Google Flexes Nexus' Tablet Muscles
Google is pushing its Nexus line into tablet territory with the Nexus 7, which runs the Android Jelly Bean, the latest version of the mobile software. However, instead of tackling Apple's iPad head-on, the Nexus 7 may end up causing more trouble for Amazon's tablet aspirations. Meanwhile, Facebook takes liberties, Samsung takes Galaxy Tabs off the shelves, and Kim Dotcom takes a victory lap.
Everyone in the tech world now suddenly wants to make their own hardware. Apple's been doing it for years, but Microsoft jumped on recently with the Surface tablet, and now Google's sort of making its own tablet too.
I say "sort of" because the new Nexus 7 tablet isn't really made by Google. Like everything else in the Nexus line, it's made by a name-brand hardware builder -- in this case Asus. But Nexus devices are dipped in Google's sacred holy water, blessed with an unsullied version of Android, and bandied about by the company as a pure and pristine example of what an Android device ought to be.
In the case of the Nexus 7, that's a 7-inch tablet featuring an Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU. It's running the very latest version of Android, Jelly Bean. And early hands-on users say it's incredibly fast and snappy, especially considering the price Google means to sell these things for.
That price: US$200. Preorders are being taken now; delivery comes next month. That's an MSRP that could cause great panic over at Amazon, a company that had a hit on its hands last autumn with the Kindle Fire, which also goes for $200.
Since the Fire's holiday heyday, sales have died down, but until last week it was still pretty much the only decent Android tablet you could buy new for that price.
The Fire's interesting because of how extensively Amazon altered Android to suit its own purposes -- namely, getting people to buy more stuff from Amazon. In fact, when the company was through working Android over, it almost didn't look like Android anymore. And that's not good for Google -- Android's supposed to be a freely distributed OS that swings users back over to Google's own ads, services and media ecosystem.
That ecosystem had a bit of a late start, though. Amazon's been selling digital goods for years, so the Fire hit the ground running. Only a few months ago did Google sweep its TV, movie, app and music stores into a united media megamall, Google Play.
Now, though, Google has its store stitched together and it has a 7-inch tablet -- just the right size for media consumption -- ready to roll out. There's a big fight lining up now between the Nexus 7, whatever follow-up Amazon has in store for the original Kindle Fire, and maybe even Apple, if it decides to venture into the low-price, 7-inch tablet realm.
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The Old Switcheroo
First rule of using Facebook: It's Zuckerberg's world; you're only living in it. Nobody pays a penny to have a Facebook profile, so whatever changes, alterations or switcheroos the site may make from time to time, it's Facebook's right to make them, so long as they don't violate various privacy regulations that could get it fined by the FTC or sued by users.
That doesn't mean users can't complain about it, though, and complain they do -- almost every time Facebook makes any kind of front-end change at all. Often those changes are purely aesthetic, which is something that just needs to happen from time to time. Let your site look the same way for too long and people will think it's running on autopilot. Other changes are clearly made to slurp up more user data, use it for ad sales, and pump the bottom line.
What Facebook did recently regarding users' email addresses was probably a move to boost its own services, but the way the company tried pulling it off was pushy, awkward and overbearing, even by Facebook standards. It changed the publicly listed email addresses on everyone's profile to an @facebook.com address.
Oh, you think you're a Gmail or Yahoo Mail user? Not according to your Facebook profile. Apparently in Facebook's fantasy world, everyone uses its email service all the time, so it decided to change everyone's profile to say so.
Messages sent through an @facebook email address end up in the in-box of that user's profile, not the Gmail or Yahoo Mail or whatever other in-box that person may be more used to checking. Some people get alerts when they get a Facebook note, but some don't, and missed messages could happen.
Yes, you can change it back by going into your profile and editing your settings. And yes, Facebook did warn it was going to do something with email addresses a few months ago in order to make them more "consistent" -- apparently this is what it was talking about. But not everyone follows Facebook's every twitch, so the move did end up being quite a surprise.
Also, it's unclear how making email address domains more "consistent" would benefit Facebook on a technical level. More likely it just wants to get a little more traction for its @facebook email service, so it elbowed its entire user base into it overnight.
Facebook email does have its uses. For instance, keep it listed on your Facebook profile if you want to keep your "real" email address known only to your very closest friends. But that's just an idea, just a suggestion. I wouldn't dream of going into your profile and changing it for you. That would just be weird.
iTunes is the Grand Central Station of the Apple universe -- the backbone of the whole Apple iThing/MacThing experience. It used to be a relatively simple jukebox app, but over the past decade, countless additions and extra wings have been built on, turning it into a one-stop media shopping center, entertainment complex and mobile device service station.
iTunes is almost an operating system within an operating system, and it's getting to be a little unruly. It's unclear whether Apple intends to simplify or slim down iTunes, but it is working to give the program a major overhaul, according to Bloomberg. The new version could be delivered alongside a new iPhone, which is highly expected to arrive this fall.
If Apple's going to tear iTunes down to studs, there are plenty of things it could do as it builds it back up. Perhaps a division of tasks is on the way -- keep the online media sales, but lop off iDevice management and put it in its own app. Or take channels like movies, books or iOS apps and give them their own store, sort of like how the Mac App Store works.
Slicing things up that way would make each app less bloated, though it could also complicate things in other ways.
Better music-sharing is reportedly on the way. Users will apparently be able to share entire songs with their friends, something music labels initially opposed. It seems Apple may have convinced them to come around.
Who knows? Maybe a music subscription model could be coming up too. Yes, Apple's dumped on the idea of subscriptions several times in the past, but usually that just means it's working on its own version of the same idea. Improved iCloud integration would also be a plus. The service could definitely benefit from a more hands-on dashboard, possibly provided through an iTunes interface.
Also, iTunes' social networking chops desperately need a good sharpening. Apple's figured out ways to work Twitter and Facebook deep into iOS; now it's time to weave iTunes into the mix too. Music and social go like chocolate and peanut butter, but so far the furthest iTunes has gotten there has been the much-disregarded Ping network, which is rumored to be slated for execution right around the time this new iTunes will supposedly pop up.
You're forgiven if your eyes glaze over every time you read yet another headline about Apple's and Samsung's worldwide legal battle royale. It's all a bunch of filing a motion this, countersuing that, and judicial decisions that never seem to affect much on the ground level. Just lawyers doing lawyery things.
But once in a while something big actually happens, and one company manages to make the other one bleed, if only a few drops.
That's what happened in a California federal court Tuesday. Judge Lucy Koh reversed her earlier decision and slammed Samsung with an injunction that bars the company from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the U.S.
That doesn't mean retailers have to scramble to get the devices off shelves for fear of some federal goon squad breaking down their doors. They can move their present inventories; Samsung just can't supply any more unless and until the injunction is lifted.
Sales of the device have been banned due to what it looks like. Apple has been arguing in several different venues that the design of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is almost identical to that of the iPad, which hit the market first. Samsung defenders say there are differences, especially on the back where the respective company logos appear. And really, other than a black rectangle, what other shapes and colors are practical for a tablet?
But Koh ruled that the similarities were far too extensive, and now Samsung will have to find its way out of the predicament. It could settle with Apple. Or it could redesign its product to work around the specific points of contention Apple has brought up in court.
Actually, that second option is one Samsung's already trying. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 II was designed specifically to address Apple's complaints, and that newer product is still free and clear to sell in the U.S.
Hate to Rain on Your Raid
The champagne momentarily stopped flowing for Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom last January when an international team of law enforcement agencies conducted a raid on the site, its servers and Dotcom's own home in New Zealand. Now, though, the Web entrepreneur and part-time fraudster may have reason to pop open a few more cases.
Megaupload was a sort of digital locker service. Members could upload and store data using the site, then download it later when they needed it -- and let anyone else in the world download it too, if they so chose. Very convenient if you're sharing documents related to a group project, or videos of the baby's first steps. But according to authorities, Megaupload was mostly used as a clearinghouse for pirated media, and the site encouraged people to use it as such.
Six months ago, the FBI, New Zealand police and Hong Kong customs orchestrated a crackdown to seize Megaupload's domain, shut down its servers, freeze assets and arrest key personnel, including Dotcom himself, during a raid on his home.
Dotcom's being charged with massive copyright infringement, along with some money laundering on the side. He claims he shouldn't be held responsible for what other people use his site for.
But the situation grew a little less dire for him recently, thanks to a ruling from New Zealand judge Helen Winkelmann. New Zealand authorities used improper warrants that were too vague, she ruled, when they descended on his compound and seized computer hard drives with information regarding his business. They also improperly handled the evidence once they had it, allowing U.S. authorities to ship copies of the data over to the states without the court's explicit OK.
The botched raid means that evidence can't be used in court, and the case against Megaupload has hit a major pothole. The decision is a setback for the prosecution, though it definitely has more avenues to pursue. And just because the evidence has been deemed inadmissible in court doesn't mean the feds have to erase it from their memory and pretend it doesn't exist.
They still have copies of the data, and that info could still point them in the direction of evidence they actually can use.