party or loud music, the data is sent along for further possible-earthquake analysis.
But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.
Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30 for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!
Verizon announced its new Go90 mobile streaming TV service this week. The service will be ad-supported and show programs young people want to watch.
NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July. The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.
The streaming-music service Spotify held a press event last week to announce it was expanding into podcasts and video clips. Some detractors have pointed out that Spotify’s audience uses the service as a background medium and a soundtrack to doing something else, which is harder to do with video because it requires direct attention.
Instagram wants your attention and has been sending out a regular Highlights message that shows off recent pictures from the people you follow on Instagram. It really hopes you’ll be intrigued enough to start using your account again.
Netflix has given itself a redesign for the first time in four years. The changes include showing more information about shows you might want to watch, better presentation for the tons of Netflix options available and an enhanced recommendation engine.
Microsoft wants everyone to love its upcoming Windows 10 system! For those of you who do not have Windows Phones, the company has announced a companion app for Android and iOS phones that will let you connect your device to your PC. Once installed, the Phone Companion app will make sure photos you take with your phone get saved back to the computer by way of OneDrive and notes, music and Office documents can be used between the two. Microsoft also announced a standalone Cortana app for Android and iOS. Watch your back in the App Store and Google Play store, Cortana.
NASA’s Dawn probe has been taking a close view of Ceres and discovered some curious lights on the surface of the dwarf planet last month. So now NASA has put up an online poll asking members of the public what they think those bright spots may be.