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The Nest Protect. (Nest)

Citing safety fears, Nest will halt sales of its Protect smoke alarm

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.04.14

Palo Alto company Nest Labs says it will stop selling its popular Protect smoke alarm over fears that the device could accidentally be powered down at a crucial moment. 

"During recent laboratory testing of the Nest Protect smoke alarm, we observed a unique combination of circumstances that caused us to question whether the Nest Wave (a feature that enables you to turn off your alarm with a wave of the hand) could be unintentionally activated," Tony Fadell, the CEO of Nest Labs, wrote in a message on the Nest site. "This could delay an alarm going off if there was a real fire." 

Mr. Fadell stressed that no customers had reported problems with their Protect unit. Instead, he said, Nest employees had identified the problem on their own. 

When it was first released last year, Nest heralded the Protect as a "breakthrough innovation" that would cut down on energy use and make it easier to power down in the case of a false alarm. "Nest Protect gives you a friendly Heads-Up warning that you can silence with a wave of your hand – no more swinging towels or brooms to try to quiet a false alarm," an introductory press release read. 

Despite its relatively high price ($129 per alarm), the Nest earned a warm reception among critics – a "lovely object," Engadget said – and sales, at least in the early months, seemed to be strong. Speaking to Forbes in December, Fadell said "tens of thousands" of Protect units were already online. 

So what should you do if you've got a Nest Protect in your home? Well, if the device is connected via Wi-Fi to a Nest account, Fadell says it will be powered down automatically. If it's not hooked up to a Wi-Fi connection, Nest suggests following these directions so the device can be remotely disabled. 

The Firefox logo is mounted at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year. (Reuters)

CEO behind Firefox steps down after furor over his political views

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.04.14

Last month, Brendan Eich, the creator of the Javascript language and a longtime Silicon Valley hand, took the reins at open-source software giant Mozilla. The move was supposed to usher in a new era of leadership for Mozilla, which had been without a CEO since Gary Kovacs stepped down last year. Instead, it led only to criticism, backbiting, and barely-concealed turmoil. 

Three board members promptly resigned – according to the Wall Street Journal – because of concerns that Mr. Eich wasn't up to the job. Later, news surfaced of Eich's support of the Proposition 8 campaign, which would have outlawed same-sex marriage in California. (The proposition was originally passed, and then ruled unconstitutional.)

Friday brings news that Eich is resigning as CEO, apparently voluntarily. 

"Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public," executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker wrote in a blog post announcing Eich's departure. "This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community. While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the Web." 

Among the most outspoken opponents of Eich was the team behind the popular dating site OKCupid. In a message posted last week, OKCupid encouraged users not to access its service with a Mozilla browser. 

"If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8 percent of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal," the message read. "Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it's professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure." 

Some inside Mozilla have also spoken out against Eich on social networking sites such as Twitter. "Like many @Mozilla staff, I'm taking a stand. I do not support the Board's appointment of @BrendanEich as CEO," a Mozilla employee named Kat Braybrooke wrote in a tweet first spotted by MSNBC. 

Joe Belfiore, vice president of the operating system group at Microsoft, holds up a pair of mobile phones featuring the new Windows 8.1 at the Build conference in San Francisco this week. (Reuters)

Microsoft set to bring Internet Explorer 11 to Windows Phone 8.1 (+video)

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.03.14

It's been a big week for Microsoft: New Nokia phones, a rejiggered Windows 8.1 operating system, and the much-discussed Cortana voice-controlled personal assistant. 

But Microsoft has also used its annual Build Developer Conference to introduce an update to Internet Explorer 11, its sturdy Web browser. Beginning this week, reps for Microsoft said, IE11 will recognize your device – and your preferred method of input, whether keyboard or touch – and adjust the screen layout and Web surfing experience accordingly. 

"We've heard that people browse the Web on many devices, switching between their laptop, tablet, and phone throughout the day," longtime Microsoft hand Sam George wrote in a post on the official Internet Explorer blog. "Today’s update to IE11 means that whatever device you pick-up, your tabs and favorites are there for you, right where you left off." 

Meanwhile, Microsoft will finally roll out a version of Internet Explorer 11 for Windows Phone 8.1, which is expected to start rolling out to mobile devices at the end of this month. IE11 for mobile includes a "reading mode," to optimize the appearance of articles, improved voice commands, an InPrivate browsing mode – for when you want to keep your searches under wraps – and something called a High Savings Mode. 

"[T]he new High Savings Mode can be enabled to reduce data consumption by 60 - 80 percent through reducing image downloads and only loading elements of the page relevant to the content you want to view," Mr. George writes. 

In related news, according to a recent report from the number-crunchers at Net Applications (h/t The Next Web), Internet Explorer dominated the browser landscape last month, with an almost 58 percent slice of the market. By comparison, Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox are in distant second and third place, with 17.52 percent and 17.26 percent, respectively.

Amazon's new set-top box, the Fire TV, will sell for $99. (Amazon)

Amazon Fire TV takes aim at Roku and Apple TV (+video)

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.03.14

Amazon has taken the wraps off a set-top box called the Fire TV, which can be used to stream a range of content, from video games to sitcoms and feature-length films. 

At a press event in New York, Amazon brass said the device, which retails for $99 – and includes a month of free Netflix and Amazon Prime access – will be available starting today at 

Amazon Fire TV can be used, in conjunction with any HD television set, to access platforms such as Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and YouTube; in addition, Amazon has promised legions of "high-quality, low-cost" video games, which can be played with the Fire TV remote, the Fire TV app, or with an optional controller. Amazon says the average price of paid games will be under two bucks. 

But how does the Fire FV actually handle? Well, Dieter Bohn of The Verge got his paws on the device this morning, and he's impressed with what he sees, even in the context of the device's competitors – Roku, Apple TV, and Google's Chromecast among them. 

"Fire TV seems to be a really solid option – at least in the $99-and-less category," he writes. "It feels faster and more intuitive than a Roku, it's easier for the average human to understand than a Chromecast, and the voice search on the remote is definitely nicer than pecking things out on the Apple TV. Each of those competitors has its own distinct advantages, too, so this is far from a blowout – and we'll have much more to say when we fully review it." 

Speaking of Apple, for years now, rumors have swirled around a possible Apple-branded television set. Last spring, news broke that the television set was being held up as the Cupertino company figured out problems in the supply chain.

Other onlookers, such as DisplaySearch's Paul Gagnon, wondered if the "iTV" would simply be put on hold, "possibly to be replaced by a rollout of wearable devices." 

The Nokia Lumia 930. (Nokia)

Nokia introduces a trio of new Lumias

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.02.14

It's starting to get really difficult to keep all these Lumia handsets straight. 

On Wednesday, at the Microsoft Build Developers Conference, Nokia introduced a trio of new Lumia phones, the 630, 635, and the 930. (These devices, incidentally, are not to be confused with the Lumia 620, the successor to the Lumia 610, or the spunky little Lumia 520, apparently the most popular Windows Phone device on the planet.) 

The Lumia 930, powered by a 2.3GHz Snapdragon processor and 2GB of RAM, is the highest-end of the new bunch – a kind of internationally-minded sister to the Nokia Lumia Icon. The device, pictured above, gets a 20-megapixel camera, and a photography-studio worth of related apps, including Nokia Camera, Nokia Storyteller, Nokia Creative Studio, and Nokia Refocus. 

Expect the phone to cost $599 before taxes and subsidies, and to go on sale in Europe, Asia, India, Middle East, and Latin America beginning in June. North American customers, in the meantime, will have to be happy with the Lumia Icon

As for the Lumia 630 and 635, those devices are targeted at more budget-minded customers. Nokia says the Lumia 635 is "high-gloss," while the 630 gets a "matte" finish, although most of the rest of the specs are shared, from the 4.5-inch "ClearBlack" screen to the quad-core Snapdragon processor. Expect a May roll-out for Asia, Russia, China, India and Europe; later this summer, the 635 will wash up in the States, with a $189 price-tag (before subsidies and taxes, naturally). 

OKCupid is encouraging users of Firefox, pictured here, to find another browser. (Mozilla)

OKCupid encourages users to stop using Firefox (+video)

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.01.14

Dating site OKCupid is encouraging users to access its platform through Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Safari – anything but Mozilla's Firefox

In a strongly-worded message, which appears if you sign on to OKCupid using Firefox, the OKCupid team says the action is a protest against Brendan Eich, Mozilla's chief exec. Mr. Eich, the creator of the Javascript language – and a new appointee to the CEO position – had donated in 2008 to the Proposition 8 campaign, an effort to ban same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 was originally passed, and then ruled unconstitutional. 

OKCupid says Eich's views are not consistent with the site's values. 

"If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8 percent of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal," the message reads. "Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it's professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure." 

As Ars Technica notes, Eich's ascension to CEO at Mozilla – he was previously CTO – has also caused dissension among the ranks of Mozilla developers.

Meanwhile, three members of the Mozilla board have resigned, apparently in protest. Eich, for his part, has pledged to work with "LGBT communities and allies." In addition, he stressed his commitment to inclusiveness at Mozilla. 

"I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to 'show, not tell'; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain," Eich wrote on his personal blog. 

Tired of typing? Try the latest feature of Reddit: Headdit. (Reddit)

Best April Fools' Day gags, from Roku watches to Colgate dental school

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.01.14

April Fools' Day: A centuries-old holiday that has become, in the age of the Internet, an opportunity for every Web company under the sun to pull one over on its audience. (Or try to, anyway. We're reasonably certain that not a whole lot of people decided to apply for Pokémon Master at Google, a very fake job position posted this week by the people at Mountain View HQ.) 

So what were the most original gags this time around? Well, we're pretty fond of Headdit, a groundbreaking new technology that will allow Redditors of all stripes "to upnod, frownvote and navigate [their] way around reddit" without touching hand to keyboard.

Think: Xbox Kinect meets online message board (and see photo above for some sample actions, including "cat mode"). 

Meanwhile, thanks to Time, we now know that Colgate University, in New York state, is opening a graduate school of dentistry. And why not? People have been mixing up the toothpaste and the college for ages. "We conducted an incisive review of our curriculum," President Jeffrey Herbst says in a statement, "and we agreed that while we have an extremely strong pre-professional program in the health sciences, there is a gap in our current curriculum." 

Lastly, a special nod to the people at Roku, who came up with one of those April Fools' Day gags that – thanks to all the developments in wired wigs and timepieces and spectacles – doesn't seem so far from reality. To wit, meet the Roku Watch, a wrist-mounted video stream platform. 

"We know that nearly everyone loves watching TV at home on a big ol’ flat screen," the team at Roku wrote on the company blog. "The Roku Watch is for the rare individuals who enjoy squinting around a teenie tiny screen or like showing off their wearable tech." 

There's got to be some Pokémon down there somewhere. (Google )

April Fools' Day: Google begins search for official Pokémon Master (+video)

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 04.01.14

Google has a long, storied (and very colorful) history of April Fools' Day pranks.

There was Gmail Paper, with its "96 percent post-consumer organic soybean sputum," and Project Virgle, with its promise of "the first permanent human colony on Mars." And in 2013, there was the Google Wallet Mobile ATM, a smart little device that "easily attaches to most smartphones and dispenses money instantly and effortlessly." 

In 2014, one of the most high-profile gags involves Pokémon, the massively popular video game franchise. In an impressively high-quality video posted yesterday, Google took the wraps off the Pokémon Challenge – a race to capture a bunch of little monsters from far-flung hideouts around the globe. The winner, Google says, will receive the position of Pokémon Master. 

"It's always been important to us to have the most qualified employees at Google," Google exec Brian McClendon says in the video (with an admirably straight face). "Now using the technology created by the Google Maps team, we've prepared the most rigorous test known to man to find the world's best Pokemon Master." 

And herein the root of the aforementioned hoax. Because although the video promises an augmented-reality, action-packed cliffhanger of a monster hunt – starring you – the real Pokémon Challenge is a mini-game layered on top of the Google Maps interface.

And no, there's no actual Pokémon Master gig. 

Which isn't to say it doesn't look fun. Assuming you've got the latest version of Google Maps on Android or iOS, you can get started here. 

In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo, attendees at the CES expo play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets. (Reuters)

Facebook will be a 'powerful force' in driving virtual reality forward, Oculus CTO says (+video)

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 03.31.14

Earlier this month, Facebook revealed it would acquire California company Oculus VR in a deal worth a reported $2 billion. Oculus VR, of course, makes the forthcoming Oculus Rift, an eagerly-awaited headset that once received an injection of $2.5 million in cash from an array of Kickstarter donors. And now a lot of those donors are feeling a little betrayed by the Oculus team. 

Writing on Twitter, John Melloy, CEO of StockTwits, joked that Oculus might start offering a new T-shirt, one emblazoned with the following tagline: "I Helped Oculus Get Sold for $2 Billion and All I Got was This Lousy T-Shirt." 

But this week, John Carmack, the chief technology officer at Oculus, took to the comments section of a blog run by a musician named Peter Berkman to defend the acquisition by Facebook.

Mr. Berkman had argued that under Facebook, Oculus's users would soon find themselves sliding "down one giant funnel of information." Mr. Carmack responded that "the fairly rapid involvement" of tech titans such as Facebook was "inevitable."

"[T]he real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who," he continues. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting Facebook (or this soon). I have zero personal background with them, and I could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies. However, I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen." 

Carmack added that although he "spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg," Facebook's CEO, he was not involved with any of the negotiations. 

His point – that the money from Facebook could help propel Oculus to a new technological level – was echoed last week in a post from the Oculus founders. 

The acquisition "gives [Oculus] the best shot at truly changing the world. It opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on the manufacturing and work capital side, allows us to publish more made-for-VR content, and lets us focus on what we do best: solving hard engineering challenges and delivering the future of VR," they explain

Apple will expand its emoji offerings, the company says. (

Emojis will get more diverse, Apple promises

By Matthew ShaerCorrespondent / 03.28.14

Apple emojis: tiny, illustrated icons that are useful for expressing joy. They are also useful for when your thumb gets too sore to type out a traditional text-based text.

But according to some users, emojis are not exactly representative of the real world. As Joey Parker of MTV Act recently put it, you can find a water buffalo in Apple's emoji dictionary, but not a whole lot of people of color (unless, of course, you count the man with the turban). 

Now Apple says it is working on a new – and more inclusive – set of emojis. "We agree with you," an Apple spokesman said in response to an MTV query. "Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”

The last major emoji update came in 2012, when Apple introduced emojis featuring gay couples. 

The new change comes in the wake of a Fast Company post questioning whether emojis are "racist," and an online petition – asking Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook for "more diversity [on] the emoji keyboard" – signed by more than 4,000 people. 

In related news, The Wall Street Journal has tracked down a woman campaigning for the inclusion of a different kind of emoji: One representing a hot dog. Laura Ustick is the manager of the Superdawg Drive-In in Illinois. "People are demanding a hot-dog emoji," Ms. Ustick told a reporter for the Journal. "It's a slight against the hot-dog community."

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