The Tech News Blog

January 19, 2015

Watch Out Studios, Amazon Is Making Movies

Amazon's Transparent

When Transparent recently won a Golden Globe, creator Jill Soloway said something in her acceptance speech that the Hollywood crowd is probably not used to hearing: "I want to thank...Jeff Bezos."

Bezos apparently liked what he heard because Amazon announced today that, in addition to making original TV series, the company will also "produce and acquire original movies for theatrical release and early window distribution on Amazon Prime Instant Video."

It can take up to a year for a movie that is released in theaters to be available via subscription services like Amazon and Netflix. With Amazon Original Movies, films will arrive one or two months after their theatrical debut. Ideally, Amazon wants to create 12 movies per year, with the first arriving in late 2015.

"Not only will we bring Prime Instant Video customers exciting, unique, and exclusive films soon after a movie's theatrical run, but we hope this program will also benefit filmmakers, who too often struggle to mount fresh and daring stories that deserve an audience," Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

The company did not announce any specific film projects today, but said that "Amazon Original Movies will focus on unique stories, voices, and characters from top and up-and-coming creators."

Amazon has hired Ted Hope to lead Amazon Original Movies. He is the co-founder of Good Machine, a production company with films like Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to its credit.

"Audiences already recognize that Amazon has raised the bar with productions in the episodic realm, tackling bold material in unique ways and collaborating with top talent, both established and emerging. To help carry the torch into the feature film world for such an innovative company is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility," Hope said in a statement. "Amazon Original Movies will be synonymous with films that amaze, excite, and move our fans, wherever customers watch. I am incredibly thrilled to be part of this."

The announcement comes shortly after Amazon kicked off its 2015 pilot season, which asks viewers to watch the first episodes of several TV shows and vote for the ones they want to get a full-season run. Viewers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany can pick from seven drama, comedy, and docu-series pilots.

January 17, 2015

Rumor: Galaxy S6 to Use Touch-Based Fingerprint Sensor

Touch ID

If you're an Android fan who is jealous of Apple's Touch ID, we understand. It's a pretty easy way to authenticate a mobile device, and it's worked a lot better than previous attempts from Samsung to replicate the functionality via a finger-swiping sensor instead of a finger-touching sensor.

Subtle differences, sure, but try saying that to someone who has awkwardly fumbled with his or her Galaxy S5 in an attempt to find the precise angle at which a finger, swiped across the device's fingerprint scanner, could unlock the smartphone. But don't take our word for it. As SamMobile describes:

"Hardware-wise, the Korean firm used a swipe-based fingerprint sensor, which wasn't that great, simply because it was poorly designed. Samsung built it into the home button, which didn't provide sufficient surface area for the finger to slide over properly and resulted in errors, ultimately frustrating the users. The only trick to get it to work better was to register a finger in multiple angles, but many people don't know about this trick, and Samsung's fingerprint registering tutorial is terrible," the blog wrote.

Well, according to SamMobile, Samsung is keen on keeping fingerprint-based authentication in the to-be-announced Galaxy S6. However, Samsung has reportedly gone back to the drawing board with the fingerprint authentication bit. Now, the Galaxy S6 will come with the same kind of fingerprint sensor you'd otherwise expect to find in an iPhone 5s, 6, or 6 Plus, the blog said. You'll be able to register your entire fingerprint and the scanner will be able to read it no matter how you're hitting the sensor button with your digit.

SamMobile hasn't heard about any changes hitting the smartphone's software just yet, which means that you'll likely be able to use your fingerprint to do all the things you could do previously on the Galaxy S5: unlock the phone, sign into websites, make PayPal payments, etc.

As for the rest of the Galaxy S6's supposed specs, it's long been rumored that the new smartphone is going to be redesigned from scratch—of course, that was the same rumor tossed around about the Galaxy S5, which wasn't really that different of a design from the Galaxy S4. Expect to see Quad HD display with a 1440p resolution, the same kind of camera sensor found on the Note 4, and big storage capacities—along with an eight-core chip to power the smartphone itself.

January 17, 2015

Xbox One Gets Price Cut (Again) After Strong Holiday Sales

Xbox One Shanghai

The holiday season may be over, but Microsoft still has one more treat for gamers: Starting today, the Xbox One is available for a special price of $349.

Redmond knocked $50 off of its console price in November, hoping to attract gift givers with a two-month promotion. There is no word on how long the price cut will last this time, but Microsoft said today that the deal will be available in the U.S. via "preferred retailer[s]."

That holiday price cut certainly worked to Microsoft's benefit. The Xbox One was the best-selling console in the U.S. in November and December, according to data from the NPD Group.

Despite competition from Sony's PlayStation 4, weekly average sales of the Xbox One outpaced its predecessor, the Xbox 360, by 50 percent during the same time period.

January 17, 2015

Report: Sales of First-Gen Google Glass Ending Amidst Overhaul

Google Glass

Google is reportedly overhauling its Google Glass business ahead of a second-generation launch.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, the search giant will remove Google Glass from Google X, which handles up-and-coming "moonshot" projects, and put it under the control of Nest Labs founder Tony Fadell.

Google will also stop selling the Google Glass Explorer Edition to consumers on Jan. 19, though businesses and developers will still be able to get it, the Journal said.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fortune said the move does not signal the demise of Google Glass; the search giant framed it as a step forward since it is moving beyond the confines of Google X.

But the Journal said Google will also be moving into a self-imposed quiet period of sorts, taking a more Apple-like approach and improving Google Glass in private.

January 15, 2015

T-Mobile Offers New ‘Simply Prepaid’ Plans

T-Mobile LTE T-Mobile today introduced new Simply Prepaid plans, which offer "unlimited" 4G LTE data, talk, and text, starting at $40 a month.

Customers can choose from three plans: unlimited data, talk, and text, plus 1GB of LTE data for $40; up to 3GB of LTE data for $50; and up to 5GB for $60 per month.

There is a catch, though. 4G LTE speeds will be restricted to 8Mbps (PCMag found that T-Mobile has an average download speed of 16.8Mbps) and when you use up your 4G LTE data, you'll be throttled to speeds of 128K.

Simply Prepaid users also can't take advantage of T-Mobile's Data Stash, Simple Global, or Music Freedom, or other services available via Simple Choice plans, which are about $10 per month more than Simply Prepaid options.

If that's not an issue, the new plans will be available online and in T-Mobile retail stores starting Jan. 25.

"We will never stop eliminating customer pain points," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement. "The 1.2 million net new prepaid customers who joined T-Mobile last year already see that value, and we have no plans to stop there."

As Fierce Wireless noted, T-Mobile last year offered independent wireless dealers the chance to open "Simply Prepaid" retail stores, which sell devices and plans from T-Mobile's prepaid lineup.

In other T-Mobile news, the company on Wednesday earned a win in the U.S. Supreme Court over a Georgia town that refused the company's proposal for a cell phone tower.

January 12, 2015

Report: 2 Dead, 4 Sick in LG Factory Accident

LG logoTwo people are dead as a result of a nitrogen leak at LG Electronics' factory near Seoul.

Four others have been sickened, one seriously, The New York Times reported.

According to a statement published by the paper, LG Display Co. said the victims were contract employees running regular repair and maintenance work.

The nitrogen leak occurred around midday at the P8 factory in Paju, South Korea, which makes LCD screens for large TV sets. Nitrogen is used to wash the display panels during manufacturing, the BBC reported.

LG did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Times said the company "expressed regret over the deaths," and will cooperate with an investigation.

The tragic news comes days after LG Electronics won a record 41 awards at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. LG earned top accolades for its G Flex 2 smartphone, curved 55-inch 4K OLED TV, and Twin Wash System—each of which earned PCMag's "Best of CES 2015" awards.

"At the heart of all of our products is our promise of delivering innovation for a better life," CEO William Cho said in a statement. "That promise is the foundation of scores of new LG products unveiled during a remarkable CES week in Las Vegas."

For another consecutive year, the company earned a slew of CES Innovation Awards, including honors for its four of its OLED TVs, the EcoHybrid Dryer, two refrigerators, the Smart HOM-BOT square robotic vacuum, and the G3 smartphone.

"This recognition validates our commitment to excellence," Cho said. "And inspires us to continue raising the standard for innovation in 2015 and beyond."

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January 12, 2015

Microsoft Slams Google for Spilling Beans on Windows 8.1 Bug

8 Windows 8.1 Tips for Business

Microsoft on Sunday criticized Google for disclosing a Windows 8.1 bug two days before it was scheduled to launch a fix.

According to Google's Project Zero real-time bug tracker, the search giant will publicize flaws 90 days after reporting them to the affected company.

So when Redmond was warned on Oct. 13 about a Windows 8.1 bug, it asked Google to keep all details mum until Microsoft could deliver a fix on Jan. 13 as part of its regular Patch Tuesday.

Instead, Google released details about the flaw—and the code needed to take advantage of the exploit—on Jan. 11.

"Specifically, we asked Google to work with us to protect customers by withholding details until … we will be releasing a fix," Microsoft Security Response Center Director Chris Betz wrote in a blog post.

"[T]his is a time for security researchers and software companies to come together," he continued, "not stand divided over important protection strategies, such as the disclosure of vulnerabilities and the remediation of them."

The software maker follows the practice of Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure (CVD), which calls on finders to report flaws directly to vendors of the affected product, in an effort to "limit the field of opportunity so customers and their data are better protected," Betz said.

Google's decision, though keeping with its timeline for disclosure, "feels less like principles and more like a 'gotcha,'" Betz wrote, adding that customers may suffer as a result.

"What's right for Google is not always right for customers," he said. "We urge Google to make protection of customers our collective primary goal."

Google did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.

The Windows 8.1 bug allows a local user to gain administrative privileges over a machine, opening every door to hackers who can steal confidential information, or just take your computer for a joy ride.

There is no word yet on whether any attacks have been carried out since this weekend's publication of the flaw and its exploit code.

"Let's face it, no software is perfect," Betz wrote. "Microsoft has a responsibility to work in our customers' best interest to address security concerns quickly, comprehensively, and in a manner that continues to enable the vast ecosystem that provides technology to positively impact people's lives."

"It is our job to build the best possible software that we can, and to protect it continuously to the best best of our ability," Betz said. "We're all in."

January 11, 2015

Apple Hikes App Prices in Europe, Canada

App Store iPadThanks to adjustments in value-added tax rates and foreign exchange rates, Apple has boosted the minimum price of App Store apps in Canada, Norway, and most European Union countries.

Russia will also receive a price modification, but Apple wasn't clear as to what that might be—the recent instability of the Russian Ruble actually caused Apple to stop offering its products for purchase in the country for a short period. When they were made available once again, some products saw a price increase of up to 35 percent.

If you're an app developer in Iceland, however, you'll see a decrease for the minimum price for apps. Congrats?

Apple Insider published what Apple sent to developers on Wednesday informing them of the price changes. Apple noted that the changes would arrive within 36 hours of that email and, as part of the modifications, Apple would also update its Pricing Matrix found within iTunes Connect.

Now, apps will cost a minimum of $1.19 in Canada, 0.79 Euro, or 0.99 British pounds. The move—for Europe, at least—likely comes as a result of the European Union passing changes to its tax law that raised the price of digital items like apps, music, and ebooks by an average of around 6.5 percent starting Jan. 1.

Essentially, businesses were using a little loophole in EU tax law by setting up offices in countries with a small value-added tax and routing all digital purchases through there. Thus, customers would only have to pay the small VAT for the country where these purchases routed through, as opposed to their local VAT. With the latter now the new policy, that's raised the cost of digital items. And, as many expected, it's not the businesses that will be paying the extra; the amount is being passed on to the customers, hence Apple's minimum price raises.

This isn't the first time Apple has had to modify minimum app pricing as a result of changes to foreign exchange rates, so the move shouldn't come as a surprise to any developers—or potential app downloaders.

January 11, 2015

Facebook Still the King of All Social Media

Facebook Tips

Facebook might be losing some of its cool, but the decade-old site is still riding high as the king of the social media space.

According to new data from the Pew Research Center, Facebook is still "by far" the most popular social media site. In fact, if you don't have a Facebook account, you're actually in the minority at this point. Some 71 percent of Internet users are now on Facebook, including – for the first time ever – more than half (56 percent) of those ages 65 and older, the research firm said Friday.

But on a more concerning note for Zuckerberg and Co., Pew found that Facebook's overall growth has slowed in the past year. The site's membership rates have seen "little change" from 2013 while other platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn saw "significant" increases in usership. Facebook-owned Instagram, for instance, increased its overall user figure by nine percentage points between 2013 and 2014, posting "significant growth" in almost every demographic group.

January 9, 2015

Sprint Adds Nearly 1M Customers in Q4

Sprint Logo Sprint's year-end promotions appear to have paid off: The mobile provider netted nearly 1 million new customers in the third quarter.

Preliminary results show positive movement for the No. 3 U.S. carrier, which counted 30,000 net postpaid additions, 410,000 net prepaid subscribers, and 527,000 net wholesale users in the quarter that ended Dec. 31.

Sprint reported its highest number of postpaid gross additions in three years, as well as a 20 percent increase in new postpaid phone gross users.

Sprint will continue a "return to customer growth" in 2015, according to CEO Marcelo Claure. "[O]ur results during the last quarter show we are on the right track."

But Sprint continues to face competition from T-Mobile, which beat its target for postpaid net customer additions, attracting 8.3 million net customers in 2014, 2.1 million of which joined in the fourth quarter. But the un-carrier appears to have not reached its goal of surpassing Sprint to become the No. 3 carrier in 2014, though T-Mobile John Legere wants to make that happen in 2015.

The results come after a rather tumultuous year for Sprint. In early August, the carrier pulled the plug on merger talks with T-Mobile, and dropped its long-time CEO Dan Hesse in the process. Claure, founder of Brightstar Corp., took his place as company chief on Aug. 11.