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20 years of tech with Jeff: From green iMacs and DVDs to the iPhone era

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When I started covering technology here two decades ago, I didn’t own a cellphone, nor did my company deem it in their interests to buy me one.

My tenure at USA TODAY pre-dates text messages, soundbars, talking speakers, QR codes, video chat, Uber, DoorDash, Zoom calls, YouTube, Wi-Fi, affordable flat-screen TVs….you get the idea.

So many changes in such a short period of time! This is my last column for USA TODAY as your Talking Tech columnist. Let’s say goodbye by celebrating how far we’ve come through the years.

My stint started in 2000 – I began at USA TODAY earlier, covering entertainment – at a time when we spent a lot of time talking about the big three tech companies: AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft. AOL had just shocked the world by buying Time Warner for $165 billion. (You know how well that turned out. But I digress.)

We did use computers, yes indeed, mostly desktops, and they were Windows machines with black-and-white monitors. We weren’t online; we went online, with a phone line attached to our computers. You know, the type we used on our landlines. Remember them?

Apple back then had less than 3% market share. It wouldn’t start its evolution into the world’s most valuable $2 trillion company until 2001, when it introduced the iPod MP3 music player and helped bring digital music to the masses. This is after the short-lived Napster popularized MP3s by showing how easy it was to copy licensed music. In 2003, the iPod shifted into a mainstream product when CEO Steve Jobs (who rejoined the company in 1997) opened it up to be used on Windows computers with the iTunes music store, the first easy to use, legitimate avenue for buying music, back then at 99 cents a song. Streaming and the celestial jukebox was a far off dream.

We started Talking Tech in 2006 as a weekly, ahead-of-its-time video series, produced bicoastally on two webcams. The first episode – with my former partner, Edward C. Baig – was a review of the Flip Video camera. Remember that one, kids?

By 2010, Flip was soon to be gone, as Apple introduced the iPhone 4, the first iPhone with a decent camera. Kodak became a memory, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and other mainstays of the camera business saw their sales tumble, as people preferred the camera that was in their pocket, their phone.

But I have to admit, I never foresaw just how great the smartphone cams would become. I always loved using them, but there was a stigma to “cellphone video.” Now we can shoot 4K video that looks nearly as good as what you get from a traditional camera, mostly due to computational photography tricks. But I’m not complaining. Have you seen my iPhone sunsets?

Then there’s Google and Facebook.

It was in 2000 that Yahoo handed over its search keys to a scrappy startup that said it had a method for more effective online searches. From there, we got Google stepping out onto its own in 2003 by sending people to its website and popularizing the verb, “Google It.” We got Google Maps (remember life without it?), Gmail (free e-mail without being tied to our internet provider), Google Translate, Google Photos and so many other features that I don’t think we could live without today.

That’s the good side.

There’s also Google tracking our every move, in order to put personalized ads in front of us everywhere we go, and saying goodbye to our privacy. Google will claim that much of the privacy invasion is “opt-in” and that we agreed to it when we signed up for services. But who remembers doing that?

Facebook took the snooping to an even greater level. But today’s column is about celebrating tech. So let’s bypass the misinformation and online rage that erupted from the social network and instead just give props to a site that reconnected some 2 billion people with old friends and family. I announced my pending exit on my newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. You know where I got the lion’s share of responses? Facebook, hands down.

Amazon. Who believed you could order anything you ever wanted with one click, and have it arrive the next day? By 2001 Amazon had announced its first profit, but it was more recently that we saw Amazon really showcase what was it was to become, by acquiring Whole Foods and launching Amazon Fresh, the supermarket with a radical cart that automatically tallied up your purchases, launching the smart speaker craze with Echo and Alexa and being a dominant force in streaming with Fire TV.

But Amazon missed out on phones. Google got in early, in 2008, with the Android operating system, which it grew by giving it away for free to companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei. That business model would enable Android to claim a whopping 85% market share, where it’s featured on so many low-cost phones.

If I had to pick the most influential tech device of my generation, there’s no hesitation. It’s the iPhone, hands down, even bigger than the VCR or the personal computer.

Because the iPhone (and other smartphone brands to follow) put the computer into our pockets, untethered and presented in a easy, intuitive way that appealed to the masses. Listen to music, answer the phone, watch TV, surf the net, all on one device. One in which we can also monitor our daily steps, show us how to get around and take amazing photos. (Again, those sunsets!)

I love my laptop, but it didn’t change my life.

So what of the future?

In 2016, I did a column quoting analysts saying that the smartphone as we know it, would cease and morph into some form of eyewear within the next few years. I didn’t believe it then, I don’t believe it now.

Having stuff flying in front of your eyes as you walk down the street is a distraction. (Take that, Google Glass.) We watched screens in the 1950s. We’re going to be looking at screens in the 2020s and 2030s.

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Twitter Blue subscription service launches in Australia and Canada

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Twitter is launching its new subscription service, Twitter Blue, in Australia and Canada on Thursday.

The paid-for extra service will add features such as an “undo tweet” button, bookmarks, and a reader mode, Twitter said.

The limited launch is designed to “gain a deeper understanding” of what customers are looking for.

But the company also said the free-to-use version of the platform would also remain.

“We’ve heard from the people that use Twitter a lot, and we mean a lot, that we don’t always build power features that meet their needs,” the company said in a statement.

“We took this feedback to heart, and are developing and iterating upon a solution that will give the people who use Twitter the most what they are looking for: access to exclusive features and perks that will take their experience on Twitter to the next level.”

Twitter said the new subscription was not designed to undermine the free experience, but to offer “enhanced and complementary” features “for those who want it”.

It will cost $3.49 in Canadian dollars and $4.49 in Australian dollars per month, Twitter said.

No date has been announced for other countries, but previous listings in mobile app stores have suggested it will eventually cost $2.99 in the US and £2.49 in the UK.

Blue perks

Twitter said subscribers will get “perks” – giving examples such as customisable app icons for phone home screens and what it calls “fun colour themes” for the app.

But they will also have access to a “dedicated” customer support, the company says.

The additional features that Twitter says were inspired by user requests include:

  • Bookmark folders, designed to help users organise saved tweets more easily
  • Undo tweet, which will let users set a timer of up to 30 seconds after posting before it appears publicly – to allow quick correction of obvious mistakes
  • Reader mode, which turns long threads of tweets into easier-to-read text

“We will be listening to feedback and building out even more features and perks for our subscribers over time,” it said.

It does not, however, include verification in the form of a “blue tick” on a user profile, which cannot be bought.

Twitter recently re-opened its verification applications for the fist time in years, but was forced to shutter the programme for a few days after just a week of accepting them, because it was inundated with requests.

Twitter made no secret of plans to charge its top users a small fee for some extra perks – but it’s only dipping its wing in the water for now.

The much-asked-for undo tweet button is undoubtedly top of the list, for all of us who’ve ever had a screamer of a typo, or – even worse – accidentally tweeted something we meant to search for.

But other features are squarely targeted at the Twitterati elite.

When Twitter bought web reader firm Scroll in May, it made a big deal about Twitter being for news and discussion. Bookmarks and the reader feature for long threads are firmly targeted there.

And for good reason.

Twitter’s growth in active users has slowed in recent years – a potential problem for any social network, where perceived value is often based on numbers. Twitter has never had the users that Facebook has – it boasts hundreds of millions, but not billions.

But many of its biggest users are media personalities, politicians, and business leaders – the type of people for whom a small monthly fee might not be too much to ask.

This is new territory. Unfounded rumours that Facebook might one day ask for a fee have led to digital panic in the past – so Twitter’s two-country opener is a test to see if the idea will fly.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-57348456

 

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Flubot: Warning over major Android ‘package delivery’ scam

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A text-message scam that infects Android phones is spreading across the UK, experts have warned.

The message – which pretends to be from a package delivery firm, prompts users to install a tracking app – but is actually a malicious piece of spyware.

Called Flubot, it can take over devices and spy on phones to gather sensitive data, including online banking details.

Network operator Vodafone said millions of the text messages were already being sent, across all networks.

“We believe this current wave of Flubot malware SMS attacks will gain serious traction very quickly, and it’s something that needs awareness to stop the spread,” a spokesman said.

Customers should “be especially vigilant with this particular piece of malware”, he said, and be very careful about clicking on any links in a text message.

The malware also has the ability to send more text messages to an infected user’s contacts, helping it spread.

“The seriousness of these malicious text messages is underlined by Vodafone making the decision to alert its customers,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight.

“This has the potential to become a denial-of-service attack on mobile networks, given the clear risk that a rogue application can be installed on users’ smartphones and start spewing out endless text messages.

“The broader risk for users is a loss of highly sensitive personal data from their phones,” he added.

While text message scams claiming to be about a package delivery firm are common, they have mostly focused on phishing – trying to trick the user into filling in a form with bank details and other information.

This newest wave differs because it tries to install malicious software on the phone itself – and because of the scale of its spread.

One version of the scam reported online pretends to be a text message from DHL, with a link to a website for parcel tracking.

If someone using an Android phone clicks on the link, they will be taken to a page “explaining” how to install the parcel tracking app using something called an APK.

APK files are a way of installing Android apps outside of the secure Google Play store. By default, such applications will be blocked for security reasons, but the scam page includes instructions on how to allow the installation.

That can be confusing, as there are some niche genuine cases for installing those kind of apps – such as downloading the Fortnite video game, which was removed from the official app store amid a major legal row between its owner and Google.

Apple iPhone users are not affected as those phones cannot install Android APKs.

In a blog post detailing the scam, security expert Paul Morrison wrote that he expects the “success rate would be low” due to the hurdles involved.

But he said: “With the number of SMS being sent out, just a 0.1% success rate could be very profitable.”

The Flubot malware has also spread in other countries in recent months – notably Spain, Germany and Poland.

Industry body Mobile UK said it was “pro-actively co-ordinating its response with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to minimise any potential damage”.

Users who receive a suspicious message should forward it to 7726 to report it, a spokesman said – and then delete the message.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-56859091

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Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic

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Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.

Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.

The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.

Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.

The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.

Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.

“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”

Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.

“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.

Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.

It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.

That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.

Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.

As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.

There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.

But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.

Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.

But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.

These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?

Facebook Apple feud

Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.

The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.

Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.

Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.

The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.

It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.

It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504

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