Tell us if this scenario sounds familiar: You're introduced to a friend of a friend at a work event. You add him on Facebook. And although this person is really only a passing acquaintance, by the end of that week, your News Feed is so flooded by his photos and videos and longwinded diatribes against corporate oligarchy and orange Crocs that you can hardly find the updates from the people you really care about, like your family.
In the past, Facebook offered a Hide All button, that allowed you to effectively banish someone from your News Feed without banishing them from your circle of (upper case) Friends. But apparently, Hide All confused some people, because now, according to TechCrunch, Facebook is planning to roll out a functionality called "Unfollow," which will do... exactly the same thing as Hide All did.
"What is changing is the specific wording," writes Anthony Ha of TechCrunch, who picked up the news from a Facebook spokesman. "Thanks to services like Twitter and Instagram, users have presumably become more familiar with the concept of unfollowing, and it seems that the language of following and unfollowing is becoming a bigger part of Facebook."
OK, yes, the whole thing is a little silly. But it does demonstrate, as Mr. Ha notes, the ways in which Facebook is aping some of the more popular aspects of Twitter. Most recently, the company announced it would alter its algorithm to help keep actual news high on the News Feed and keep assorted clutter down lower.
"Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme," a pair of Facebook engineers wrote in a blog post announcing the changes. "Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently."
Among the biggest winners in the annual Black Friday fracas? The Apple iPad.
Although Apple has yet to release official numbers on its tablet line, analytics firm InfoScout has crunched data from more than 125,000 American shoppers and determined that at the two of the three biggest big box stores in the country, the iPad was the top item sold.
The figures break down like this: At Wal-Mart, the most popular single item was the 16GB iPad Mini. At Target, the three most popular single items were all iPads: the 16GB iPad Air (first place); the 16GB iPad Mini (second); and the 32GB iPad Air (third place). At BestBuy, the Microsoft Surface tablet led the pack, but the 16GB iPad 2 (on sale for $299) wasn't very far behind at all.
According to InfoScout, a full 22 percent of Target's early sales on Black Friday were Apple products. Meanwhile, iPads – Minis, Airs, and older models – made up 18 percent of Target's sales, 10 times the sales of all Android tablets put together. In a separate post – and one that must be no less dismaying for Google – InfoScout estimated that of all the iPads sold on Black Friday, 40 percent were purchased by Android users.
The numbers helped substantially pump up estimates from Wall Street analysts, who are increasingly bullish on Apple's prospects over the next few months.
The Apple iPad Air was first revealed in October and officially launched at the beginning of November.
"Surprise: the iPad Air is the best iPad we've reviewed," Brad Molen of Engadget wrote in a recent evaluation of the Air. "In addition, though, it's also the most comfortable 10-inch tablet we've ever tested. Not every manufacturer can produce a thin and light device without also making it feel cheap or flimsy, but Apple nailed it. Factor in a sizable boost in performance and battery life, and the Air is even more compelling."
We're still not entirely convinced this isn't a really early April Fools' joke, but Sony appears to have filed a US patent for a vibrating, antenna-heavy 'Smart Wig.'
In the patent, which was originally uncovered by Kotaku, Sony lays out plans for a high-tech hairpiece kitted out with Wi-Fi antennas and tactile sensors and a GPS unit. At this point, you're probably having nightmares of people walking around the streets of your town with a range of electronics sprouting off the top of their dome. But fear not: Sony promises users can "wear the wearable computing device as a regular wig while looking natural at the same time."
In the filing, Sony explains the appeal of a wig as wearable tech (as opposed to a watch, for instance):
The usage of a wig has several advantages that, compared to known wearable computing devices, include a significantly increased user comfort and an improved handling of the wearable computing device. As the at least one sensor, the control unit and the communication interface are arranged in the wig, most of the components or all components of the wearable computing device are covered by the wig and are, thus, not visible.
Later, there is talk of an integrated video camera and the possibility of (and we're not making this up) "wig-to-wig communication," facilitated by "vibration actuators." Forget texting or e-mailing. In the future, we may chat with each other via our toupees.
In an interview this week with Bloomberg, Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, called the wig "an interesting idea" that "would be very difficult for Sony to commercialize. Who will want to use this wig will become a problem."
Perhaps this is a preemptive patent – an attempt by Sony to get ahead of any competitors that might be mulling something similar? Stay tuned for more.
Earlier this month, Motorola Mobility unveiled the Moto G, a more-affordable version of the Moto X handset. At the time, Motorola said it planned on releasing the device in 2014 in the States. Clearly, though, the company had second thoughts – today Motorola announced it would begin immediately selling Moto G phones in the US via the company's website.
Two options are available: An 8GB phone for $179 and a 16GB phone for $199. Both ship contract-free and completely unlocked, although as the Associated Press notes, the Moto G runs only on "GSM networks, the type used by AT&T, T-Mobile and most carriers around the world. It won't work with Verizon and Sprint, which have CDMA networks."
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So why did Motorola tinker with the schedule? Well, in an interview with CNET, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside suggested that it had something to do with the website set-up and manufacturing process, which apparently went more smoothly (and quickly) than Motorola had anticipated.
The Moto G, which was already available in some South American and European markets, has received strong marks from critics, who praised the sharp lines, the high-quality screen, and a snappy processor. In a representative review on Engadget, David Rigg suggested that the device would appeal to budget-minded consumers uninterested in the sub-par performance that usually comes with a budget-rate phone.
"Is the G the best phone you can buy? No, it's not," Rigg wrote. "You won't win any National Geographic competitions with the camera, and the amount of on-board storage is a concern when there's no microSD expansion slot. The lack of LTE, too, is sure to put off customers who would've jumped at the handset otherwise. We'll have to wait and see whether any other phone makers can respond to the G and address what's missing, but for now, it stands alone."
Eric Schmidt: businessman, billionaire, tech columnist.
Yesterday, in a post on his Google+ profile, Mr. Schmidt took a break from his boardroom duties as executive chairman of Google to pen a lengthy document he called "Eric’s Guide: Converting to Android from iPhone."
"Like the people who moved from PCs to Macs and never switched back, you will switch from iPhone to Android and never switch back as everything will be in the cloud, backed up, and there are so many choices for you," Schmidt writes. "80 percent of the world, in the latest surveys, agrees on Android." (We're guessing Schmidt is referring to an IDC report that indicates Android accounted for 81 percent of global shipments in the most recent fiscal quarter.)
Over the next 700-odd words, Schmidt covered everything from setting up a new Android device – "make sure the software on the Android phone is updated to the latest version (i.e. 4.3 or 4.4)" – to backing up old iPhone photos before shuttling them over to the Android tablet or smartphone. And he didn't hesitate to throw a couple gratuitous punches in Apple's direction: "Be sure to use Chrome, not Safari; its safer and better in so many ways," he wrote.
The complete document is here.
Way back in May, Google announced that it had reached 900 million Android activations; a few months later, in September, the company hit the billion mark. According to comScore, as of September, Android was the most popular smart phone operating system in the US, with a more than 51 percent of the market. By comparison, Apple's iOS had a 40.6 percent market share.
Both Apple and Google, of course, have likely been helped by the continuing implosion of the once-omnipresent BlackBerry, which announced this month that it would not – as had been widely expected – pursue a sale.
Beginning this week, the Redmond, Wash., company is offering up a range of "Scroogled" gear, from shirts to ball-caps, all poking fun at its rival's privacy policies. Among the sharpest items is a white T-shirt, emblazoned with the words "I'm Watching You" and the Google Chrome logo. "Do you use Google Search?" reads the product description. "Or Gmail? Or Google Chat? Or Chrome? Then Google is watching you… all the time."
Of course, if you'd rather have something you can carry, and not wear, you can also opt for the "keep calm while we steal your data" coffee mug, which lets the world know, according to Microsoft, "that even though Google is trying to make money on almost every aspect of your digital life, you're still calm. And fully caffeinated." List price is $7.99.
This isn't the first time Google and Microsoft have traded jabs over the subject of privacy. In fact, back in February of last year, Microsoft corporate vice president Dean Hachamovitch publicly accused Google of "circumventing the privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users." And, of course, Microsoft offers several competing products, such as the Bing search engine.
So yes, there's some history here. But the new "Scroogled" campaign has raised the hackles of some analysts, who argue that when it comes to user privacy, there isn't much space between Google and Microsoft.
"A campaign against Google by Microsoft on privacy raises eyebrows. In terms of security practices, Google is a little more aggressive about encryption," Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told CNET today. "If you're talking about which ads you see, it's possible that Microsoft has pulled ahead. It's difficult for a company like Microsoft to say that the way they're doing it respects your autonomy more. In fact, it's just a different style."
It remains unclear whether Google will launch a retaliatory clothing and gear line of its own. But hey, there's still time – the holiday shopping season is only now lurching into gear.
Toyota plans to launch a mass-market fuel cell car by 2015.
At the Tokyo Motor Show this week, Toyota introduced a concept version of the vehicle (pictured above), the FCV, which the company says has a range of 500 kilometers, or 310 miles. "Development is going very smoothly," Satoshi Ogiso, the Toyota Motor Corp. executive in charge of fuel cells, told an Associated Press reporter at the show.
Karim Nice and Jonathan Strickland of How Stuff Works have a good primer on fuel cell technology – it's worth checking out in full. But here's the CliffsNotes: Fuel cells employ hydrogen fuel and oxygen to generate electricity. The technology has been championed as a much cleaner alternative to the fossil fuel engines so dominant in the automobile industry today.
In a description of the FCV posted to its site, Toyota said that the concept car's design was intended to evoke the fuel cell process itself. "The bold front view features pronounced air intakes, while the sleek side view conveys the air-to-water transformation with its flowing-liquid door profile and wave-motif fuel cap," the description reads. "The theme carries to the rear view, which conveys a catamaran's stern and the flow of water behind."
The unveiling of the FCV is seen by many analysts as a major step forward for the mainstreaming of fuel cell tech. But not everyone is convinced. At a speech last month, Elon Musk of Tesla essentially called fuel cell cars nonsense – he used a much stronger word – while Nissan exec Carlos Ghosn has questioned the mass market viability of such a vehicle.
"Where is the infrastructure?" he said in an interview with Reuters. "Who’s going to build it?’’
Apple called in the bug exterminators Monday. The company released an updated version of its phone and tablet operating system to developers, allowing them to report any problems and glitches – as well as update their apps – before Apple rolls out the software to the public.
This new iOS 7.1 is the first major update since Apple dramatically changed the look of its mobile OS. The patch mostly squashes known bugs, but it introduces a few additional features, as well. So, what should you expected?
With the update, Apple will introduce a "dark keyboard" option. Once turned on, the virtual keyboard will change to a darker color palette, which can be easier on the eyes in poorly lit rooms or outside at night. The setting, like many of the iPhone and iPad's most interesting features, will be tucked away in Settings > General > Accessibility.
Apple tweaked several other user-interface elements, as well. For example, in iOS 7.1, Notification Center will tell people when they have "No Missed Notifications" or "No Notifications." Right now, the page is simply blank, leaving some users to wonder if they are up-to-date or if Notification Center didn't load correctly.
Camera settings will gain the option to "Upload Burst Photos" to a person's Photo Stream. Apple introduced Burst Photos with iOS 7 as a way to take rapid-fire images of a fast-moving event, such as sports. People can then go back and choose the best images from the bunch or turn the whole batch into brief animations.
After developers poke and prod at iOS 7.1, Apple will distribute the software update to the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad 2, third- and fourth-generation iPads, iPad Air, iPad Mini with Retina display, iPad Mini, and the fifth-generation iPod Touch.
Apple has not yet announced a release date.
In a press release, Sony called the response "phenomenal," although it stopped short of saying what the weekend sales looked like as a whole. "Sales remain very strong in North America, and we expect continued enthusiasm as we launch the PlayStation 4 in Europe and Latin America on Nov. 29," Sony exec Andrew House said. "We are extremely grateful for the passion of PlayStation fans and thank them for their continued support."
Monitor readers will remember that all the way back in August, a different Sony exec was telling the press that PS4 pre-orders had already passed a million – "way over" the amount of pre-orders for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Later, Sony backed an estimate from analyst Colin Sebastian, who had predicted that Sony would unload at least 3 million PS4 consoles before the end of the year.
The PS4, which debuted on Friday, has won strong marks from critics, although some reviewers have faulted the device for its less-than-stellar launch title line-up.
We are at a "crucial moment in the great Sony relay race," Stephen Totilo of Kotaku recently wrote. "The PS3 is handing off the baton, and just as it happens, time seems to freeze. The next runner, the PS4, has taken the hand-off but hasn't quite landed its first stride. The PS3 will keep running for a time, coasting on its own momentum. The PS4 looks poised, ready charge forth. We assume it'll happen. But that hand-off is still in progress."
Of course, the PS4 won't have the spotlight all to itself for much longer. On Friday, Microsoft will release its Xbox One console, which is priced at a full hundred bucks more than the PS4. So which console will triumph? Well, in a much-discussed report, analytics firm IHS says the win will eventually go to the PS4 – a device with a "much wider geographical brand allegiance."
If Facebook offered you $3 billion in cash for a two-year-old start-up company, which has no revenues, would you turn them down?
The short, and perhaps simplistic, answers probably lie with Twitter and teens.
Facebook recently admitted that it's losing younger teens. Facebook CFO David Ebersman told Wall Street analysts on October 30 that the social media behemoth had seen "a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens.” That's the first public admission of what many industry observers suspected. That same day, Facebook stock took a tumble.
Teens are flocking to Snapchat. TechCrunch reported in September that Snapchat "users are sharing 350 million photos per day, according to CEO Evan Spiegel. That figure is up from 200 million in June."
What makes Snapshat popular to teens? It's a smartphone app that shares photos and text messages which disappear within 10 seconds. It's private. Unlike Facebook, there's no enduring record of your silly (or stupid) snaps.
Spiegel knows that he has a growing audience of teenagers that Facebook desperately, and increasingly, wants. He's banking on that audience getting much bigger and more valuable.
While $3 billion is a lot of money, Speigel may figure he can hold out and make a lot more. Look at Twitter's recent IPO.
Twitter stock went public earlier this month and the unprofitable company is now valued at $29 billion. That's a lot bigger number than $3 billion.
"Twitter just made it clear that the IPO window is open and a lot of success can be had," says Ira Rosner, an attorney and shareholder for Greenberg Traurig, a law firm that helps prepare companies for IPOs. Roener told the Associated Press that "there is no question that a successful offering encourages other offerings," he says. "It gets people excited and it creates buzz."
But how high is up? Some are already cautioning that the tech IPO market is moving down the same path as the last dot-com bubble, where big money wildly chased start-ups with little or no profits.
Larry Chiagouris, marketing professor Pace University's Lubin School of Business in New York told AP:
"If you fast-forward beyond the next 24 months, people will realize that these companies just aren't going to make a lot of money," he says. "Advertisers are not putting a large portion of their budgets into these companies." He adds, "People are chasing the dream of profits as opposed to any evidence of profits," Chiagouris says. "And it's a hope, it's a wish, it's a dream, but that's all it is right now."
Spiegel took a gamble by turning down Facebook's offer. The IPO market could turn south before Snapchat goes public. It's not clear that advertisers will pay for ads that disappear in 10 seconds. Or notoriously fickle teenagers may move on to the next "cool thing" before Snapchat can go public or gets another $3 billion offer.
If any of these things happen, Snapchat may end up as the next Digg, a news aggregator that reportedly turned down an offer of $160 million and was later sold for just $500,000, as the Wall Street Journal noted. But the WSJ also reports that Snapchat may get a $4 billion offer soon from another group of investors.
Will that be enough for Spiegel?