SYSTEM UPDATE: Sony’s new Google TV box tries to take on Apple TV … again

The first time things didn't work out. But maybe the second time will be the charm. That's exactly what Sony and Google are hoping with their new Google TV set-top box. Let's start with some background. Back in 2010, Google TV was supposed to take over your living room, bringing smartphone gadgetry to your bland, channel-changing HDTV and changing your life. But the overhyped, overly expensive boxes never caught on. Turns out most households are just fine with an HDTV that delivers some cable channels. Meanwhile, everyone's favorite company, Apple, delivered a cheaper ($99), sleeker alternative smart TV, and Apple TV practically wiped Google's project off the map. That brings us back to this, the summer of 2012 and Sony's NSZ-GS7. The $199.99 black box with the space-ship-headed-for-Mars name is Sony's attempt to put Google back into competition against the ever-popular Apple TV, bringing intelligence and integration and apps — even a few games — to your HDTV. It's arguably Google's flagship attempt of the summer. It doesn't come close to toppling Apple TV, although this is the finest, most user-friendly Google TV experience you'll ever find. The goal of Google TV from the beginning was to enhance your traditional TV experience with a little computer know-how. You turn on the TV, flip channels and find a show, but what if you could do more? Sony and Google badly want to let you do that with this little black box. You run your cable box through the NSZ-GS7, wade through a few menus, and suddenly, you have a live list of everything that's available on TV. It's similar to the "Guides" channel offered by most cable providers, but Google reorganizes shows into categories (think sitcoms, movies, sports). Little things enhance the experience, letting you see how much time is left in a movie, and when it last aired. Push a button, and your Sony box does the dirty work, changing the channel on your cable box, sometimes even letting you Continue Reading

Killing the iPhone headphone jack may be Apple’s ‘New Coke’ moment

As with most things in my life, when it comes to technology I’m an optimist. I want to live in a world where smart people try bold things and just try to figure it out along the way.But despite that, I can’t for the life of me bring myself to buy an iPhone 7 now that Apple has killed the headphone jack. It’s a baffling decision, and the only explanation Apple gave was to cite the “courage” of its designers in eliminating a standard that has worked perfectly fine for decades.The courage line was, above anything else in the keynote, insulting—primarily to people who actually display real courage every day in jobs that don’t involve designing pocket computers, but also to the intelligence of Apple’s own customers.Wireless headphones are neat. People are buying them, more often than wired headphones these days. But they’re also complex, unreliable, and generally more expensive than their wired counterparts. People are buying more of them because they very likely already have multiple pairs of wired headphones that have been working just fine for years.Why is Apple getting rid of the headphone jack in the first place? It’s not clear. Pierce through the attempt at conjuring up another of Apple’s famous reality distortion fields and you’ll see that there’s no credible reason at all.Existing headphones already can do nearly everything that new, more expensive Lightning-powered headphones can do, except force headphone companies—like the Apple-owned Beats By Dre brand—to license the right to use a Lightning connector. And Apple’s new wireless AirPods are—like most “truly” wireless earbuds—a truly terrible idea.The new AirPods essentially look like the existing Apple earbuds with the wires removed. They stick in your ear, and the little stems that usually house the wires just end where the wire would be. They look like skinny, white versions of existing Continue Reading

Apple hopes to jump-start mobile payments with Apple Pay

Apple is jumping into the mobile payments pool with its Apple Pay service.The new payment service, which will be supported by major banks, restaurants and other retailers, will launch in October, shortly after the arrival of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus on Sept. 19.Apple touts its proprietary system as safe and secure because it creates one-time payment numbers for purchases, rather than transmitting credit card numbers and security codes."Apple doesn't know what you bought, where you bought it or how much you paid for it," said Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet software and services. "The transaction is between you, the merchant and your bank. The cashier doesn't see your name, credit card number or security code."Shoppers' information is sent to a payment portal wirelessly via a near-field communications antenna built into the top of the new models. If consumers trust Apple Pay, they will likely increase impulse purchases a la Amazon Prime, says Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy. "Apple is one step closer to having a 'magic buy' button on a phone, where consumers can simply click one button and everything else is already taken care for them," he said.Credit cards and banks supporting the system include American Express, Mastercard and Visa, Citi, Bank of America and PNC. Among retailers on board: Macys, Bloomingdales, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Whole Foods, Disney stores and Staples. Restaurants supporting Apple Pay include Subway and Panera Bread. McDonald's is also adding Apple Pay to drive-thrus as well as walk-in purchases.And, of course, Apple Pay can also be used at its own retail stores. The 200,000-plus retailers that currently support contactless payments will support the new payment plan, too.The same Apple Pay process can be used for one-touch online payments via apps. Already supporting the platform is Target, Groupon, Uber and MLB.During Apple's event, Apple (AAPL) stock rose 4.7% to its highest point $102.94 during the Continue Reading

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils iCloud, storage service that allows users to store all data online

Apple aficionados had their heads in the iCloud at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.San Francisco's Moscone Center to a rousing standing ovation, CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iCloud, a new online storage service that allows smart phone and tablet users to access their music library and other data from the Internet instead of storing it on a device's hard drive.iPhone, iPads and Mac computers. It's free - for now - and replaces Apple's data-sharing service MobileMe, which costs $99 a year. iOS 5 - which features a revamped system of alerts for iPhones and iPads that now appears at the top of a device’s screen rather than the middle; a built-in app that reminders users to create to-do lists; camera app that allows users to take photos quickly by pressing the volume button; plus better integration with Twitter.With News Wire Services Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

It’s skinnier, sexier and cheaper: Palm releases Pixi smart phone, available through Sprint Nextel

Palm Inc., which revitalized its product line with the Pre smart phone launch in June, is hoping to keep momentum going with the release of a lighter, cheaper handset called the Pixi. The company said Wednesday that the Pixi will be available during the holiday season through Sprint Nextel Corp., currently the Pre's exclusive wireless carrier. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Palm would not divulge the Pixi's price tag, but confirmed it will be less than that of its big brother. Sprint dropped the Pre's price by $50 to $150 on Wednesday, including two rebates and a two-year service contract. "The combination of announcing a new device and changing the price on the Pre show we're aggressively pursuing new customers to get them accessing the WebOS experience," Katie Mitic, Palm's senior vice president of product marketing, said in an interview Tuesday. Contrary to a promotion reportedly advertised on its Web site Tuesday, Sprint is not offering customers a $100 credit to switch to the Pre from another carrier. Spokeswoman Michelle Leff said the Web site glitch was caused by an error in Sprint's computer system. The Pixi's release will mark Palm's second attempt in less than a year to use new software and streamlined designs to lure consumers in the still small but fast-growing smart phone market, which is dominated by Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices. According to market research firm NPD Group, smart phones made up 28 percent of consumer cell phone purchases in the second quarter, up 47 percent from the same period last year. Palm hasn't disclosed the number of Pre smart phones sold. But its stock has more than quadrupled since the company unveiled the device Jan. 8 at the Consumer Electronics Show. The Pixi also offers Sprint - which has been bleeding subscribers to other carriers - another opportunity to attract new customers and get current ones to "trade up" from regular cell phones. Despite the Pre's availability, Continue Reading

Two years later, Microsoft takes on Apple’s iPhone with phone software that’s similiar to Zune

Apple Inc. rocked the wireless business by combining the functions of a phone and an iPod. Now, more than two years later, Microsoft Corp. has its comeback: phone software that works a lot like its own Zune media player. The new software, which was due to be unveiled Monday at the Mobile World Congress, is a dramatic change from previous generations of Windows Mobile. But Microsoft is sticking to its model of making the software and selling it to phone manufacturers, rather than making its own phones. Microsoft's mobile system powered 13.1 percent of smart phones sold in the U.S. last year, according to research firm In-Stat. That made it No. 3 after Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and the iPhone. But Microsoft has been losing market share while Apple and Google Inc.'s Android gained. All the while, the market is becoming increasingly important. People are spending more and more time on their phones, and the devices steer people to potentially lucrative Web services and ads. Phones with the new software will be on the market by the holidays, Microsoft said. They won't be called "Zune phones," as had been speculated, but will keep the "Windows phone" branding. Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's mobile communications business, said Windows Mobile suffered from the company's chaotic approach to the market. The software maker gave phone hardware makers and wireless carriers so much freedom to alter the system and install it on so many different devices that none worked the same way. As a result, while other phone vendors such as Apple linked their hardware and software tightly to ensure a better experience, Windows Mobile might not have looked like it quite fit on a certain handset. "We were too flexible, at the expense of end-user focus," said Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president in the Windows phone group. With this version, Microsoft is imposing a set of required features for Windows phones. Microsoft will make manufacturers Continue Reading

Apple’s iPhone better watch out! The Palm Pre is going on sale in Sprint stores June 6

Move over, iPhone. You've had two years on top of the smart phone world. Now there's a touch-screen phone with better software: the Palm Pre. In a remarkable achievement, Palm Inc., a company that was something of a has-been, has come up with a phone operating system that is more powerful, elegant and user-friendly. The Pre, which goes on sale Saturday for $200 (after a mail-in rebate) at Sprint stores, makes it easier to do more things on the go. With webOS, Palm's new operating system, you can keep multiple applications open at once. They're organized like a row of cards that stretches off the screen, and you flick the screen to switch between them. For instance, if you need to quickly check your calendar while writing an e-mail, you can bring up the calendar application, then flick back to e-mail, then keep switching between them as you try to work out your schedule. On Apple Inc.'s iPhone, you can run only one application at time. To switch between calendar and e-mail, you have to go back to the main menu every time. Also unlike the iPhone, webOS will notify you of events that need your attention, no matter which application you're in. Notification icons for e-mails, calls and over events appear at the bottom of the screen. If you tap on the e-mail notice, for instance, the message pops up. So webOS makes the iPhone look clunky, which is stunning in itself. It also thoroughly shows up Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile. That operating system has had multitasking for years, but few users have appreciated that. Rather, Windows Mobile has been blamed for making phones clumsy and slow. Now, webOS comes along and does multitasking right. Also very cool is that webOS aggregates contacts and calendar items from multiple sources, like Google, corporate Exchange servers, and even Facebook. You know how lots of phones have space for a photo for each contact? The Pre automatically pulls your friends' Facebook photos into your contacts list. As far as the Continue Reading

Did Steve Jobs make a misstep? Apple iPad’s approach to e-books may confuse

Even as Apple's iPad will likely energize electronic reading, the new device is undermining a painstakingly constructed effort by the publishing industry to make it possible to move e-books between different electronic readers. The slim, 1.5-pound "tablet" computer unveiled last week will be linked to Apple Inc.'s first e-book store when it goes on sale in a few months. The books, however, will not be compatible with Inc.'s Kindle or with the major alternative e-book system. Apple's creation of a third choice is likely to further frustrate and confuse consumers if they accumulate e-books for one device, then try to go back to read them later on a different one. The effect could be akin to having to buy a new set of CDs every time you get a new stereo system. It could also keep people from buying new e-readers as better models come out if they aren't compatible with the books they already have. This could cool consumers' enthusiasm for e-books, the way sales of digital music downloads were hampered by a variety of copy-protection schemes. "There are going to be some potentially painful lessons" for consumers when they try to move e-books they already own to new devices, said Nick Bogaty, senior manager of digital publishing business development at Adobe Systems Inc., which provides the major alternative e-book system. Before the iPad's debut, there have been two main camps in the e-book industry. The e-books that Amazon sells work only on the Kindle and on Amazon's software, which can be loaded for free on PCs and some smart phones. Everyone else, including Sony Corp., Barnes & Noble Inc. and public libraries, have gathered around Adobe's system. Adobe doesn't sell books itself, but provides software to booksellers and libraries so they can sell and lend books that can be opened on multiple devices. Like the Kindle store, the Adobe system uses a copy-protection system that prevents buyers from reselling the books or distributing them Continue Reading

E-mail, Web surfing and photo-sharing, these smart phones can do it all

They are part cell phone, part laptop, and they're becoming indispensable to more and more members of the workforce.Today's smartphones — devices that combine a phone with the schedule-keeping, contact-management and Internet capabilities of a personal digital assistant — make it easy for business travelers to leave their laptops behind, and for the rest of us to torture each other with text messages.Some of the newest smartphones combine good looks with useful business features, thus making them good gift-giving candidates. Apple iPhone Apple's iPhone triggered lots of buzz, but many of its features can be found in other smartphones. For example, the Voyager from LG Electronics has an iPhone-like 2.8-inch touchscreen on the outside as well as a full QWERTY keyboard — and another display — on the inside. The Voyager ($299.99 with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless) can receive live TV broadcasts via the V CAST network and has a 2-megapixel digital camera that can record short videos. T-Mobile Shadow The Shadow from T-Mobile ($149.99 with a two-year contract) also uses Windows Mobile 6 but instead of a QWERTY keyboard, the extra characters are integrated into a 16-key keypad. The Shadow, made by HTC, adds a layer of software on top of Windows Mobile 6, which simplifies it and allows you to perform tasks with fewer keystrokes. Some smartphones use Windows Mobile 6, which is bundled with scaled-down versions of familiar Microsoft Office applications (Excel, Word and PowerPoint). This means you can easily open spreadsheets, word-processing documents and presentations. Also included are a 2-megapixel camera and a music and video player. Motorola MOTO Q The MOTO Q music 9m from Motorola ($199.99 with a two-year Verizon Wireless contract) offers a 2.4-inch display, can be used with the Verizon Wireless V CAST music service and has a 1.3-megapixel camera with a flash. Like Samsung's new BlackJack II, this unit is a slab Continue Reading

Google Home wants to be your assistant, heating up the rivalry with Amazon Echo and soon, Apple

SAN FRANCISCO — When Christine Ha's techie husband ordered the Amazon Echo, she says she rolled her eyes skeptically, expecting another device to begin collecting dust in a forgotten corner of their Houston home. Then they plugged in the Echo on the counter ledge between their kitchen and living room and Alexa spoke to Ha."Life changer," Ha says.Ha, the vision-impaired contestant who won season three of the amateur cooking show MasterChef on FOX, routinely asks Alexa, the Echo's digital voice assistant, for an assist with everyday tasks.No screens to touch or buttons to push, Alexa can play jazz riffs or convert one U.S. dollar into Japanese yen. When Ha's making homemade ice cream, she can set a two-minute timer for the eggs she's whisking while monitoring the cream and milk heating on the stove. Ha's Nest thermostat is now voice controlled by Alexa, too, as are the lights, even the coffee maker.It's the kind of cozy relationship that Amazon's rivals — notably Google and its Google Home device and maybe soon Apple — dearly want to have with consumers, too. This week Google Home will try coax more people to give its smart-talking device a whirl by announcing new features at Google's annual I/O conference for software developers in Silicon Valley.More and more people are getting these devices to have a digital homebody at their beck and call who can fetch the news, read them an audio book, order diapers or dinner or tell them who's the prime minister of Lesotho. This year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, according to research firm eMarketer. And that's heating up the rivalry among the tech giants competing to get inside your home.The front runner is the Amazon Echo, which is expected to command 70% of the U.S. market this year. Amazon is Continue Reading