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Google has issued an update for Google TV. (Google )

Google TV voice control: Now, yelling at your TV actually works

By Matthew Shaer / 11.14.12

Two years after the debut of Google TV, Google HQ has issued an update meant to make the platform "faster and easier."

In a blog post, Greg Funk and Eric Liu, product managers at Google, said the update encompassed three main features. The first is voice search – from now on, there'll be no more fumbling with the remote. Simply shout "Red Sox" in the direction of the television, hope your neighbors don't think you're batty, and wait for an image of Fenway Park to appear. 

The second feature is an app called PrimeTime – a kind of hyper-muscular interactive TV guide with a built-in recommendation engine.

With PrimeTime, Funk and Liu write, "you can quickly flip through the best stuff on live TV, access your favorite channels, see TV shows you recently watched, and find other suggestions based on what you enjoy watching."

Third feature: improved YouTube integration. With a new YouTube app, you can find a video on your smartphone, and beam it immediately up to the TV set. 

"The world watches 4 billion hours of YouTube per month, but it’s not yet as easy to watch YouTube on your TV as it is on your computers, phones, and tablets," Funk and Liu note. "YouTube and Google TV are changing that."

RECOMMENDED: Compare HDTV prices and specs

Google says the update will roll out for LG TVs in the "coming weeks," and other devices shortly after that. More on availability here

When it first launched, in October of 2010, Google TV was criticized for being far too complex for most users. Last year, Google issued a sweeping update meant to simplify the interface. But some reviewers were still unappeased. Google TV, TechCrunch noted in a 2011 assessment, was "teetering on a ledge between falling into an abyss of obscurity or sliding downhill into geekdom."

So will the 2012 update give Google TV the jolt it needs? 

Well, over at CNET, Casey Newton is cautiously hopeful. 

"Individually, none of the new features seem likely to attract new Google TV users by the millions," Newton argues. "But taken together, they show a company determined to get television right. These are hardly early days in connected TV – WebTV dates to the mid-'90s – but we may be in the early days of widespread consumer adoption. Between Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and Roku, there have never been more large electronics companies pouring resources into a strategy for living-room domination."

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

The Google Nexus 4, a smartphone built by LG and powered by the latest iteration of the Google Android operating system, sold out quickly in the US and the UK. (Google )

Google Nexus 4 sells out within an hour in US, UK

By Matthew Shaer / 11.14.12

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Google began selling its LG-built Nexus 4 smart phone. And on Tuesday, Nov. 13, Google sold out of all its Nexus 4 stock. 

According to reports from the UK, the 8 GB Nexus 4 disappeared from digital shelves within 15 minutes of launch (Google is selling the device through its Google Play store, and not in brick and mortar outlets). Meanwhile, in the US, consumers apparently ran through the entire Nexus 4 supply – the 8 GB and 16 GB models – in an hour.

In a statement obtained by Business Insider, Google said more phones were on the way. 

"There’s been so much interest for the Nexus lineup that we’ve sold out of some of our initial stock in a few countries," Google reps wrote. "We are working hard to add more Nexus devices to Google Play in the coming weeks to keep up with the high demand." 

It's worth noting, of course, that Google has not revealed exactly how many Nexus 4 smartphones it had on hand.

It could be a big number, but it could be a relatively small number. And is there anything better for a product than to declare the thing sold out, as a result of "high demand"? Google, in this regard, may be taking some notes from Apple, which made sure to tout the fact that it sold out of its initial run of iPhone 5s, even as sales fell short of many analyst predictions for the new Apple smartphone.

So yes, we reserve the right to remain skeptical about Google's claims. We have no doubt that it sold out. But how many did it sell? 

At the same time, it's hard to deny that the Nexus 4 is a beautiful, powerful phone – a worthy rival to the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, the two devices that dominate the smart phone market today. The Nexus 4 sells for $299 for an 8 GB model and $349 for a 16 GB model; the device ships unlocked, so consumers can choose their carrier and plans independently. 

"What once was a smartphone series designed for developers has been decked out with top-notch features and priced so attractively that consumers will take notice of it; there's nothing comparable that comes close to it in that price range," Brad Molen of Engadget wrote in a rave review of the device. "This is a smartphone that we'd normally expect to be much more expensive unlocked, but Google set a precedent by lowering the cost of the Galaxy Nexus, keeping the Nexus 7 [tablet] at $200 and is now continuing the trend with the Nexus 4. The price of freedom has never been more reasonable." 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

The HTC Droid DNA for Verizon. (Verizon)

HTC Droid DNA: Better hope you've got big thumbs

By Matthew Shaer / 11.13.12

We admit to being a little mystified at the rise of the "phablet," a portable device that occupies the awkward middle ground between tablet and smartphone.

Still, the things are apparently selling pretty well – earlier this year, Samsung announced it had sold 3 million Galaxy Note II phablets in just over a month. It was an indicator, TechCrunch argued at the time, of "serious momentum for enormo-phones." 

The latest super-sized smart phone to hit the market is the HTC Droid DNA, a slim gadget equipped with a 5-inch HD display. By comparison, the screen on the iPhone 5 measures 4-inches corner to corner – and that was a size upgrade from the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 4S. So yes, the Droid DNA has a lot of screen real estate. It's also got a record-setting pixel density of 440 pixels-per-inch. 

"That is the highest-pixel density on any mobile screen to ever hit the States," writes Brent Rose of Gizmodo, "by a gigantic margin (HTC announced the J Butterfly last month in Japan which has the same screen). To put that in perspective, the iPhone 5 has 326 PPI, or 114 fewer pixels per inch than the Droid DNA. It's also better than any tablet, computer, or TV on the market."

Other niceties: The Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, an 8-megapixel camera, a 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, and 2 gigabytes of RAM. The Droid DNA will be powered by Verizon Wireless, and available on Nov. 21. The price is $199 with a two-year voice and data contract. And already, the DNA is enjoying some seriously glowing notices ("this thing is nuts," notes Rose of Gizmodo). 

"On back, the phone’s soft-touch surface cut from premium polycarbonate reminds me more of the HTC One X and One X+’s design language though," writes CNET's Brian Bennet, in a hands-on preview posted today. "You’ll need that soft-touch coating too since its rubber feel provides a sure grip. The device’s large, yet thin. Its 0.16-inch profile make it thinner than the Samsung Galaxy S III." 

More when we know it, including a more comprehensive look at reviews. 

Steven Sinofsky, the president of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft, speaks at the launch event of Windows 8 operating system in New York, in this Oct. 25, 2012 file photo. Microsoft announced this week that Sinofsky will be leaving the company with immediate effect, days after the software giant launched the Surface tablet. (Reuters)

Weeks after launch of Windows 8, Microsoft's Windows guru waves goodbye

By Matthew Shaer / 11.13.12

Late last month, Microsoft launched Windows 8, officially inaugurating what Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer called a "new era" in desktop and mobile computing. Now, less than three weeks later, Microsoft is waving goodbye to Steven Sinofsky, the executive in charge of the Windows group at Microsoft. In a press release, Microsoft announced that Sinofsky would be replaced by Julie Larson-Green, a longtime Microsoft employee. 

"It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft," Sinofsky said in a statement. "I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company." 

So what's behind Sinofsky's exit? Well, Microsoft is saying the whole thing is mutual and amicable. Others aren't so sure. 

Over at Businessweek, Ashlee Vance speculates that Sinofsky's departure might have something to do with his "often-prickly nature." Sinofsky, Vance writes, "wasn’t seen as a team player within Microsoft and was instead known for protecting his fiefdom. That approach doesn’t go over well at today’s Microsoft, which needs to prove that Windows is just one piece of a larger collective that includes phone software, online services, and [the Xbox 360]." 

Moreover, Sinofsky may have been blamed for less than robust Windows 8 sales. 

It's worth noting that aside from the initial press release, Microsoft is staying mostly mum. Sinofsky, for his part, declined interview requests. 

So what's next for Microsoft and the Windows 8 brand? Well, over at Computerworld, Matt Hamblen isn't exactly feeling optimistic. 

"My feeling is that Windows 8 is just so immense in its changes for the computing public that even Microsoft hasn't come to grips with how to market it or even how to explain it," Hamblen writes. "Arriving nearly three years late to the touchscreen-tablet game with its immense desktop and laptop following in tow, Microsoft seems to have just birthed the Windows 8 OS too quickly in hopes that it will seem logical and intuitive to its smart users, and therefore easy." 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

The Google doodle today honors the life and work of Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor. (Google )

Remembering Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor and artistic innovator

By Matthew Shaer / 11.12.12

The Google homepage today depicts a man sitting on a slab of rock, his chin resting on one fist, his face furrowed in concentration. The doodle is an homage to the famous sculpture of "Le Penseur," or "The Thinker," and its creator, the Parisian artist Auguste Rodin, who was born 172 years ago today. So who was Rodin, exactly? Only one of the most influential sculptors in history. 

Rodin was born on Nov. 12, 1840, the son of Marie Cheffer Rodin and Jean-Baptiste Rodin, an inspector in the Paris Préfecture de Police. He spent his childhood in the bustling central Paris district of Mouffetard, where he found some of his first subjects. 

"When I was very young, as far as I can remember, I made drawings," he later told a friend. "A grocer patronized by my mother used to wrap his prunes in paper bags made of pages torn from illustrated books, or even prints. I copied them." 

As a young man, he was sent to a local school devoted to design and math. He fared poorly with the math. 

"I could not see the figures on the blackboard," he recalled. "I have always been shortsighted. As a child I did not know what was the matter and I hated mathematics because I could not see."

But Rodin was an exceedingly skilled artist.

He studied with the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye and spent many long hours absorbing the techniques of the French Romantic school. When he was repeatedly denied admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, the leading art school of the day, he found work as a modeler for a series of Parisian contractors. In his spare time, he worked on his own art. 

In 1862, Rodin's sister, Maria, died suddenly, and Rodin, laid low with grief, entered the order of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. He left in 1863. Later, he signed on as an assistant with the painter and sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. 

In the early 1870s, he went with Carrier-Belleuse to Brussels; by the mid-1870s, he had become a well-known sculptor in his own right. 

"Exploring this realm beneath the surface," write the curators of the Rodin Museum, in Philadelphia, "Rodin developed an agile technique for rendering the extreme physical states that correspond to expressions of inner turmoil or overwhelming joy. He sculpted a universe of great passion and tragedy, a world of imagination that exceeded the mundane reality of everyday existence." 

From 1880 to the early years of the 20th century, Rodin created some of his most famous works: "The Kiss" (which depicts a scene from "The Inferno"), "The Burghers of Calais," "The Gates of Hell," and "The Thinker," which was first exhibited in 1904. Initially, "The Thinker" was placed in front of the Pantheon, an old church in the French Quarter of Paris; in the 1920s, it was moved to the newly-established Musée Rodin

Rodin died in 1917, at the age of 77, in Meudon, a suburb of Paris. But his legacy lives on today. 

Again, from the Website of the Rodin Museum: "The hallmarks of Rodin's style – his affinity for the partial figure, his focus on formal qualities and relationships rather than on narrative structure, and his desire to retain the marks of the sculptural process on his finished works – were revolutionary in his time. The evocative intensity of his works were elaborated on by countless artists who followed him." 

The Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone and its little brother, the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini. (Reuters)

Samsung Galaxy S III takes global sales lead

By Matthew Shaer / 11.08.12

The Samsung Galaxy S III is the top-selling smartphone in the world. 

That's the word today from tech firm Strategy Analytics, which reports that Samsung sold 18 million Galaxy S III handsets in the third quarter of this year (July through September). By comparison, Apple sold 16.2 million iPhone 4S units and 6 million iPhone 5 units in Q3. It's worth noting here that Apple technically sold more iPhones than Samsung did Galaxy S III phones – over 22 million in all, not counting any iPhone 3Gs that it might have unloaded. 

But Strategy Analytics was looking at individual smartphone models, and by that metric, the Galaxy S III easily bested the iPhone 4S. And Android phones as a whole crushed Apple.

"The Galaxy S III captured an impressive 11 percent share of all smartphones shipped globally and it has become the world’s best-selling smartphone model for the first time ever," Neil Shah of Strategy Analytics wrote in a press release. "A large touchscreen design, extensive distribution across dozens of countries, and generous operator subsidies have been among the main causes of the Galaxy S III's success."

Shah noted that many consumers, anticipating the fall launch of the iPhone 5, may have held off on buying an iPhone 4S, which could partially explain the distance opened up between Samsung and Apple. But it's also true that with the Galaxy S III, Samsung built a phone that really challenges the iPhone in terms of power, style, speed, and screen clarity. 

"The Galaxy S III is an amazing, amazing phone — the crème de la Android," David Pogue of the New York Times wrote in a review in June. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in Shenzhen, China. (Kin Cheung/AP/File)

Could Apple-supplier Foxconn open a plant in the US?

By Matthew Shaer / 11.08.12

Taiwanese tech manufacturer Foxconn could open a series of plants in the US. 

That's the word today from DigiTimes, which reports that Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple and other tech giants, is already conducting "evaluations" in Los Angeles and Detroit. Some caveats: DigiTimes sourced its article only to anonymous "market watchers," and Foxconn isn't saying a word. Furthermore, DigiTimes, while exceptionally well plugged-in to the tech industry in Asia, has a less than stellar track record. 

To quote Henry McCracken of Time, who recently fact-checked a bunch of DigiTimes dispatches, "when it comes to the big Apple stories, [DigiTimes is] wrong most of the time. Sometimes wildly so." 

Still, this rumor is worth watching, if only for the stakes involved: A Foxconn plant in the US would be very big news indeed. The Taiwan company has repeatedly come under fire for alleged labor violations – and since Apple relies so heavily on Foxconn, it has come under fire, too. (At the third presidential debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney specifically discussed how to get Apple to bring its manufacturing to the US.) 

A Foxconn plant in the US would presumably be more assiduously monitored than its counterparts in China and Taiwan; American Foxconn workers, meanwhile, would be paid far more than employees at plants in Asia. This, of course, is also reason to doubt the rumor: Foxconn and its customers rely on cheap labor in order to keep their profit margins high

In related news, Foxconn chairman Terry Gou recently told reporters that demand for the iPhone was outstripping supplies. 

"It's not easy to make the iPhones. We are falling short of meeting the huge demand," Gou said, according to Reuters. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

The Twitter logo hangs in the company's San Francisco offices in this file photo. Twitter said Thursday that it had accidentally expanded a routine security procedure to many of its users, resetting passwords and sending out warning emails. (Jeff Chiu/AP/File)

Twitter: A few hacked accounts, many reset passwords

By Contributor / 11.08.12

If you’re among those who received an email from Twitter asking you to reset your password -- don’t worry, your account (probably) wasn’t hacked. This is just what it looks like when Twitter accidentally loops way too many people into a routine security procedure.

Since Twitter is such a big platform, at any given time there are a few accounts that might have been compromised. When Twitter sees activity that indicates an account has been hacked, it automatically resets that account’s password to lock out intruders and sends the user a warning email about what’s going on. Twitter reminded everyone on Thursday that the procedure is “a routine part of our processes to protect our users.”

But the company accidentally cast the net way too wide, resetting the passwords of many accounts and sending out emails to all those users warning them of suspicious activity. There definitely were some attacks on accounts Thursday morning – Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch describes how the website's handle was hacked, for example -- but Twitter isn’t being besieged by hackers. Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner told Reuters that there had not been a security breach.

In a statement about the event, Twitter admitted that it had “unintentionally reset passwords of a larger number of accounts, beyond those that [it] believed to have been compromised.”

We don’t know what triggered the resets, or how many people were asked to change their passwords -- although a quick scan of Twitter itself suggests that the email went out pretty widely.

With that said, it’s probably not a bad idea to change your Twitter password, just in case.

Twitter provided a link to do so in the email it sent to users -- but while that email is legitimate, it’s good to get in the habit of visiting sites directly when security is a concern. (Phishing scams often send out emails that appear official, with misleading links that can send your personal information to shady sites.) And it’s always wise to avoid repeating passwords across different websites -- so if your Twitter account ever does get hacked, you won’t be stuck wondering whether the attackers were able to access your other accounts with the same password.

Did Twitter reset your account password? Tell us about it in the comments section below. And follow us on Twitter @venturenaut (we had to reset our password, but don’t worry; everything’s fine).

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The Google homepage today honors the author Bram Stoker, and his most famous book, 'Dracula.' (Google )

Bram Stoker books: How 'Dracula' created the modern vampire

By Matthew Shaer / 11.08.12

The Google homepage on Thursday depicts a sinister-looking count, a castle on a lonely hill, and a fainting woman surrounded by concerned suitors. The doodle, of course, is an homage to the 1897 novel "Dracula," and its Irish author, Bram Stoker, who would have turned the ripe old age of 165 today. So who was Bram Stoker, exactly?

Only the progenitor of the modern vampire craze. Long before there was "True Blood," "Vampire Diaries," or "Twilight" – with its sophisticated "vegetarian vampires" – there was Stoker and his most famous creation: a long-toothed, blood-thirsty Transylvanian transplant. 

Abraham Stoker was born on Nov. 8, 1847, in a suburb of Dublin called Clontarf. He was the third of seven children. Although he had struggled with illness as a kid, by the time he got to Trinity College, in Dublin, Stoker was a swaggering, flush-cheeked bon vivant – he joined the debating squad, became president of the University Philosophical Society, and apparently excelled at soccer and track and field. 

After graduation, on the insistence of his father, he enrolled in the Civil Service, and took a job as a clerk. In his spare time, he wrote relentlessly, both short stories and theater reviews for The Dublin Evening Mail. Through his newspaper connections, he met Henry Irving, a famous actor and the owner of the Lyceum Theatre, in London. Irving and Stoker struck up a friendship. 

In 1878, Stoker married Florence Balcombe, the beautiful daughter of a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army. Stoker and Balcombe eventually moved together to London, where Stoker helped manage operations at the Lyceum Theatre. He remained in that post for almost three decades. 

Three years before getting married, while still in Dublin, Stoker published a novel called "The Primrose Path" (the main character is a carpenter for a theater in London). Once in England, he rededicated himself to his fiction writing. His second novel, "The Snake's Pass," appeared in 1890, and his third and fourth in 1895.

His fifth novel was "Dracula," the book that assured him a place in literary history. 

With "Dracula," Stoker used journal and diary entries to tell the story of a powerful and vampiric count and his pursuers – Dr. John Seward, Arthur Holmwood, Quincey Morris, Professor Van Helsing, and Jonathan Harker. Dracula carts himself to London, wreaks havoc, and finally flees back to Transylvania, where he is killed. 

"Dracula" was a hit among reviewers, and it sold well in both the UK and the US (where it was released in 1899), although the book was not an instantaneous, Stephen King-level success. In fact, what really solidified the place of "Dracula" in popular culture was not the novel itself, but the film adaptations – PBS estimates that there have more than a thousand. 

Perhaps the most famous is the 1931 vehicle starring Bela Lugosi, although for our money, the 1992 version, with Gary Oldman as the dread count, wasn't half bad, either. At any rate, Stoker never lived to see the success of "Dracula" reach critical mass. 

He died on April 20, 1912. 

It remains unclear what he would have made of "Twilight." 

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People vote during at a displaced polling center in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 6, 2012. (Reuters)

Where do I vote? A primer on finding your local polling place.

By Matthew Shaer / 11.06.12

After a solid three years of punditry, prognostications, and all manner of political posturing, the 2012 election is finally here.

So you've decided to vote? Good. Now you just need to find the right polling station. (Well, before that, you need to be registered, although a handful of states, including Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Mississippi, allow election-day registration. Click here to find out if your state is on the list.) 

You've got some options. First – and probably the fastest – is Google's elections page, where you can plug in your address and find a map to the nearest voting place. The bonus here is a ballot summary not only of the presidential choices, but also the local and national congressional races. You can also track past data, such as the Republican primaries, on a handy, color-coded chart

Facebook, meanwhile, has set up a pretty decent election tool of its own. Same deal here: Facebook takes your address and finds you a polling station, although the social network lacks Google's deep-dive information on local candidates. 

If you already sussed out the location of your polling place, but you're not sure what to bring in terms of identification – or even if you can legally vote – navigate over to canivote.org. There you can check registration info, click through lists of acceptable ID, and find contact info for local election officials. 

Happy voting! 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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