This week Google officially confirmed the existence of Project Glass, a prototype pair of augmented reality goggles, which will allow users to see maps and chats and take photographs or notes without once reaching down for their smart phones. Early photos of Project Glass show a slim, sleek pair of glasses, with a small rectangular lens over one eye – presumably for snapping photos.
"A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment," Google engineers Babak Parviz, Steve Lee, and Sebastian Thrun announced this week on Google+. "We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input." Parvis, Lee, and Thrun also posted a video of Project Glass, which is below.
Now comes news that Project Glass, which many analysts believed would not launch for months, could be closer to store shelves than originally anticipated. Yesterday evening the tech blogger Robert Scoble caught a glimpse of Google co-founder Sergei Brin sporting a pair of Google goggles, and tweeted the images to his quarter million followers – setting off a small Internet firestorm.
"The Google Glasses are real!" Scoble wrote in the Twitter message. Later he added that the goggles "look very light weight. Not much different than a regular set of glasses." Brin wouldn't let Scoble try on the Project Glass prototype, which could have something to do with the giant backpack Brin was carting around – perhaps, PC World speculates, that backpack was the power source for the goggles.
A quick note: Google has promised that the glasses will power themselves, so the production version obviously won't require a battery-pack-in-a-backpack.
In related news, Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White tells Fox News today that several tech companies are mulling their own version of the Google goggles, although presumably those products would not arrive until several months – at the very earliest – after Project Glass.
On Sunday, US customers can finally get their hands on the Lumia 900, the much ballyhooed smart phone from Nokia and Microsoft. The Lumia 900 ships with the Windows Phone operating system, a 4.3-inch AMOLED display, and an 8-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. The Lumia 900, one reviewer notes, "is clearly the best Windows Phone you can buy today, with a sleek design and top performance that rivals the best Android phones and the iPhone."
But here's the rub: Unlike the Android and iOS ecosystems, which are jammed full of apps – all of them accessible through Google Play and the Apple App store, respectively – Windows Phone has failed to really attract the interest of developers. In a report today, the New York Times chalks that up to the reluctance of companies to "funnel time and money into an app for what is still a small and unproved market."
So, the Times says, Microsoft has come up with a runaround: The company is actually financing app makers to develop software for the Windows phone. Details on how much Microsoft is paying are still unclear, but these apps, developers have estimated, would normally "cost them anywhere from $60,000 to $600,000, depending on the complexity of the app," according to the Times.
The mobile market-share numbers for Microsoft have been grim. Earlier this month, comScore reported that as of February, the Microsoft OS clung to just a 3.9 percent slice of the market, compared to approximately 50 percent for Android and 30 percent for Apple. Obviously, the emergence of better Windows Phones such as the Lumia 900 could change that math, but you can see why an app developer might be loath to take a chance on Windows Phone.
As the team at ZD Net notes, right now Microsoft lags far beyond Google and Apple in the apps arms race. The Android Marketplace, for instance, has about 400,000 apps available for download; Apple has approximately 600,000. Microsoft has 80,000 – a number which does not include popular favorites Pandora and Words With Friends. (Although Angry Birds Space may soon be forthcoming.)
It's getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a tablet and a smartphone.
Say hello to the HTC EVO 4G LTE, a capital-letter-sandwich of a smartphone set to launch on the Sprint network at some point in the second quarter of 2012. The EVO 4G, which was unveiled this week in New York, taps into the Sprint LTE network, and will retail for two hundred bucks, with a two-year data contract. Expect Android 4.0 capability, 8-megapixel rear-facing and 1.3-megapixel front-facing cameras, and improved voice quality.
But most importantly, this thing has an absolute monster of a display: 4.7 inches, according to HTC. Compare that to the 3.5 inch screen on the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the 4.3-inch display on the Droid RAZR Maxx. Thankfully, as was the case with past HTC models, the EVO 4G will come equipped with an extendable kickstand, allowing you to take better advantage of that movie-theater-sized screen.
The EVO 4G, when it launches, will go head-to-head with a small army of top-end, big-screen smartphones, including the iPhone 4S, which was released last year to rave reviews (and extremely solid sales figures). So how does it stack up? Well, over at PC Magazine, Eugene Kim does a side-by-side rundown of the EVO 4G and the iPhone 4S, well worth reading in its entirety.
The "eternal question," Kim notes, comes down to Android vs. Apple's iOS – how much a user gets out of the EVO 4G and the iPhone 4S will depend to a large extent on which operating system he or she prefers. But we can still make some distinctions: the EVO 4G is lighter and thinner than the iPhone, while the EVO's display, with its 312-pixels-per-inch, lags slightly behind the screen on the iPhone 4S, which boasts 326-pixels-per-inch.
And then there's the network speed. Comparing a Sprint-powered iPhone 4S to a Sprint-powered EVO, Kim gives the edge to the EVO. "The iPhone 4S connects to Sprint's 3G network and lags behind the latest generation of LTE-branded phones," he writes. "The EVO 4G LTE has the advantage here, but keep in mind that Sprint is still in the process of rolling out LTE coverage, so unless you're under its 4G umbrella, this might not be a huge factor."
Pre-orders for the EVO 4G LTE start May 7. Sign up here.
Which is what makes the news of the Flashback Trojan so frightening: Here's a piece of malware which has infected a reported 600,000 Mac machines around the globe, creating in the process a sprawling botnet army that stretches across at least a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
So can Flashback Trojan be stopped? Well, as the tech site F-Secure notes (hat tip to ZDNet for the link), machines can be disinfected, although the process is "risky" and recommended "only for advanced users." Meanwhile, Apple has released two patches, which should help prevent the Flashback attack: one is here, and the other is over here.
Bottom line here, folks: Macs are not – nor have they ever been – infallible.
"Tech types knew [the purported invulnerability of Macs] was a fallacy, but consumers ate it up enough to make Macs a growing sliver of the PC market," Andrew Nusca of ZD Net writes today. "OS X remains a minority around the globe, but its growth in popularity begets growth in attacks. It was only a matter of time."
Research In Motion reported yesterday on its fiscal fourth quarter results, and the results aren't good: revenue plummeted 19 percent to $4.2 billion, global sales dropped 21 percent to 11.1 million units, and in Q4 alone, the company lost $125 million. Meanwhile, Jim Balsillie, once the co-CEO of RIM – he was replaced by Thorsten Heins earlier this year – is stepping down from the board of directors.
RIM, of course, is the manufacturer of the BlackBerry line of smartphones, which for many years sold solidly in the US and abroad. But RIM has recently weathered a series of missteps, including the launch of its ill-fated BlackBerry PlayBook, and since last year, its market share has been slipping. So can RIM reverse course, and again viably compete in the smartphone wars?
Maybe. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Heins, the new RIM CEO, said the company would seek to get back to its roots: devices that appeal to businesspeople, not the lay consumer. "We plan to refocus on the enterprise business and capitalize on our leading position in this segment," Heins said, according to IDG.
Meanwhile, the company will focus on the release of BlackBerry 10, an operating system formerly known as BBX, which is expected to launch later this year. Details on the new OS are thin, although word is that RIM will begin providing prototypes to developers this spring. (EWeek has published a good run-down on what BlackBerry 10 phones must include if it wishes to compete with Apple and Android. Hint: bigger screens, no physical keyboard.)
There's only one problem, Eric Zeman notes over at Information Week: RIM may be running out of time.
"RIM's BB10 smartphones won't reach the market until close to the end of 2012," Zeman writes. "By then, Apple will have fielded the iPhone 5 and Google will have at least unveiled (if not actually released) the next version of Android. Apple and Google are the reason RIM is in its current state. Their touch-screen, media-centric smartphones have won over consumers and business users alike, who've adopted them by the hundreds of millions."
Sony is refusing to comment, but according to one new report, a successor to the PlayStation 3 is already in the works, and on target for a late 2013 launch. Citing anonymous sources familiar with the new console, the gaming blog Kotaku has published a preliminary run-down on the PlayStation 4, which has allegedly been slapped with the codename of Orbis.
Among the purported specs on the Orbis: a resolution of 4096x2160, which, as Kotaku notes, is "far in excess of the needs of most current HDTV sets." The Orbis – or PS4, if you'd like – will "also be capable of playing 3D games in 1080p. Some game studios may have already received development kits for the Orbis; "more finalised beta units will be shipped" by the end of the year, Kotaku adds.
But the most interesting revelation has to do with a crack-down on used games. Games for the new console will reportedly be available as a PlayStation Network download or as a disc. But "[I]f you buy the disc, it must be locked to a single PSN account, after which you can play the game, save the whole thing to your HDD, or peg it as 'downloaded' in your account history and be free to download it at a later date," Kotaku writes.
This would, of course, drastically affect the used game market: You can't trade-in a downloaded game, nor would anyone want to buy a second-hand game that's already been "locked" to another account. So is Sony actually considering taking a similar approach with its next console? Maybe, Ian Paul writes over at PC World.
"While these are only claims from anonymous sources at this point," Paul writes, "the idea that console makers are looking to destroy or at least restrict the second-hand gaming and rental market is not surprising. The move could push more users toward using Sony's PSN Store to download game titles."
In January, the New York Times published a long investigative piece examining the working conditions at several Chinese plants owned by Foxconn, which manufactures iPad and iPhone parts for Apple. Among the findings: Foxconn employees "labor in harsh conditions," live in overpacked dormitories, and work "excessive" overtime – sometimes standing "so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk."
The article was damning, and under fire from critics, Apple eventually agreed to hire the Fair Labor Association to conduct an outside audit of its China-based suppliers. That was last month. This week brings news that Apple exec Tim Cook, who took over the reins of the company from the late founder, Steve Jobs, has journeyed to China for the first time in his tenure as CEO.
"Tim is in China meeting with government officials. China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there," Apple spokesperson Carolyn Wu told Reuters today. Meanwhile, Apple said Cook had spoken with vice premier Li Keqiang.
Other details of the trip remain murky: Apple has not made Cook's itinerary public. However, newly released photos show that on Wednesday, Cook made at least one trip to a large Foxconn factory.
Cook is also likely to discuss with Chinese officials an ongoing legal showdown over the iPad trademark. A Chinese company called Proview has claimed that it owns the mainland China trademarks for the iPad; Apple says Proview is "misleading" Chinese customers.
According to a batch of papers filed this week in US District Court in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh resident Brandon Price stands accused of impersonating Allen, and convincing Citibank customer service to send him a replacement credit card, which Price then attempted to use to rack up $15,000 in purchases.
"An individual identifying himself as Paul Allen called the customer service department of Citibank," according to a complaint filed by the FBI. (Hat tip to the Register.) "The caller stated that he had misplaced his debit card at his residence, but did not want to report it stolen. The individual then successfully ordered a new debit card on the account of Paul Allen and had it sent via UPS."
Monitor readers will remember that in a Data Breach Investigations report released this week, a team of analysts at Verizon noted an uptick in cybercrime and stolen online identities. As David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, told BusinessWeek today that the Allen incident is "a reminder that anyone can be a victim of this. It certainly is a surprise and reason for everyone to make sure that all that stuff is properly cared for and monitored," Postman added.
If convicted, Price faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The Kindle Fire has been a success for Amazon – so much so that the Pew Research Center, in a report released earlier this year, estimated that the release of the Fire single-handedly helped drive up tablet sales nationwide. Now comes news that Amazon is prepping three new Fire tablets, including an upmarket 8.9 inch device with a high-resolution screen, which would presumably compete with the recently-launched Apple iPad.
Amazon plans to hit a range of price points (and prospective audiences), according to the China Economic News Service. Two of the new tablets would measure 7-inches, just like the current Fire, but one would get a screen resolution of 1024 by 600, and the other would clock in at 1280 by 800. Meanwhile, the "high-end" Fire would measure 8.9-inches, more in line with the iPad, and ship with a 1920 by 1200 display.
Still, it certainly makes sense that Amazon would want to get a piece of the ballooning luxury tablet market currently dominated by Apple. Some analysts have predicted that Apple could unload 12 million units of the new iPad before the end of the current quarter.
In related news, Amazon today released the Kindle Touch 3G in 175 countries, and in seven languages – German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and American or British English.
Also: Something of a data hog. According to a new report in the Wall Street Journal, users are finding that the latest version of Apple's popular tablet, which comes equipped with 4G LTE capability, siphons through data at an alarming rate. Now nominally, of course, faster download speeds are a good thing. The faster the download speeds, the less buffering and the better the video quality.
But 4G isn't free – folks who bought an LTE-equipped iPad signed for one of three data plans, each with a different download cap. AT&T, for instance, offers 250 MB for $14.99 a month; 3 GB for $30 a month; or 5 GB for $50 a month. Overshoot those limits, and you pay a fee. And with 4G, it's often really easy to overshoot the limits. (It's worth noting here that it costs nothing to access data via the Wi-Fi antenna on any iPad.)
"It's kind of a Catch-22," one user told the Wall Street Journal. "It streams really fast video, but by streaming really fast video you tend to watch more video, and that's not always best."
Suffice to say this ain't exactly a problem that's going to go away anytime soon. As carriers such as AT&T and Verizon increase the range and capacity of their 4G LTE networks – and as more devices come equipped with 4G antennas – we're all going to have to control our urge to slurp down massive amounts of data. Or else, we're going to have to learn to rely a whole lot more on Wi-Fi.
In related news, the battery meter on the new iPad may not be fully accurate. Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, creator of DisplayMate (hat tip to Ars Technica) recently conducted a test on the Apple tablet and found that the device often keeps charging for an hour after the thing is fully charged. "[I]f getting maximum battery run time is crucial, people need to keep their devices recharging for longer than the screen claims," Soneira told the Ars team.