Apple TV gets HBO GO and WatchESPN

Today Apple announced that HBO GO and WatchESPN will now be available on Apple TV to customers of participating cable providers.  I have had Apple TV for a little over a year and love it, but my biggest complaint has always been that the content on it is limited.  Sure the iOS integration is great, and the iTunes library is vast…but I don’t like having to rely on my aging iPad to stream content (or to replace it with another iOS device to keep my Apple TV usable), and having to buy content a la carte can get costly.  I feel the Netflix library has gotten increasingly weak, I don’t watch enough current TV to justify Hulu Plus, and YouTube is really only good in small doses.  Add this all up and I only use Apple TV to rent movies from iTunes – maybe once every week or two – and watch clips on YouTube.

So HBO GO and WatchESPN on Apple TV will open up a library of top-tier content for which I already have a subscription through my cable provider, and it also makes the content offerings of Apple TV more on par with the competition.  And as with everything else on Apple TV, both services work really well.

Worth noting is that the update also includes Sky News, Crunchyroll and Qello, and Apple promises to bring iTunes Radio to Apple TV in the fall. Also worth noting is that while HBO GO and WatchESPN are welcome additions, they do not help those looking to “cut the cord” from cable subscriptions. I have been hearing for years that Apple hopes to change TV from a subscription model to an a la carte scheme, but this update does not address those ambitions.

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A bit of housekeeping:  I am in the middle of a busy stretch with work.  I intend to continue to update the blog, and bear with me if the entries are more sporadic than usual.


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


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.

BlackBerry brings BlackBerry Messenger to iOS and Android


Today BlackBerry announced that it was bringing its popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service to iOS and Android this summer, marking the first time BBM will be available on a non-BlackBerry device.  In my opinion it isn’t a bad decision, but at this stage in the game it is a move that will not have a great impact.

Several years ago BBM was a major selling point for BlackBerry devices.  At that time, BBM was the best messaging service out there, providing real-time chat with delivered and read receipts, file transfer, group chatting, and minimal battery impact, all while working over data networks and thus not counting against SMS text message plans or having 160 character limits.  Nowadays, there are many apps and services, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik Messenger, the rumored upcoming Google Hangouts, and the Apple-exclusive iMessage, that have since been released that for most users are comparable to BBM. Cellular service providers also now often provide unlimited text messaging, reducing the need for SMS alternatives. And the significant decline in the number of BlackBerry users has rendered BBM much less useful to current BlackBerry users, who have fewer people with whom to chat. The end result of this evolution in mobile messaging is that BBM is much less of a selling point for BlackBerry. BBM is still very popular, particularly in developing countries and with teenagers (so I hear), but it is no longer the holy grail of messaging services that it once was.

There are two schools of thought on this. One side could argue that BBM is still a strong selling point for BlackBerry, and that giving it away to iOS and Android users BlackBerry is giving even less incentive for people to buy BlackBerry devices. The other side could say that BBM is not selling BlackBerry devices, and that it is a great product and if it is made available on multiple platforms it will keep the BlackBerry brand fresh in the minds of consumers. This, in turn, could give BlackBerry a place in our daily lives, and if it can then find a way to integrate BBM into BlackBerrys better than on iOS or Android devices, then maybe BlackBerry sales will improve. And also allowing current BlackBerry users to chat via BBM with non-BlackBerry users will, at a minimum, allow BlackBerry to provide the best possible messaging service to its current users and not require them to use a third-party app to chat with a friend who uses an iPhone.

I side with the latter thought process and think BlackBerry made the right call here. BBM has obviously not been enough of a reason to buy BlackBerry devices that, at least as far as the market is concerned, are viewed as inferior, so there really is little reason to keep it as a BlackBerry exclusive. And by keeping it exclusive, BlackBerry was really hurting their own customers by limiting their number of BBM potential contacts. This way, maybe BlackBerry/BBM will become “cool” again, at least in the messaging space, and will keep BlackBerry somewhat current. And maybe if it picks up steam BlackBerry could leverage it to sell more devices or include additional, BlackBerry-exclusive features.

Whether BBM catches on to the point where it’ll help BlackBerry sales is a big “if.” BBM is produced by a known entity in BlackBerry that perhaps will come with a higher level of trust than WhatsApp and Kik, not everyone is on Facebook to use Facebook Messenger, iMessage is Apply-exclusive, Google Hangouts hasn’t been released yet (though I think it’ll be a big success), and unlimited SMS text messages are still not as good as the BBM experience. And BlackBerry is pushing the capabilities of BBM with groups, voice, video, media and screen-sharing, and integration of social media services, so it is a competitive service. But does all this set BBM apart enough to get iOS and Android users to jump on board? I don’t think so. It’s not that I think the cross-platform BBM will be inferior, it’s that I think it is too late and not superior enough to enter a very crowded space and take that space over. I am still rooting for BlackBerry but I don’t see making BBM available cross-platform as having a huge effect on the mobile messaging space.

HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4?

This past winter two of the best smartphones ever – the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 – were announced.  I am often asked which device I think is better, and I don’t really have an answer, as each has its strengths and weaknesses. Since everyone has different opinions of what they want in a smartphone, I thought it’d be helpful to give a rundown of reviews from sources I like and trust.

The Verge

HTC One received a score of 8.3, with the highlights being the hardware design, display, and speed, and the lowlights being the camera, battery life, and the HTC Sense UI.

Samsung Galaxy S4 received an 8.0, with strengths including speed, camera, and extra software features, and the weaknesses being build quality/design, an overwhelming number of features, and performance issues.

In short, according to The Verge, the biggest differentiating factors between the two devices are the superior build quality of the One and the superior camera of the Galaxy S4, and the same reviewer gave the One a slightly higher score.


HTC One received a rating of 4 stars, with compliments going to the device’s hardware, speed, and camera and camera app, and complaints about the lack of micro SD card slot and user-replaceable battery and Blinkfeed software that can’t be completely removed.

Samsung Galaxy S4 received a 4.5 star rating. Strengths include camera, speed, the variety of software features, and NFC, micro SD, and removable battery. Weaknesses include a dim screen, poor build quality, and a confusing array of software features.

Overall, the Galaxy S 4 received a higher rating and a consistent “9” in design, features, and performance categories, whereas the One received a 10, 8, and 8, respectively.


HTC One impressed the Engadget staff with its design and build quality, camera, and display.  HTC’s Sense UI did receive some criticism, though, in particular with Blinkfeed and the two button navigation layout (back and home).

Samsung Galaxy S4 also earned a positive review, with the staff liking the display, battery life, speed, and inclusion of expandable storage and a removable battery.  However, the staff felt that the software features are clever but not extremely practical, and felt that the device is a “predictable” step up from the Galaxy S III and when compared with the high-quality and redesigned HTC One does not seem “fresh.”

Droid Life

HTC One earned high praise for build quality, “acceptable” battery life, front-facing stereo speakers, and display, as well as an underwhelming camera with software features that compensate for the camera itself.  The reviewer, however, did not like HTC Sense and said the metallic design is not for him, which puts him in the minority.  Worth noting, though, is that the reviewer ultimately chose the unlocked HTC One as his smartphone, and listed the build quality and design among his reasons.

Samsung Galaxy S4 received a pretty glowing review on Droid Life, with highlights including the display, speed, camera, variety of software features, expandable storage and removable battery, and the most recent version of Android (4.2.2).  The reviewer did note, however, that the One has a more premium feel to it.

AnandTech (warning: very lengthy and detailed reviews)

HTC One received the “Editor’s Choice Gold” award – the first smartphone to ever receive such an award – and a great amount of praise.  The reviewer raved about the build quality, uniqueness, camera (especially in low light settings), the more subtle Sense UI, and speakers.

Samsung Galaxy S4 also earned very good reviews, though no awards.  The reviewer described the S4 as improving upon the S III in every way, and liked the display, speed, expandable storage and removable battery, and camera performance, especially outdoors.  However, the reviewer described Samsung’s TouchWiz UI as too “in your face” and prefered the metal build of the HTC One.



There’s definitely a pattern with reviews here, and not a clear favorite.   Both devices received high marks for their displays and speed.  The HTC One has superior build quality and speakers and represents a more novel and adventurous move in smartphone design.  It ships with an “ultrapixel” camera that has fewer but larger megapixels, and while some say it has better low light performance, it seems to be a pretty consistent source of negative reviews.  Finally, Blinkfeed has received very mixed reviews, and can not be removed (though the default homescreen can be changed).  While it is annoying not to be able to fully customize your phone, I have to cut HTC some slack because had they made Blinkfeed removable, many people who may grow to like it would have removed it without giving it a chance, so when introducing a new and prominent feature I can understand why HTC would not give a way out.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has more software features (though this was seen as both a positive and a negative) and a better overall camera.  Advantages of the Galaxy S4 are also that it has a removable back that allows for expandable storage via a micro SD card as well as a replaceable battery.  The Galaxy S4 does come with a more recent version of Android, but within a month or two both phones will need software updates so the question will become who will get an update out more quickly, so I wouldn’t buy or not buy a phone based on what version of Android it has right now.

The biggest source of complaints about the Galaxy S4 deal with its “cheap” and plastic build quality and it being just an incremental improvement over the Galaxy S III.  As for the build quality, I do appreciate good build quality and that area has always been an advantage Apple’s iPhone had over Android devices.  For whatever reason, Samsung chose to stay with  plastic.  For many this won’t matter as they will keep their phone in a case, but I don’t and would consider the build quality of the S4 a negative, though definitely not a deal-breaker.  As for the S4 being safe and predictable, it is a funny thing that happens with successful products: first they’re great and everyone loves them, but then if the manufacturer doesn’t change them they become stale very quickly.  Apple has fallen victim to this the past few years.  Should Samsung have to completely redesign their best-selling Galaxy S III just for the sake of change?  I guess not, but Samsung left the door open for a new “fresh” phone to show up and make their S4 seem less impressive.

Finally, another thing to consider when comparing these devices is the manufacturers themselves.  HTC used to be dominant but has fallen on hard times now and is the underdog.  Samsung is THE Android manufacturer in the US and has close to a stranglehold on the Android market.  So with such disparate brands, do we want to root for the underdog and think outside the box or go with what’s tried and true?  That’s a personal choice, but I am rooting for HTC.  But the situation of each company also plays into the purchasing decision as far as software upgrades – I’d think Samsung has more resources to keep their devices up-to-date – as well as compatibility with other devices – Samsung has many sharing features built-in to their S4 that give a little more incentive to getting the same phone as friends and family.

Both devices will be available on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.  The Galaxy S4 is confirmed by Verizon but the HTC One is not, though recent rumors suggest the One or a very similar device with a delayed summer release.

The good thing about comparing these phones is that they are both great and while each has strengths and weaknesses, you really can’t go wrong with either.

Facebook announces Facebook Home


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.

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:

Samsung announces the Galaxy S4


Last night Samsung announced its much-anticipated Galaxy S4 smartphone to much fanfare at Radio City Music Hall here in New York City.  The device looks very similar to Samsung’s hugely popular Galaxy S III smartphone unveiled last spring on the outside but has upgraded internals and a lot of new software capabilities (and drops the Roman numeral numbering scheme).  Here are the highlights of the device:

Hardware –

-5-inch 1080p (1920×1080) Super AMOLED display (441 ppi) with Gorilla Glass 3 and that can be used with gloves on.
-2 GB RAM.
-16/32/64 GB storage choices with support for up to 64 GB microSD card storage.
-1.6 GHz Exynos Octa-core processor or 1.9 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, depending on region (US will get the quad-core variant).
-13 MP rear-facing camera and 2 MP front-facing camera.
-136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm.
-130 grams.
-2600 mAh removable battery.
-IR LED for remote control capabilities.
-Temperature, barometer and humidity sensors.
-“Black mist” or  “white frost” colors at launch but Samsung will add more colors in the future

Software –

-Many new camera functions:
Dual Camera lets you use the front and rear-facing cameras at the same time to get both the photo subject and the camera person in the same photo, and also uses both cameras for video chatting so the person you are talking to can see you and what you are looking at.
Story Album arranges photos you take by date and automatically puts them into an album.
Eraser uses a burst of 100 photos in four seconds to allow the user to remove undesirable elements, like photobombs, from the final picture.
Drama Shot uses multiple photos from a burst and creates an animated .gif.
Sound and Shot captures a short sound clip to go along with a photo.
-Smart pause pauses video when you look away.
-Smart Scroll lets you scroll the screen up or down by looking at it while tilting the phone in the direction you want to scroll.
-Air View shows a preview of an email, calendar event, image gallery or video when you hover your finger over that area of the screen.
-Air Gesture lets you control the phone by waving your hand in front of the display.
-Group Play connects nearby Galaxy S 4 devices to one another without any internet connection to play the same music out of multiple devices or play real-time games.
-S Translator provides spoken translation of what you say or type into your phone.
-S Health tracks your exercise and shows how much calories you burn, among other health-related data.
-S Voice Drive produces a “drive mode” that displays bigger fonts, simpler screens, and text-to-speech.
-Keyboard that utilizes Swiftkey‘s predictive engine.
-Android 4.2.2.

The Galaxy S4 will be available on 327 carriers in 155 countries, including all four major carriers in the US, beginning in late April.  No price has been announced.

Overall, I think this looks like a great phone and it will be very successful.  I have seen some complaints that this is too much of an incremental upgrade with nothing groundbreaking but I think the new hardware, especially the 5” 1080p display and the quad-core process, and software features make this phone as good or better than the competition so it is really hard to fault Samsung when they are leading the pack.  Other complaints have been about build quality.  I would’ve liked to see Samsung improve their build quality, as the Galaxy S4 keeps the shiny plastic design of the Galaxy S III,  While the plastic is functional and durable, when compared to phones like the iPhone 5, HTC One, the Nexus 4, LG Optimus G, and the Motorola Droid RAZR HD, it will look and feel a little cheap.  But at the end of the day Samsung’s marketing and reputation, the display and processor speed, and the unique software features will sell this phone.

Also worth noting is that Samsung said it would bring some of these new software features to the Galaxy S III, so kudos to them for continuing to update an older device.  Also kudos to Samsung for planning to ship the device with the most recent version of Android (4.2.2, released on February 11).

The Galaxy S4 will go head-to-head with the HTC One as the two brand new high-end smartphones hitting the major US carriers this spring.  Again, I think the Galaxy S4 will sell very well as Samsung has developed excellent brand recognition and loyalty, but I am rooting for the HTC One to do well too because without it succeeding HTC may be in trouble financially, and less competition hurts Android and the smartphone market as a whole.

For further reading, check out Samsung’s website, The Verge, CNET, Engadget, BGR, The New York Times, and Droid-Life.

Here’s Samsung’s promo video:

And Samsung also posted the full-length livestream of the Radio City event, which is very odd in parts but worth a watch if you have time.

Judge Koh vacates almost half of the jury’s damages awards in Apple v. Samsung

By now this is old news, but I was away when this news broke and my hotel unbelievably didn’t provide free wi-fi, despite our $40 per night resort fee. But Since I’ve been following this case so closely I think it deserves a post, and better late than never.

As you may recall, a California jury found that many Samsung phones and tablets infringed on Apple’s patents and trade dress and awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages. Notably, the jury deliberated for less than three days. There has been lengthy post-trial motions by both parties, including a motion by Samsung to vacate the jury verdict and damages award based on alleged misconduct by the jury foreperson, which was denied.

On Friday, March 1, Judge Koh ruled on another series of motions relating to damages.  With regard to supplemental damages, which are damages from continued infringement after trial, Judge Koh:

(1) Sided with Samsung and determined that the computing of damages should begin on the date of the verdict rather than the June 30 date that evidence submitted at trial specifically covered.

(2) Sided with Samsung that the appropriate way to calculate supplemental damages relating to post-verdict sales is to take the jury damages award per device, divide each amount by the number of units those devices sold prior to the verdict to reach a per-unit damages amount.  Then calculate the number of units of each particular device sold post-verdict and multiply it by the per-unit damages amount.  Apple had argued for a broader calculation that didn’t differentiate between devices.

(3) Concluded that supplemental damages are appropriate in this case, and that the court will look at post-verdict sales figures after the appeals process.

With regard to pre-judgment interest on the amount owed by Samsung, Judge Koh also decided that the 52-week Treasury bill rate, as argued by Samsung, should be used in calculating prejudgment interest, rather than the higher prime rate as advocated by Apple.

Finally, in evaluating the jury damages award, Judge Koh determined it was appropriate to evaluate the jury award, and while Judge Koh upheld much of the jury’s award, she found the following issues that warranted vacating parts of the award:

(1) The jury improperly calculated damages relating to the Galaxy Prevail, which only infringed utility patents, based on lost profits.  The Court vacated $58 million from the damages award and ordered a new trial on damages.

(2) The jury incorrectly awarded Samsung’s profits for infringement of utility patents in eight devices – Gem, Indulge, Infuse 4G, Galaxy SII AT&T, Captivate, Continuum, Droid Charge, and Epic 4G – while the correct remedy for infringement of utility patents is either a reasonable royalty or Apple’s lost profits.  The Court was unable to determine the proper amount of damages with regard to these eight devices from the jury award, and accordingly vacated $383 million from the award and ordered a retrial on damages.

(3) The jury used a notice date that was too early in calculating damages with regard to five devices – Exhibit 4G, Galaxy Tab, Nexus S 4G, Replenish, and Transform – and Judge Koh vacated $9 million from the damages award and ordered a new trial on damages.

All in all, Judge Koh vacated $450.5 million in damages relating to 14 devices – Galaxy Prevail, Gem, Indulge, Infuse 4G, Galaxy SII AT&T, Captivate, Continuum, Droid Charge, Epic 4G, Exhibit 4G, Galaxy Tab, Nexus S 4G, Replenish, and Transform.  The damages awarded in the new trial could be higher, the same, or lower.

I think it was a pretty good day for Samsung’s lawyers, as they got half the jury verdict vacated (though an even higher damages award could be returned by the jury in the re-trial), Judge Koh sided with them on the interest rate issue, and they delayed the calculation of supplemental damages (based on my experience, any delay is good for a defendant). Still, Samsung took a big hit in this trial and is on the hook for at least $599 million pending appeal, though I doubt it will hurt their bottom line in light of how dominant they have became in the smartphone market.  And another thing to keep in mind is that this case is just one of many being litigated worldwide between these parties.

For more reading on this, check out FOSS PatentsThe Verge, and Judge Koh’s Order.