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Facebook announces Skype video chat integration, other changes to social networking site

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Date: Wednesday, July 6th, 2011, 10:11
Category: News, Software

If there’s a major tech news story of the day, this might be it.

Per Electronista, Facebook at its special event Wednesday brought out Skype-based video chat. The approach lets Facebook members hold one-to-one video calls between each other without having to load a separate app; complete newcomers should be talking in 30 seconds, Facebook says. The platform should also work tightly with an updated desktop app and, eventually, mobile versions.

Skype 5.3 on Windows already lets users bring in a Facebook news feed, post status updates, and make calls directly to Facebook users from Skype. A 5.5 beta release also builds in Facebook chat with live status as an option. Mac versions are expected to come in the future.

Text chat got its own update at the event. Ad-hoc group chats are now possible and don’t need users to jump into a group chat. Regular chat also has a new, simplified design that adapts to the browser size and rolls in a sidebar that allows almost immediate text chat. The reworking is also intended to accommodate “future announcements,” Facebook hinted.

Facebook was shy on whether its own mobile apps would get video chat or whether group video chat was coming. The social network and Skype did cast the video chat as a starting point and hinted groups might come along in the future.

No mention has been made of Facebook’s native iPad app. Some had anticipated it coming with the Facebook event, but it’s now seen as more likely coming in the next several weeks. In the nearer future, Facebook is also expected to show Project Spartan and bring HTML5-native, Flash-free games to iOS and Android devices.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Verizon to kill unlimited data calling plans on Thursday, offers alternatives

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Date: Wednesday, July 6th, 2011, 04:59
Category: iPhone, News

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It was nifty while it lasted.

Per AppleInsider, wireless carrier Verizon, will not allow customers, including those who buy an iPhone, to be able to purchase the carrier’s unlimited data plan.

This Thursday, July 7, is when Verizon will begin offering its “usage-based” billing for mobile customers, spokeswoman Debra Lewis said. The change will not affect current smartphone customers of Verizon.

In addition, current smartphone customers who are upgrade-eligible will be allowed to move to another smartphone and retain their plan. But new customers or current customers who do not have a smartphone plan will only be able to buy a “usage-based” plan, Lewis told AppleInsider on Tuesday.

“We have lots of different ways for customers who may not be accustomed to this kind of stuff to check their usage in terms of data alerts, online tools, data calculators, things like that to help people decide what is the right plan for them,” she said.

New smartphone customers will be able to choose from four different capped monthly data plans: US$10 for 75MB, US$30 for 2GB, US$50 for 5GB, and US$80 for 10GB. Users who go over their monthly allotment will be charged US$10 per gigabyte, or US$10 per 75MB on the entry-level plan.

Users will also be able to add the “Mobile Hotspot” tethering feature to an iPhone or other compatible smartphone for US$20 per month. That plan will also net them an additional 2GB of data.

Tuesday’s news confirms an earlier leak that Verizon would switch to a usage-based model starting on July 7. Current smartphone customers can buy an unlimited plan from Verizon for US$29.99 per month.

Verizon’s transition comes more than a year after AT&T implemented its own tiered data plans, which retails for US$25 per month for 2GB, or US$15 a month for 200MB. AT&T customers and iPhone users also have the option of a tethering plan that offers 4GB total for US$45 per month. AT&T charges an overage of US$10 per gigabyte.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Skype updated to version 5.2.0.1523, offers assorted bug fixes

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Date: Wednesday, July 6th, 2011, 03:47
Category: News, Software

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On Wednesday, version 5.2.0.1523 of the Skype VoIP application went public. The new version, a 20.8 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

- Improved Multi-tasking

- Group Screen Sharing

- Sidebar enhancement

- Support for Mac’s built-in HD and Logitech’s B910 HD cameras

- Minor bug fixes

Skype 5.2.0.1523 requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, please let us know.

AT&T to begin offering Asurion Mobile insurance plan for iPhone users on July 17th

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, July 5th, 2011, 08:49
Category: iPhone, News

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If you’ve got something that’s important to you, then no one can ever say you were a fool to insure it.

Per Engadget, iPhone owners will be able to sign up for an Asurion Mobile Insurance plan for US$5 per month starting July 17th. The insurance plan can be added to the handset within 30 days of purchase and may include a deductible.

The documentation on AT&T’s website has not been updated to include the iPhone, although similar handsets have a US$125 replacement charge. This is a welcome change in plans for new iPhone owners as the previous insurance offering retailed for US$12 per month and included a substantial US$199 deductible.

If you’ve found a killer insurance outfit for your electronics, let us know in the comments.

Apple releases Mac OS X 10.7 gold master to developer community, upgrade due this month

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Date: Friday, July 1st, 2011, 10:40
Category: News, Software

As July begins, Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) is due to hit this month and as of Friday, Apple has released Lion’s Gold Master (GM) seed to developers.

Per Macworld, The GM release traditionally signals the last major internal update before the release to the general public; save any major issues, this version (labeled build number 11A511) of Lion should be the one consumers will see later this month.

Lion still has no official release date from Apple beyond the nebulous “July”, but we’ll keep you informed as to any news or changes as they become available.


Mophie releases updated juice pack air case for iPhone 4

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Date: Friday, July 1st, 2011, 07:06
Category: Accessory, iPhone, News

Accessory maker Mophie recently announced the availability of a new design for their highly popular and useful juice pack air battery extender for iPhone 4. The Mophie juice pack air snap case (US$79.95) is available at Apple Stores and other retailers. Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, the Juice Pack Air still offers virtually double the battery capacity of the stock iPhone 4 with a new new design that makes it easier to access all of the switches and ports of the smartphone.

Where design changes are concerned, the previous model, splits near the top of the phone, meaning the case had to be remove to provide access to the Dock connector. The old design also had two openings on the left side of the phone for the ringer mute switch and the volume buttons, as well as a two openings on the top — one for the power switch and the other for the microphone and headphone jack.

The juice pack air snap is quite different. The bottom of the case snaps off, so you can leave the case on the iPhone if you need access to the Dock connector. The same four LEDs for determining charge status are still there, there’s still a micro-USB port on one side for charging the case, and the tiny slide switch for “charging” and “standby” is there as well.

The new case is available in two-tone black and silver; it was unclear from the press materials if the snap case will also come in the two-tone white/silver and red/silver models that were available for the previous model.

If you’ve had a chance to tinker around with the new juice pack air case, let us know.


Apple patent describes simpler networking, use of RFID/new proprietary technology

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Date: Friday, July 1st, 2011, 04:55
Category: News, Patents

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Because patents are important and show nifty things that may be down the road…

According to AppleInsider, Apple has shown interest in improving device discoverability and local networking using existing technology like RFID, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or even a new proprietary wireless method.

The details come from Apple’s latest patent application, entitled “Local Device Awareness,” which describe a number of electronic devices within close proximity being able to automatically communicate with each other and share information with minimal to no user input.

Apple notes in its patent application that while networked devices can communicate with each other over great distances, communicative proximity is not equal to physical proximity.

The Mac maker’s solution would not only make device discoverability simpler, but could strip away some of the current requirements, such as the need for devices be located on the same Wi-Fi network. Devices could communicate through a unique protocol that would constantly be on the lookout for new hardware to connect to.

Networking capable devices like Macs or iPhones, as well as other hardware like specially equipped printers, could communicate with one another over existing standards like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to allow discoverability. Another technology repeatedly mentioned in Apple’s application is radio-frequency identification, or RFID, which is a short-range wireless standard that is currently found in a limited number of devices.

The application notes that Apple could also adopt a new, unique wireless technology that would allow devices to communicate without tying up services that are often used for other purposes, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The system could even use GPS to locate the exact position of a piece of hardware and display it on a map, like letting a user know where a printer or projector are located.

With this greater level of connectivity, Apple could also offer simpler interactivity. The application makes note of a unique user interface for sending tasks to certain devices. For example, using a touchscreen device like an iPad, a user could drag and drop a document onto a projector icon to have that document displayed on the device.

In addition to more practical functions like connecting to a printer, Apple’s application notes that this method could also be used for playing multiplayer games. It describes a game where users might shake an accelerometer-equipped device like an iPhone or an iPad to roll a set of virtual dice, or even use physical dice equipped with RFID.

The proposed invention is credited to Brett Bilbrey, Aleksander Pance, Nicholas King and Todd Benjamin. It was originally filed with the USPTO on Dec. 31, 2009.

Apple patent application for dock concept discusses location-based profiles

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Date: Friday, July 1st, 2011, 03:24
Category: News, Patents

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It’s the patent applications that make life interesting.

That or love.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has shown interest in a new location-based docking system that would dynamically change the interface and settings of a portable device for different activities like working or driving a car.

The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entitled “Location-Based Dock for a Computing Device.” The proposed invention notes that while docking stations are typically passive devices, these described docks would take on a more active role.

“It is often left to the user to configure the computing device for use at different locations by accessing or selecting the proper software applications and security measures for the computing device…” the application reads. “However, such configuration of the device may be both time-consuming and confusing to a non-sophisticated user.”

Apple’s idea could apply to any portable device, whether it be a MacBook, an iPhone or an iPad. Each docking station would, when coupled with the appropriate portable computing device, recognize its location and allow the user to operate the device accordingly.

For example, an iPhone plugged into a moving car could automatically become optimized for use through voice control, as a user driving would not be able to operate the touchscreen.

For someone who uses the same hardware both at home and at the office, a system could automatically be reconfigured to offer the best of both worlds. For example, while at work, a docked system would access work-related e-mails and calendar entries, while at home the device would switch to personal e-mail and calendars.

Apple’s concept also extends to other docking ideas, including one meant to be used while watching television, or another that would have a device act as a digital picture frame while docked.

The location-based element could allow the settings to change based on the physical location of the hardware. In this method, if a user were to have only one docking station, they could use it both at work and at home and the appropriate settings would be implemented

And while location could play an important role in each docking station, Apple’s concept also notes that settings could be tied to a particular dock regardless of its location. For example, a user could have two or more docking stations at a single location, allowing them to use them for different computing configurations.

The patent application is credited to Nicholas Vincent King, Aleksandar Pance and Brett Bilbrey. It was first filed on New Years Eve in 2009.

State Law Kills Amazon Associates Program

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Date: Thursday, June 30th, 2011, 08:28
Category: Announcement, Legal, News, Services

As the result of a new bill passed by Governor Jerry Brown in California, Amazon will be terminating its service contracts for all Amazon Associates members residing in California. The new bill, which requires that taxes be collected on all sales by online retailers, extends its reach to “California-based marketing affiliates” which includes the referral status from residents participating in the Amazon Associates program. All current participants should have received an email covering the details from Amazon.com in the last few days, as the termination went into effect as of June 29, 2011. Here are some excerpts from the emails that were sent out:

Unfortunately, Governor Brown has signed into law the bill that we emailed you about earlier today. As a result of this, contracts with all California residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program are terminated effective today, June 29, 2011. Those California residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned before today will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

[...] we are continuing to work on alternative ways to help California residents monetize their websites and we will be sure to contact you when these become available.

The change does not affect any participants who reside outside of California, and those services will continue as normal. If a participant has or is planning to move to another state, they can contact Amazon to be reinstated into the program here.

iFixIt performs teardown of Apple’s Thunderbolt cable, discovers receiver/transceiver system inside

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Date: Thursday, June 30th, 2011, 04:25
Category: Hardware, News

When in doubt about a new piece of hardware, take it apart and study it.

Once again, the guys at iFixIt performed a full teardown of a new Apple item, this time dissecting Apple’s just-released $49 Thunderbolt cable to reveal an “active cable” with transceiver chips on each end.

iFixit took apart the new cable on Wednesday and discovered two Gennum GN2033 Thunderbolt Cable Transceiver chips, other much smaller chips and “tons of little resistors” tucked into the metal connector.

The teardown experts were prompted by a tip from ArsTechnica, who had been told by a support technician for storage maker Promise that Apple’s Thunderbolt cable is a “smart cable” with internal firmware.

Apple released the Thunderbolt cable on Tuesday, alongside the first compatible peripherals–external RAID systems from Promise, which range in price from US$999 to US$1,999. Early tests of the Promise systems have revealed blazing fast write speeds of up to 700MB/s, as much as 21 times faster than FireWire and USB 2.0.

The Gennum web site describes the cable’s transceiver chips as a requirement for the cables due to “the unprecedented speed of the new Thunderbolt technology places unique demands on the physical transmission media. The GN2033 provides the sophisticated signal boosting and detection functions required to transfer high-speed data without errors across inexpensive Thunderbolt copper cables.”

Sources within the telecom industry told ArsTechnica that active cables are usually used at data rates in excess of 5Gbps. Chips at either end are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire in order to “greatly [improve] the signal-to-noise ratio.”

Intel has also reportedly chosen to use active cabling for “future optical-based iterations of Thunderbolt,” the report’s source added. Though passive optical cabling is more common, active optical cables could allow fiber optics to be coupled with electrical cabling for power transmission. Additionally, “current electrical ports can be forward compatible with future optical cables” if active cabling is used, said the source.

On the more consumer end, LaCie has promised a Thunderbolt solid-state drive is coming this summer. A recent demo of the drive reached read speeds of 827.2MB/s.

Intel and Apple worked together to develop the specification, with Intel providing its “Light Peak” technology and Apple offering its Mini DisplayPort standard. Thunderbolt drives two separate 10Gbps links, one for displays and one for PCI-Express devices, and could reach speeds of up to 100Gbps when the cables transition from copper to optical.



Similar to Apple’s experience with its in-house developed FireWire standard, the company has a fine line to walk in making Thunderbolt a unique value-add for Macs while still driving widespread adoption of the standard to ensure a large enough market for a range of third-party peripherals. Currently, the Mac maker is the only supplier of Thunderbolt cables.

Earlier this week, Sony announced a new VAIO Z laptop that implements a proprietary version of Thunderbolt. The electronics giant pulled a similar maneuver with its custom version of FireWire, called i.Link.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.