Google I/O 2013: subscription music service, unified messaging, and improved gaming, Maps and Search, and more

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Google’s much-anticipated Google I/O 2013 developers conference began today and Google announced some interesting new features and products.  Google’s blog entry is pretty comprehensive and definitely worth a read, and here’s a quick rundown of what was unveiled:

- Google Play Music All Access: a $9.99 per month ($7.99 if previewed by the end of June) music service akin to Spotify that allows unlimited on-demand plays and custom playlists.

- Google Play games: coordinates multiplayer games and syncing of game data across devices.

- Samsung Galaxy S4 Google edition: an unlocked Galaxy S4 that runs stock Android and will receive updates directly from Google rather than from Samsung.  It’s not a Nexus device because Google did not design the hardware, but it is the next best thing.  It runs on AT&T and T-Mobile’s LTE networks and will be sold by Google for $650.

- Google Chrome: enhancements to how video is streamed, payments are processed, as well as “Chrome Experiments” to show the cool graphical and gaming capabilities of Chrome.  These enhancements are largely designed to encourage developers to create more graphics-intensive applications for Chrome.

- Google+: an improved multi-column Stream with suggested hashtags based on the post, a free-standing Hangouts app (available on Android, iOS, and Chrome) that is meant to unify chatting and includes some really interesting group and video features, and enhancements to Photos that automatically back-up photos taken by mobile devices and sift through them to choose the best to share.

A note about Google Hangouts:  In my opinion, Google Hangouts and the All Access music service were the two biggest announcements today and I feel that Google did not make enough of an effort to really promote Hangouts.  Gmail and gchat are pretty universally liked and used, but for whatever reason people have an aversion to Google+ despite how great of a service it is.  I think Google would have been much wiser to announce Hangouts as a freestanding multi-platform messaging service that integrates with Google+ rather than putting Hangouts right in the middle of the Google+ presentation and making it look like a service of Google+.  Regardless, so far the app looks and works great.

- Search: Search now includes spoken questions and answers on computers running Chrome, and Google Now adds more reminder-related features, like dictated notes and reminder cards for new music, movies, books, and TV shows.

- Maps: the browser-based Maps will now be full-screen and the map will be drawn based on what Google thinks we want to know.  For example, if you search for restaurants, the map will be drawn to show other similar restaurants that Google thinks you’ll like, and directions to the restaurant you select.

Overall Google made some interesting announcements today, with the two common themes being integrating various devices that run Chrome and Android and adding more and better prediction to the information Google gives us.

Facebook announces Facebook Home

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Today Facebook announced Facebook Home, a Facebook-centric launcher for Android. A “launcher” for Android is the software that controls how your homescreen looks and functions, including app layout and appearance, page transitions, and how to access your app drawer. Launchers typically go hand-in-hand with a manufacturer’s skin/user interface, so HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz are two user interfaces that each have custom launchers. The Facebook Home launcher replaces whatever launcher is currently on your phone.

Cover Feed:
Facebook Home eliminates the multiple home screen functionality that we are accustomed to in favor of a single, full-screen Cover Feed that shows constantly changing posts by friends. The launcher cycles through posts, or you can swipe to the next one, and you can “like” and comment on posts directly from the Cover Feed. While there is still the option to use the traditional drop-down notifications function, notifications in Facebook Home appear more colorful and pop up directly on the Cover Feed, and can be selected or swiped away. Facebook’s Director of Product unfortunately said that ads will eventually come to Cover Feed. At the bottom of Cover Feed is a small photo of your face that can be dragged to Messenger, App Launcher (below), and the last used app.

Chat Heads:
Facebook Home emphasizes communicating with friends and combines text messages and Facebook Messages into one (which was previously available through the Facebook Messenger app). When someone messages you, a picture of their face pops up on your screen and you touch their face to respond. A cool function here is that the face can be moved on the screen so as to be there when you want to reply while not interfering with whatever you’re doing on the screen.

App Launcher:
The App Launcher controls how you access and open apps. It has two screens – favorite apps and an app drawer with all apps, and with Facebook getting rid of the ability to put apps on the homescreen, the App Launcher is the gateway to all non-Facebook apps.. Even from the App Launcher favorite screen, you can still post status messages, photos, and check-in. So while the Facebook Home App Launcher allows non-Facebook apps to be used, the focus is definitely Facebook.

Availability:
Facebook Home will be available in the Play Store on April 12, on the HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II. It will roll out to more smartphones and tablets in the future. A nice thing Facebook is doing is promising monthly updates.

HTC First:
Facebook also unveiled HTC First, which is a mid-range Android smartphone that comes with Facebook Home pre-installed. The phone’s specs really aren’t anything to write home about and it is really just to show off Facebook Home, so I won’t go into any more detail on it. It’s also being released on April 12 for $99 on AT&T.

My Thoughts:

I check Facebook on my phone several times a day and use Facebook Messenger to chat with several people.  When I see other people using their phones when I’m out and about, I often see them checking Facebook.  So Facebook has plenty of regular Android users. And I think Facebook Home is an interesting idea for Facebook and as far as I know Facebook is the first major tech company to develop more than just an app and widget for Android, so good for them for giving it a shot.  And it actually looks pretty cool.

All that being said, I really don’t see that many people using Facebook Home as their primary launcher.  Today’s smartphones serve so many different functions that even if there is an improved Facebook experience, it is not worth the sacrificed functionality and versatility that Android offers.  As I said, I use Facebook and Facebook Messenger a lot.  I also use Gmail, Google Talk, Google Currents, Google Chrome, Google Now/Search, Associated Press, New York Times, Twitter, and Google Play Music daily, and I like to be able to use all of those apps side-by-side.  I know I’ll still be able to access those apps but it seems like they’ll take a back seat to Facebook. While I think Cover Feed and Chat Heads would be fun to use, I don’t see myself giving up my variety of apps just for a better Facebook experience.  I’m also not sure how I feel about posts by people I never talk to occupying my entire homescreen. I will definitely give it a try though, and for anyone else who wants to I recommend Home Switcher to easily switch between launchers and change the default launcher.

For further reading check out Facebook, The Verge, cnet, and The New York Times. And here’s the promo video:

More Android-powered Smart Cameras Are On Their Way

Polaroid unveiled a smart camera powered by Android at CES last winter. I thought it was a great idea at the time and I hoped that the concept would become more mainstream. For this reason, I was glad to see two big players – Samsung with the Galaxy Camera and Nikon with the Coolpix S800c – follow suit in announcing Android-powered cameras recently.

I think making cameras with Android (or any “smart” OS) is a really good idea. Smartphones like the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S III, and HTC One X have 8 megapixel cameras, and the Sony Xperia S upped the ante with a 13 megapixel camera, and they all come with really cool capture, editing, and sharing features. With such sophisticated cameras already in our pockets, many consumers no longer feel it is necessary to buy and carry around a digital point-and-shoot camera. So adding some of the features that we know and love about our smartphone cameras to our digital cameras is a smart response by the manufacturers.

I still much prefer the picture quality produced by my four year-old Canon PowerShot SD 1100is point-and-shoot camera to that of my Galaxy Nexus smartphone, especially in low light settings. That being said, there are some aspects of my Galaxy Nexus camera that make the decision of which camera to use closer than it should be given the difference in image quality. For example, I really like the zero shutter lag and the single-motion panoramic mode. I also like that I can post photos to Facebook or share them directly with friends almost instantly, and that my photos and videos are automatically backed-up and synced to my computers using Dropbox. In light of these features, it seems archaic to have to connect my Canon camera to my computer via USB and then save, organize, and edit my photos on my computer when there is a much simpler and quicker method. So a device that combines the image quality of my Canon camera with the features of my Galaxy Nexus camera is really intriguing.

I’m not sure what my next camera will be – I’m thinking DSLR, actually – but I would see Android as a big selling point in selecting a camera, whether it is point-and-shoot or someday a DSLR.

Technology Week in Review

Apple v. Samsung Patent Litigation:
Things keep getting more and more complicated in this patent battle. Last week Judge Lucy Koh of the United Stated District Court for the Northern District of California granted Apple’s motions for a preliminary injunction banning the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. This week, Judge Koh denied Samsung’s motions to stay the Galaxy Tab injunction and the Galaxy Nexus injunction. The Galaxy Nexus ban went into effect after Apple posted a $95.6 million bond, which it did on Tuesday after Judge Koh denied Samsung’s motion to stay the injunction. After that, Google pulled the Galaxy Nexus from its Google Play Store, and promised that sales would resume next week after the release of Android Jelly Bean, which would address the unified search patent that was the basis for the injunction. I hope that there is still some form of unified search included in the software update, and the more I have thought about it this week, the more I don’t think it is appropriate for Apple to have a patent on all methods of unified search (for more on the legitimacy and necessity of software patents, see the quotes from Judge Posner, below).

On friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is especially attuned to handling patent cases, denied Samsung’s motion for an immediate stay of the Galaxy Tab injunction but granted Samsung’s motion for an immediate stay of the Galaxy Nexus injunction. The appellate court directed Apple to respond to both motions to stay by July 12. An important distinction to note is that an immediate stay and a stay are really different forms of relief here, and the grant or denial of a motion for an immediate stay only impacts the time period before the motion for a stay is decided, which will be sometime after Apple responds. So, after Apple responds, the court will grant or deny a stay of the Galaxy Tab injunction and grant or deny a stay of the Galaxy Nexus injunction. But again, according to Google, it sounds like there will be a software update that will allow the Galaxy Nexus to be sold even if the injunction is reinstated. Either way, I would think Samsung – and probably Google – will continue to fight to invalidate the “Siri patent” relating to unified search, as that is really core to Google’s business.

And speaking of the Siri patent, a Chinese company is now claiming it invented and patented that technology and is suing Apple in China.

Judge Posner speaks out about software patents:
Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is a highly-respect jurist, especially in the intellectual property arena. He stopped the Apple v. Motorola patent infringement action, which – no surprise – involved Apple claiming that Motorola used technology patented by Apple in Motorola’s smartphones, from going to trial last month. In his opinion dated June 22, he wrote that Apple’s asserted patent of technology that allows for smoother playback of streaming video “is not a claim to a monopoly of streaming video!” This past week, in the wake of the Apple v. Samsung injunctions, he spoke out against software patents and questioned whether they should even exist. His reasons included that there is already incentive for technology companies to innovate because being the first to market new technology provides enough financial benefit without patent rights to that technology, innovations are cheaper in the technology world than in other areas, there are so many minor patents that go into one device, and because technology companies have so much money to bring infringement actions in an effort to get a competitive advantage, which is not the aim of patent law.

The reason for patent law is to promote invention and innovation by giving inventors the exclusive right to their inventions for a limited time period. In my opinion, these current patent battles hurt innovation because there are so many different technologies that go into a device that it seems almost impossible to make state-of-the-art devices without taking a risk of ending up having to fight a costly patent infringement lawsuit. Maybe companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung, have the funds to take such a risk and the reward for them makes the risk worthwhile, but some smaller companies may feel differently and not bring great technology to market.

Apple settles IPAD trademark dispute in China:
Check out my post from earlier this week for more on this.

The Nexus 7 continues to get good press:
The New York Times writes that the Nexus 7 could be a game-changer and give the iPad a run for its money.

iPad Mini and retooled “new iPad” on the way?
Maybe Apple really has some tricks up its sleeve, or maybe the Nexus 7′s imminent release and rumors of a Kindle Fire 2 have stirred the rumor pot, but this week brought more reports of a smaller “iPad Mini” and a retooled “new iPad” with a new display and thinner casing. According to the reports, both devices could release this year. I guess anything is possible, but I think Apple is pretty consistent with the devices it releases and when it releases them, so I would be surprised if either of these devices come out this year.

Two lighter stories:
Walmart is running a promotion for Energy Sheets, which is a Listerine Strips-like product with caffeine, where it will send Energy Sheets spokesman/rapper Pitbull to whatever US Walmart location gets the most new “likes” on Facebook. Two guys with either a good sense of humor, good taste in music, or both, started an #ExilePitbull campaign to send Pitbull to the most remote Walmart in the country – on Kodiak Island off Alaska. So far the Kodiak Walmart page has over 67,000 “likes,” more than 11 times the Kodiak Island population.

Def Leppard has been at an impasse with its record label over royalties for digital downloads, and as a result, much of Def Leppard’s catalog is not available for digital download in stores like iTunes and Amazon. In order to make their music available without caving in to their record label, Def Leppard has decided to re-record their songs. The band is not at all happy that they had to resort to this and called these new recordings “forgeries.” I listened to the new recording of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and it sounds pretty good, but I agree with the band that it is so hard to re-create recordings from so long ago when the band members were younger and at different stages of their lives than they are now. In the end, though, it’ll get their songs in iTunes and hopefully bring in some revenue and also make it easier for younger music fans who only download music to get exposed to Def Leppard.

Technology Week in Review, 6/29/12: Apple wins two injunctions against Samsung, RIM delays BB 10, and Google announces Jelly Bean and Nexus 7 & Q

This past week was pretty full of technology news, and here’s a quick rundown of some interesting items…

Apple wins preliminary injunctions against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Nexus
At the close of business on Tuesday, Judge Lucy Koh of The United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction banning sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The injunction was based on Samsung’s alleged infringement of an Apple design patent related to the shape of the iPad – rectangular with rounded corners, curved bottom, and the edge of the display equidistant from the edge of the device on all sides – and the very similar design elements found in the Galaxy Tab 10.1. This injunction really deals with a device that is outdated and has been replaced by the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

As I was typing this entry, news broke that the same judge in the same court granted Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction against the Samaung Galaxy Nexus. That hits close to home here at TMF HQ, considering I have and love the Galaxy Nexus. Of the four patents in question with regard to the Galaxy Nexus injuntion, Judge Koh only found that one of the alleged infringements – “a universal interface for the retrieval of information” (dubbed the “Siri patent”) – is capable of causing the irreparable harm necessary to warrant a preliminary injunction. The “Siri patent” as I understand it involves a user being able to perform a variety of tasks using one method of data input – Siri. Examples include searching the internet via the browser, locating a destination on a map, pulling up a contact’s phone number in the contacts directory, and adding a meeting to the calendar. This is done through Siri on iOS, but on my Galaxy Nexus has similar functionality using the Google search box with optional voice input found on each homescreen. I am not sure if the method of performing these tasks is the same from a coding perspective, but I can see how the Google search box qualifies as “a universal interface for the retrieval of information.”

This injunction will hurt Samsung more than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 injunction because the Galaxy Nexus is still a flagship device, even though the Galaxy S III will likely be the choice for customers going forward now. I would also think that some method of a unified search will be incorporated into devices in the future, so hopefully Samsung and Google can find another way of doing it that will not infringe, if the method used in the Galaxy Nexus does in fact infringe. And I say “if” because a preliminary injunction is not a final determination on the merits; obviously, though, a ban on a device in such a fast-moving industry is very damaging even if in the end it is lifted, which is why Apple has to post a bond of nearly $96 million for the injunction to go into effect.

Not to be left out, there also may be some patent issues with the upcoming Nexus 7 tablet too. From a consumer’s perspective, it is difficult to watch all these patent battles when I know that I am funding them, but I guess this is inevitable with such valuable patents in a fiercely competitive market.

Things keep going downhill for RIM
RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, announced that it was delaying the highly-anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system from this fall to 2013. RIM also announced decreased revenue for the first quarter of 2012, but for a company whose time is running out as the competition keeps upping the ante, the delay of BlackBerry 10′s release seems much more troubling.

Google was busy
Google held its annual I/O Developer’s Conference this past week. Check out my post from Wednesday for more detail on some of the big news that came out at I/O 2012. At the event, Google unveiled Android Jelly Bean, which is aimed at having a smoother user experience and also incorporates improved voice recognition and a personal organizer of sorts dubbed Google Note, as well as the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q media streaming device. The Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean are receiving very good reviews, including by CNET, The Verge, BGR, and Engadget. However, CNET and The Verge gave the Nexus Q mediocre reviews based largely on the device being limited to displaying Google content and the high $299 price tag. Jelly Bean, Nexus 7, and Nexus Q will be available in mid-July, but the latter devices are available now for pre-order in the Google Play Store.

Google also announced a revamped Google+ app designed for tablets and the implementation of Google+ Events, which syncs with Google Calendar and also allows guests to automatically upload photos to the Event page and organizes uploaded photos in chronological order.

In light of the shift towards media consumption with the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q, Google also announced that it will begin offering magazines, television shows, and movie purchases in the Google Play Store.

A few more tidbits from Google this week include an updated Google Earth for Android app that includes 3D imagery for 14 cities, Google Chrome for Android leaving beta and becoming a stable release for devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, and Google Chrome coming to iOS and becoming the most popular free app in the App Store in one day, despite no promotion by Apple. Unfortunately, Apple only allows Safari to be the default browser, but Chrome still works great on my iPad. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple will handle some very popular competing apps in Chrome and Google Maps (after iOS 6 replaces Google Maps with Apple’s own mapping software). I think that if an iOS user prefers Chrome or Google Maps to Safari or Apple’s own Maps, then the user should be able to make those apps the defaults, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple restrict that capability.

Again, for more on these Google stories, check out my post from Wednesday.

Finally, Google co-founder Sergey Brin made an appearance and did a pretty cool demonstration of Google Project Glass using Google+ Hangouts:

Google Unveils Android Jelly Bean, Nexus 7 and Nexus Q, Google+ and Google Play Improvements, and Google Earth 3D Goes Live

Google had a busy day today at its I/O 2012 event and unveiled several new software and hardware offerings.


Android Jelly Bean:
Google unveiled the next version of Android, dubbed “Jelly Bean.” Jelly Bean is more of an incremental update than what we saw with Ice Cream Sandwich, and is aimed at giving a smoother user experience. New Features include improved notifications, better keyboard/predictive text and voice typing, and redesigned search and improved Voice Search. Also, Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which uses “cards” “that get[] you just the right information at just the right time,” whatever that means:

Android Jelly Bean will be released in Mid-July, and will be pushed via OTA updates to Galaxy Nexus (thankfully!), Motorola Xoom, and Nexus S.


Google Unveils the Nexus 7 Tablet:
The Nexus 7 is the first Nexus tablet – a tablet designed with Google’s input – and is built by ASUS. It features a 7″ 1280×800 display, a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB RAM, WiFi, BlueTooth, NFC, GPS, micro USB, a 1.2 MP front-facing camera, a 4325 mAh battery with a stated 10 hour life while web browsing and 8 hour life while watching HD movies, and it weighs 340 grams. The device will ship with Jelly Bean, and will be the first device to ship with Google Chrome as the stock browser. It will retail for $199 for the 8 GB model and $249 for the 16 GB model, and there is a limited time offer to receive a $25 Google Play credit with the purchase of a Nexus 7. The device is expected to ship in mid-July.

Judging by the commercial below, the Nexus 7 will tie in with the Google Play Store’s apps, games, music, movies, TV shows, books, and magazines, as well as Google Maps, GMail, Google+, and YouTube. It will be able to do other things, too, but the marketting suggests that it is intended to be a media consumption device to compete with the Kindle Fire.

I think the Nexus 7 looks really good, and the price definitely makes it an appetizing choice for someone looking to buy a tablet. I do wonder, though, with the increase in display size of top-tier Android phones, which range from 4.5″ to 5.5″, whether there will be some consumers who feel that the Nexus 7 is not enough of an increase in size over their smartphones to warrant buying it and carrying it around. I still think even with my 4.65″ Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus 7 would be a nice improvement for reading and watching movies while travelling long distances, and for $199 I’d consider it.


Google Unveils the Nexus Q:
The Nexus Q is a media-streaming device that can connect to a TV, receiver, and/or directly to speakers, and stream content from Google Play Music, Movies, and TV, and YouTube. It is a black sphere with a 4.6″ diameter, with 32 LED lights that move to the music, ethernet, WiFi, micro-HDMI, and amplified stereo speaker outputs (with a 12.5 watt output per channel). It can be controlled by Android phones and tablets (I don’t think there is a free-standing remote for it), and the top half of the dome can be turned to adjust the volume or tapped to mute the volume. The Nexus Q has the ability to let party guests request songs from their own library, and Nexus Qs can also be linked together to provide sound in multiple rooms. The device will retail for $299 and is expected to ship in mid-July. Here’s the commercial:

$299 seems steep to me for this kind of device, especially one that relies solely on Google Play content, which although improving is still limited. Its music capabilities seem to be what Google is marketing, but I really do think if Google added a few more video content channels and/or an AirPlay-like streaming from apps on Android devices, the price tag would be easier to swallow. It is relatively simple to hook a computer, iPod, or phone up to a stereo system, and I don’t think the added music functionality is worth the price. As for movies and television, the iTunes Store, which can be accessed from the $99 Apple TV, has a far better selection than the Google Play Store. If Google could let people watch content from apps on their phones, or maybe even browse the web using their phones and the Nexus Q, then the Nexus Q would be much more enticing to Android users. All that being said, that little sphere would look pretty cool on my entertainment center, but unless I come into a lot of money, I don’t think it is worth the price.

Google Play Store will now carry magazines, television shows, and allow for movie purchases (as opposed to just rentals):
That is self-explanatory, and it is obvious from the Nexus 7 and the Nexus Q that Google is trying to step up their content offerings.

Google Improves Google+:
Google also announced several improvements to Google+. First, there will be a new Google+ app designed for tablets that is attractive and user-friendly, and also a redesigned Google+ app for Android phones. The apps are available for Android devices now and for iPads in the future.

Google also announced new Events functions, including “beautiful invites,” Google Calendar syncing, a “Party Mode” that instantly uploads photos taken during an event to the Event page, and a way for guests to upload photos after the event to the Event page as well.

I like Google+ and think it has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, no matter how great its features are, it will live and die based on the number of people who use it. Right now, less than 10% of my Facebook friends use Google+, and I think those who do “use Google+” only have a profile page and don’t actually visit the site or post updates. So no matter how great the features are – and some Google+ features are awesome – I won’t use Google+ for social networking unless there are people there with whom to network. I’m hoping people start switching to Google+, but I feel most of my friends won’t make the jump as long as they are relatively happy with Facebook.

Google Earth for Android Goes 3D:
The 3D Google Earth functionality went live today in the Google Play Store. The 3D maps cover 14 cities so far, and look pretty good. Surprisingly, New York City, my hometown, is not featured in 3D yet.

Technology Week in Review, June 8, 2012

Here are some of the stories that caught my eye this past week…

Samsung Galaxy S III is coming to all four major US carriers:
Samsung announced that the will be carried on all four major US carriers (and US Cellular). Verizon pre-orders have already begun, and the device can be had in white or blue at $199/$249 for 16GB/32GB version (with a two-year agreement). The Verizon version is expected to ship on July 9, and sometime after that will see a software update that gives it global roaming capabilities. It is coming to Sprint and T-Mobile on June 21 and AT&T on June 18. The biggest change for the US version is that it sports a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor as opposed to the 1.4 GHz Exynos quad-core processor found in Europe. Still, the phone looks great and if I were up for a renewal I’d get it – and I don’t say that out of dissatisfaction for my Galaxy Nexus, which I love, but more out of a desire to always have the newest gadgets. Speaking of the Galaxy Nexus, the Verizon 4G LTE version is now available for one cent on Amazon, presumably due to the Galaxy S III’s imminent Verizon release.

Apple is trying to prevent the sale of the Samsung Galaxy S III in the US:
Apple first requested a preliminary injunction barring sales of the Galaxy S III in the US, and then requested a temporary restraining order. It seems like Apple is trying to argue that the infringements are the same as those found in the Galaxy Nexus, which is the subject of a similar infringement action by Apple, in order to tack on the Galaxy S III claims so that the court can decide more quickly. I don’t know if this will work, and the judge already seems annoyed by this litigation, stating that she can’t be “an Apple v. Samsung judge” and has other matters to attend to. It’s a tough position for a court to be in: on the one hand, a large chunk of Galaxy S III sales and the alleged injury to Apple’s market will occur before a court can properly decide the case, so that favors the court rendering a preliminary decision; but on the other hand, a phone really only has a 3-6 month window during which it is the “hot” phone before being replaced by a newer, better phone, so delaying the release – and pushing it closer to the iPhone 5 fall launch – could really injure Samsung and benefit Apple, so a court should really be hesitant to grant Apple any kind of preliminary relief based only on Apple’s claims.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is next week:
With Apple’s WWDC – where iOS 6 is expected to be announced – around the corner, BGR previewed what to expect for iOS 6, including a new Maps app. BGR also revealed some new iPhone 5 specs, including that it has a 4.08″ display.

Facebook releases App Center and introduces larger Newsfeed photos, but is “boring” and still getting sued over its IPO:
Facebook’s App Center went live on Thursday with over 600 apps. In other Facebook news, Facebook introduced larger Newsfeed photos, 1 in 3 users said Facebook is “boring,” and Facebook continues to be hit with lawsuits over its disappointing IPO.

Google adds offline maps to Google Maps and 3D imagery to Google Earth:
Google upped the ante on its already-popular mapping services on the eve of Apple announcing its own mapping service in iOS 6. For more on this, check out my post from Wednesday.

Linkedin passwords hacked:
Linkedin confirmed that 6.5 million passwords were compromised and that “hashed” (a form of encryption) versions of the passwords were posted, and some were decrypted and posted in plaint text. No longins or emails were compromised. Linkedin disabled the passwords of the affected accounts and emailed the users of those accounts with instructions, so if you haven’t heard from Linkedin you should be safe (I am, thankfully).

Technology Week in Review – May 31, 2012

I’m a day early on the Week in Review because I am leaving Friday morning for a weekend trip, so forgive me if a big story breaks Friday that I miss.

RIM is in trouble:
RIM has been on a downward decline for a long time, with losing market share in the smartphone world, an unsuccessful tablet, and having a long-hyped redesigned QNX-based OS that has not really materialized yet. All this resulted in Co-CEOs Jim Ballsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepping down in January. Well, the outlook for RIM became even more gloomy this week when the company announced that it had hired JP Morgan and RBC Capital to “review” its options with the announcement of disappointing Q1 revenue. The speculation is that this means RIM is looking to sell its company and/or its assets (patents, trademarks, etc.). Sadly, RIM also announced “significant” job cuts. I am still hoping that RIM comes out of this, and I have a soft spot for the company as a former satisfied BlackBerry user, but it isn’t looking good. They were once a true innovator and powerhouse, but when the smartphone market shifted from corporate-types just wanting email access to consumers wanting email, internet, multimedia, and apps, RIM was not quick enough to adjust their product offerings. This left an opening for Android to enter and the iPhone to gain popularity, and RIM never really recovered.

Samsung and Google announce the Chromebook and the first-ever Chrombox:
Google has been making its way into the OS market, and these two devices are the next step for them, so they say. The Chromebook is a notebook computer and the Chromebox is a compact desktop computer. Both run Chrome OS, which emphasizes speed and uses an app-centric user-interface. Google also touts its record of software updates in an effort to get people to make the plunge into a Chrome-powered computer without fear that it will be outdated in the near future. As a Windows user, that is something I can appreciate. For more info, check out the product announcement on the Google Blog.

iPhone 5 images leaked:
9to5Mac obtained photos of the metal casing of the next-generation iPhone, which is presumed to be named iPhone 5. Of note to me is that the images and sources indicate that the iPhone 5 will be the same width as the iPhone 4/4S but will be taller. While the more square 4:3 display on iPhones and iPads is somewhat outdated and the widescreen 16:9 format is now standard for HD content, one of the iPhone’s strengths is its AppStore, and all those apps are 4:3. I’m not sure how Apple would have apps be compatible with both the widescreen iPhone 5 and the previous 4:3 iPhones without zooming or having black bars on the display, but I’m sure Apple has thought it through.

Apple CEO Tim Cook increased Apple TV speculation:
There has been a lot of speculation about a Siri-enabled Apple HDTV set being in the works. Tim Cook added fuel to the fire this week by saying:

I think most people, maybe not all, but many people would say this is an area in their life they’re not really pleased with. You know, they might not be pleased with many things about it. The whole TV experience. So, it’s an interesting area, so we’ll have to see what we do.

Also adding to the rumors is a report that the Foxconn electronics manufacturing facility has begun taking orders for an Apple HDTV set. Rumors are also swirling that Apple will demo a new OS for its current Apple TV set top box in two weeks – an OS that may also be found in an Apple HDTV.

Google+ created a Local tab that uses Zagat and friends’ ratings:
Google announced a Local tab on its Search, Maps and Google+ that now shows Zagat ratings and also emphasizes ratings and reviews from friends and contacts in a user’s Google+ Circles. I find myself researching pretty much every place I go, and I think it will be really nice to have the professional Zagat ratings to complement the vast quantity of consumer reviews. I think the Circles capability has potential – I often do ask friends if they’ve been to a bar or restaurant and what they thought of it – but until more of my friends start using Google+ it is a feature that will unfortunately be lost on me.

A few legal stories:
First, the Recording Industry Association of America took exception to some of Google’s policies with respect to preventing access to infringing material online. In particular, the RIAA objected to Google imposing “artificial limits on the number of queries that can be made by a copyright owner to identify infringements,” Google limiting the number of “links [the RIAA] can ask [Google] to remove per day,” Google not doing enough on its own to identify and remove infringing content, and Google not doing enough to keep removed content from reappearing.

In other news, a judge ruled that No Doubt’s lawsuit against Activision and its “Band Hero” game will be heard by a jury. In this case, No Doubt apparently licensed their members’ likenesses and songs for use in the game “Band Hero.” No Doubt was unaware that Activision would allow players to “unlock” game characters and use them to sing other artists’ songs – in this case, songs that include the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.” The suit claims that the unlocking capability “results in an unauthorized performance by the Gwen Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes.”

Finally, in what is now an amusing statement in light of Sean Parker’s involvement with Napster, Sean Parker and Daniel Elk, now with Spotify, said that they are competing with piracy and not with Apple. Talk about things coming full circle for him.

Facebook investigated and sued after its disappointing IPO

Facebook has had an unfortunate run the past six days, notwithstanding CEO Mark Zuckerberg tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend over the weekend. On Friday, its IPO was disappointing, with only a 0.61% gain on day one. Then stocks continued to fall significantly, though they did go up in value slightly today. After four days of trading, shares sit at $32, $6 below the IPO price, and $10 below the $42 that many people reportedly paid.

Now there are allegations that Morgan Stanley and other underwriters set the IPO price too high in light of negative financial issues facing Facebook, including the unprofitable shift to mobile platforms, and that the underwriters only disclosed certain negative financial information to select investors rather than make the information public as required by law. According to The New York Times, the Massachusetts Secretary of State, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and the Securities and Exchange Commission are all looking into the matter. Shareholders have also sued Facebook and several banks over the alleged withholding of information. If the banks and/or Facebook really did selectively disclose information, then we are just seeing the beginning here.

Personally, I did not invest any money in Facebook, mainly because my money is invested in owed to Sallie Mae. But if I were to invest, I would be cautious because I really do not see how Facebook is going to become profitable on the level of Google or Amazon. Facebook’s value is that it has the capability to reach so many people with advertising. But the reason why people use Facebook is because they enjoy it. If Facebook were to significantly increase their advertising, and people stopped enjoying the site as much and instead turned to other social networking sites, then Facebook would lose some of its value. So Facebook has to walk a fine line between trying to be profitable while pleasing and retaining its user base, which historically is resistant to change. Honestly, I don’t know whether Facebook can successfully monetize its system while maintaining its position as THE social network. Only time will tell.

Technology Week In Review – May 19, 2012

Last week was a pretty big week in technology news…

The biggest story was Facebook’s IPO, which ended up being somewhat disappointing for investors considering all the hype. After the first day of trading, shares closed up just 0.61%. The New York Times has some good graphs and other visual aids comparing Facebook’s IPO with that of other tech companies, and The Verge has an interesting article with good quotes on the history of Facebook.

More legal battles involving Apple: HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE are delayed indefinitely by US Customs while it further investigates Apple’s claims of patent infringement. The patent in question relates to making certain numbers in text (most commonly telephone numbers) become active links – akin to hyperlinks – that bring up options, such as to call that number or add it to an address book. The US International Trade Commission ordered an import ban on all Motorola devices that infringe on an Apple patent dealing with “generating meeting requests and group scheduling from a mobile device.” Finally, Apple is seeking a preliminary injunction against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the Northern District of California.

Amazon is said to be prepping a Kindle Fire with a 10.1-inch display rather than the rumored 8.9 inches for release in the third quarter.

Verizon clarified their plans to eliminate unlimited data, and said that it will be pushing customers to tiered data plans when they renew their agreements.

Motorola plans to update the Motorola Droid RAZR/RAZR MAXX and Bionic to Ice Cream Sandwich in the third quarter of this year.

The Samsung Galaxy S III is doing very well in pre-orders.

Apple is rumored to be working on an iPad Mini with a 7-inch display for a fall release. Apple is also said to be increasing the screen size of its next generation iPhone to 4″. I say: good, but still should be bigger.

Google is said to be planning on releasing five different Nexus devices by year’s end. I like Nexus devices and am on board with the concept, but it seems like so many different devices defeats the purpose of a Nexus device, which is to show how Google intends for their Android OS to function.

Finally, here are two good articles comparing cloud storage services and internet streaming devices, respectfully.