This week J.D. and El Kaiser play “Stump the Music Recognition App”. In the news, the annual SxSW Festival in Texas is in full swing; the release of a potential new tent-pole game for the XBox One; Apple quietly rolls out an update to iOS 7; Windows 8.1, Update 1 is leaked; Google announces several new add-ons for Google Docs and Sheets; Samsung gets into the personalized music-service business; and the ‘Veronica Mars’ film based on the cult TV favorite makes it to the big-screen after hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.
Everyone wants to go to the annual SxSW Festival in Texas these days! With a little help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Edward Snowdon, the former National Security Agency contractor who has released thousands of confidential documents about government data collection to the public, appeared to festival attendees via a livestream from a Google Hangout video chat bounced through seven proxy servers. Mr. Snowdon chose to address the techies at SxSW because (in part), “the NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet and you guys are the firefighters.”
The Xbox One may be lagging behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in game console sales, but the release of the hotly anticipated Titanfall game for Microsoft’s platform may help even things up. The first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts went on sale this past Tuesday after many awards and promo events.
Apple’s iOS 7.1 update arrived for compatible iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch players earlier this week. Along with the usual “improvements and security fixes,” iOS 7.1 brings user interface tweaks; Apple’s site has a list of the changes. And now that iOS 7.1 has landed, it’s time for the tech blogs to get all excited for iOS 8, which could arrive later this year. The 9to5Mac site reports that Apple is preparing a much-improved version of its once-maligned Apple Maps.
iOS 8 may be a while off, but Microsoft continues work on Windows 8.1, Update 1. The update has not been officially released yet, but it’s out there. According to tech writer Ed Bott, someone at Microsoft inadvertently left the final software packages on the Windows Update server last week. Mr. Bott took advantage of the opportunity to install the Windows 8.1 update on several computers and wrote up a report highlighting the major features of the update.
Google announced several new add-ons for its Google Docs and Sheets online productivity software. Meanwhile, angry parents displeased over a child’s shopping spree of unrestricted in-app purchases, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. Google has not responded to the action, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that that 30-minute gap of time after the initial password entry “is designed to enable children to purchase in-game currency without parental permission and without having to enter a password.” Or maybe Google was just trying to help developers take advantage of those adult impulse buys…
Like everyone else, Samsung is getting into the personalized music-service business. Designed for those toting Galaxy devices, the new Milk Music radio service will include 200 ad-free and customizable stations. And while Samsung is touting its exclusive music service, Amazon is said to be ramping up its own game-development efforts. The Daily Telegraph of London and others are reporting that Amazon has its own game console hardware in the works and plans to develop its own games to play on it.
Facebook is rolling out yet another revamped News Feed design over the next few weeks. Most people don’t seem to care anymore. (But maybe we should care more now that robots have mastered air hockey and are moving into table-tennis matches with humans.)
ComiXology continues to be one of the highest-grossing mobile apps out there for its excellent interface and wide selection of downloadable digital comics. CNBC has a report this week about the company’s effect on independent publishers and comics creators.
And finally, on the topic of independent productions, the Veronica Mars movie arrives this weekend in selected theaters and on-demand sites. The movie was financed by a Kickstarter campaign that passed its funding goal in less than a day. So, if the film is successful going outside the traditional Hollywood route, will it bust up the paradigm and open up all sorts of new possibilities for movie and TV creators? Time till tell — and if you haven’t seen the original show, the pilot is free on iTunes, (each of the three seasons is $20 there) or you can stream the episodes on Amazon Instant Video. Fans of Frozen: If you loved Kristen Bell in that Oscar-winner, you’ll enjoy seeing her even more animated as the one and only Veronica Mars.
Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary this week by allowing users to automagically create a short video highlight reel of their time on the world’s most popular social network. The decade old soc net also released a new iPhone-only mobile client dubbed Paper and J.D. gives us her review. While he believes America is beautiful in any language, the Twitter backlash to Coca-Cola’s now famous multicultural Super Bowl advertisement has left El Kaiser less than thrilled.
In the news Microsoft finally picks a new CEO as Windows 8.1, Update 1 software leaks onto various file-sharing sites around the Internet; Google updates their Google Now service on mobile devices; Iridium introduces a WiFi hotspot that can get you on the Internet all over the world with a satellite connection; and Apple continues to note the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer with a celebratory movie shot by 15 camera crews using 100 iPhones.
New year, new job for Satya Nadella. Microsoft announced this week that he’ll be its new chief executive officer, only the third CEO in the company’s history. His official bio on the Microsoft site says his hobbies are cricket and poetry. Meanwhile, a version of the company’s Windows 8.1 Update 1 software has escaped into the wild and has made its way onto various file-sharing sites around the Internet.
Microsoft is among the tech companies releasing more information about US government requests for customer data. Google, along with Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn all released reports this week. While the reports are a bit vague and don’t do into details about how much of a customer’s data has been collected or what exactly was snagged, the disclosures come after the Obama administration relaxed regulations enough so the tech giants could give their users some idea of what was going on.
Google has been doing some updates of its own. If you’re using the Google Now service on a mobile device, as well as with the Chrome beta browser on your Mac, Windows or Chromebook system, you can see your notifications appear on the computer. An update to Google Maps for iOS now includes a new feature that tells you when there’s a faster route available when you’re cruising along in Navigation mode. Android users have had this perk for a month already. The Goog also released a new Google Cast software development kit for its Chromecast streaming media stick that lets developers beam and stream their apps to the big screen. (And John Nack, a longtime Adobe product manager, blogger and Photoshop evangelist has jumped ship after 13 years and is joining Google’s digital photography group.)
In the hardware headlines, Microsoft’s Kinect motion-controller is being used to monitor the DMZ, or demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. The controller works with special software to scan the area and identify anything that crosses into the DMZ. The program can tell the difference between animals and people and if a human is detected, an alert is sent to the nearest outpost. (Talk about an always-on system…)
For those who like to travel off the beaten path, Iridium says it’s not got a pocket-sized WiFi hotspot that can get you on the Internet all over the world with a satellite connection. The Iridium Go is due in the second quarter of this year, probably for less than $800 and will have its own Android and iOS apps. Expect raging speeds of about 20 kilobits per second and prepaid fees of about a buck a minute, but hey — you’re online in places you wouldn’t be otherwise. In other WiFi news, there’s a lawsuit brewing against Gogo, the in-flight Internet provider, brought on by people accuse the company of holding a monopoly over the sky-surfing business.
But wait, there’s more legal news! The Senate had some questions for Target CEO John Mulligan this week about that major data-security breach late last year that resulted in the theft of at least 40 million credit-card numbers. Several security experts were also on hand for the session. Mulligan also said this week that Target plans to overhaul its own credit-card system and move to the smart chip-and-PIN system by early next year.
Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives introduced their own net neutrality bill early this week in hopes of reinstating the FCC’s recently struck-down Open Internet rules until the agency can come up with newer better regulations. The bill, H.R. 3982, is also known as The Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014.
And finally, Apple continues to note the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer with a celebratory movie shot by 15 camera crews using 100 iPhones. Want a more personalized cinematic experience? Facebook is ringing in its first decade by giving its users Look Back, a tool that creates a personalized greatest-hits video for each user from photos and other information from their timelines on the site. Here’s hoping you’ve aged better than the Macintosh 128K.