There’s good news for laptop buyers in my fall guide this time: The confusing changes in the sagging laptop industry have settled down enough that if you need one, now may be the time to buy one.
Microsoft and Apple are launching tweaked versions of their operating systems, but they aren’t radical changes this time that require a lot of new learning. And Intel has introduced new processors, which greatly enhance laptop battery life on both Windows and Mac models.
While prices of touchscreen Windows 8 laptops can still surge above $1,000, especially for the thinnest models, they seem to have eased a bit and you can find plenty of choices between $600 and $900. The stores have stopped pushing most of the clumsier tablet-laptop hybrids.
Let me be clear: If you found Windows 8 with its dual user interfaces confusing, you still will. The new, modified version called Windows 8.1 is built on the same fundamental design. And Microsoft is still putting most of its emphasis on the tabletlike Start screen, which works best with a touchscreen and much better on a tablet than on a laptop.
But in a concession to rebellious users, the company has made it possible to bypass the Start screen at startup and go right to the familiar Windows desktop — provided you can find the buried setting that permits this.
So here are some tips on what to look for in a laptop this fall. As always, this guide is meant for average users doing typical tasks, not corporate IT staffs, or people doing heavy-duty work like video production.
With Intel’s new processors, Apple’s MacBook Air lasted more than 10 hours in one test.
If you care about battery life in a laptop, look for what Intel calls its 4th Generation Core processors. Back in June, when I tested one of the first laptops to adopt this chip—Apple’s MacBook Air—it racked up a 65% gain in battery life and lasted over 10 hours on a single charge in my harsh battery test. A paper-thin Sony running Windows 8 lasted nearly six hours.
It can be hard to tell which laptops have these new processors since they are still named Core i3, i5 and i7, just like the last generation. Look for a redesigned “Intel Inside” sticker on the laptop.
Sony’s Sony Vaio Pro 13 ultrabook lasted nearly six hours in a test.
Models with the new, battery-boosting chips have a more vertical blue sticker with a gold band across the top edge, as opposed to the older horizontal sticker with a gold band in the middle. Typical users should choose an i5 version.
Windows vs. Mac
Unlike Windows vendors, Apple has stuck with standard screens and built its many touch gestures into the large, smooth-running touch pads on its MacBooks.
Laptops that contort into a tablet using special hinges and slide mechanisms tend to make for thick and heavy tablets.
As always, Macs aren’t the cheapest laptops, starting at $999. And they only come in two lines, the thinner, lighter MacBook Air and the beefier MacBook Pro.
If you prefer Windows 8, are looking for variety, or are on a budget, you want a Windows laptop.
But the Macs are excellent, reliable, versatile products and far less susceptible to viruses than Windows PCs. Apple is using the new 4th Generation Intel processors.
The company has a new version of its operating system, called Mavericks, which claims greater speed, improvements to the built-in apps and Mac versions of two iPhone and iPad apps: iBooks and Maps.
You no longer need to buy a touchscreen laptop to get the most out of a Windows 8 laptop. Windows 8.1 allows you to boot directly into the familiar desktop, which is best used with a keyboard and mouse. And the mouse and keyboard will work for the touch-centric parts of Windows.
If you expect to spend a lot of time in the Start screen and the tabletlike apps that live there, I advise using a touchscreen.
Tablets vs. Laptops
Tablets are taking over many of the tasks, including word processing, that were formerly commonly done on laptops. If your laptop is doing fine and you want a new device, it’s worth considering a quality tablet like an iPad or a name-brand Android model. Apple brought out new, faster iPad models Tuesday.
These combo laptops, which attempt to contort into a tablet using special hinges and slide mechanisms, seem to be fading. I don’t recommend them because they tend to make for thick, heavy tablets.
The Asus Transformer Book T100 is a 10-inch tablet running full Windows 8.1 that snaps into a laptop keyboard.
On the other hand, I do like the idea of Windows 8 laptops in which the screen can be removed and used as a tablet. These machines, called detachables, are getting better and less expensive.
One interesting model I tried briefly — but did not thoroughly test — is the Asus Transformer Book T100, which starts at $349. It’s a 10-inch tablet running full Windows 8.1 that snaps into a laptop keyboard.
Machines with Intel’s 4th Generation Core processors have a sticker with a gold band at the top, not the middle.
You can still buy Windows laptops for as little as $250 or $300, but I don’t recommend it because they tend to use old or lower-quality components.
A good midrange price is around $500 to $700. Touchscreen models and those with the latest processors, or the thinnest and lightest bodies, run highest.
It’s safe to buy a laptop again. Just pay attention to those Intel stickers.
I’m a former BlackBerry user who has been struggling with the virtual keyboard on his Droid for years. I considered the new BlackBerry, whose virtual keyboard you praised, but want a phone supported by more app developers. I would appreciate your advice on which keyboard app is easiest to operate now.
The keyboard app I personally find best on Android is called SwiftKey, which replaces the stock keyboard on Android wherever it appears. It does a particularly good job of learning your writing habits and predicting what word is likeliest to come next. It can even sync these personal predictions across your Android devices.
With iGoogle going away in a few weeks, what is your recommendation on a good replacement site?
There are a number of sites which, like iGoogle, aim to be your browser’s home page, consolidating personalized selections of news, weather, sports, stocks, calendar, search and more. My personal choice would be My Yahoo, which even has instructions for importing your settings from iGoogle. To find others, do a search for “iGoogle replacements.”
I don’t like the redesigned calendar app in Apple’s iOS 7 for my iPad. Is there a way to restore the old calendar?
Not that I know of, but there are many alternative calendar apps for iPads and iPhones, which can be found in the app store by searching for “calendar.”
While you can buy a $500 iPad at Amazon.com with a single click, sending even small amounts of cash to a friend or relative is still often a tedious and slow task. In most cases, you wind up doing exactly what you would have in 1957 — writing a check and mailing it. The recipient then has to cash it or deposit it in her bank account.
An app, available for Apple and Android devices, lets you enter an amount and create email to send.
But starting Tuesday, you can just email cash, free of charge, directly from your debit card to anyone else’s, regardless of what bank each party uses. There’s no login or password to remember and no special software or hardware required — you just use email. It works on both ends using any email service or program on any email-capable device, whether a computer, a smartphone or a tablet.
This new service, called Square Cash, comes from Square Inc., best known for equipping small brick-and-mortar merchants with smartphone-swiping devices that allow them to accept credit cards, and with tablets that act as sophisticated cash registers.
Square Cash permits you to send up to $2,500 a week in several transactions or all at once. At launch, it works only in the U.S., and with debit cards carrying either the Visa or MasterCard logo. It isn’t meant for buying things from merchants, online or off, only for person-to-person cash transfers.
There are other services that allow you to send money from one person to another digitally. You can do it via PayPal, or via a newer service called Venmo, which PayPal is in the process of acquiring. But I believe Square is simpler and more private. For instance, PayPal places received money in a PayPal account and you must transfer it to your bank in a separate step. Venmo has a strong social component that encourages users to post when payments are made.
I tested Square Cash, sending and receiving money in amounts ranging from $10 to over $1,000, with eight people, and it worked rapidly and flawlessly. I can recommend it for anyone who needs to pay a small debt, give a cash gift, split a bill, or send cash quickly and easily.
I sent several $5, $10 and $25 amounts, and asked for and received, all or part of the money back, in order to test receiving money. I also used Square Cash to settle a real bill, with a friend, to pay my half of a shared $2,223.76 fee she had covered. It worked fine in every case.
The people helping me test were generally wowed. One called it “slick.” Another replied: “Done. Two secs.” A third, with whom I had trouble using PayPal last year, said she’d use it “1,000 percent.”
An email sends cash via Square Cash, where the money will be available in the recipient’s bank account within one to two days.
There is one big caveat: You have to trust Square. The company has a strong track record in its merchant business, so it isn’t brand new to the money-transfer business. And Square says it has strong security measures and close human and machine monitoring for possible fraud. If fraud is suspected, the company says it can and will reverse the fund transfer. Still, digital services do get hacked, and email can be manipulated by thieves. The service notifies you via email or text that it appears you have sent money, which gives you a chance to cancel a transaction that didn’t come from you or was a mistake.
So, if you don’t trust Square to defeat such things, you shouldn’t use Square Cash.
Here’s how Square Cash works. Say you want to send $47.12 to your sister. You just compose an email with her email address in the “To” field and, in the “CC” field, you enter “email@example.com.” In the subject field, you enter the amount you’re sending — in this case, “$47.12.” You can leave the message body blank, or add a note explaining you’re sending the money and why. Then, you just press Send.
If this is your first time using the service, Square will email you a link to its service, where you’ll be asked to enter your debit-card information. This is required one time only.
In seconds, Square verifies the debit card and checks that you have sufficient funds, using existing, routine Visa or MasterCard procedures, and sends an email to your sister. (Square says it never knows how much is in your account, and it encrypts your card number.)
Your sister will receive two emails: The one from you and a second from Square saying you’re sending her the money. If she accepts the payment and it’s her first time using the service, she will be asked to click a link to Square and enter her debit-card information.
Once that’s verified, the transfer is made, and the money will show up in her bank account in one to two days. She will also be empowered to send money herself.
No other account setup is required. You never need to create, or enter, a login or password. And the money goes straight from bank to bank. Neither party needs to create a fund balance with Square.
Square says most payments appear in the recipient’s account in one day. And it says a significant minority of payments appear immediately, something it hopes to make commonplace as soon as possible.
There’s one more twist, however. This simple verification system works only for transfers of up to $250 a week. To qualify for the full $2,500 limit — which is also free — you have to provide some added information, one time only. You can give Square your Facebook credentials, or provide your full name, date of birth, and the last four digits of your Social Security number.
The email on the receiving end.
If you choose the Facebook option, Square says it passes no information to Facebook at all and never posts what you’re doing on Facebook, or shares your financial activity. It says it merely looks at your Facebook profile and activity, as a Facebook friend could, in order to verify that you are a real person, with an established account there.
Square Cash does have apps for Apple and Android mobile devices, but you never need to use them. All they do is let you enter an amount you wish to transfer and automatically create an email, ready to send.
So how does Square make money from Square Cash? It says it has no plans to send you ads or offers, even for merchants with whom it does business. Instead, it plans to offer paid, premium options. One example: The ability to use Square Cash internationally.
Square Cash does have some downsides. At launch, there’s no way to see a history of your transactions. Square says your past email shows that. And the company makes no promise to pay you back from its own funds in the case of fraud, only to reverse the transaction. It also has no limit on your liability from fraud. And at launch, it only links a debit card to one email address at a time, so sending from, or to, an unlinked email address can require a new setup.
However, Square Cash is the quickest, simplest method I’ve seen for sending money from one person to another.
What if you could summon a tech-support person to pop up in seconds in a live video on your digital device? And what if that person could draw on the screen or even take over the device to solve a problem?
Well, starting Oct. 18, you can do just that with the latest in Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet line, the Kindle Fire HDX. This help system, called the Mayday button, is the most unusual feature of what is otherwise a mainly evolutionary new model of the company’s color tablets.
A better help system isn’t exactly the prime reason to buy a new tablet. After all, tablets are supposed to be simple and easy to figure out. But Mayday is consistent with Amazon’s long, well-earned reputation for customer support.
X-Ray for Music shows lyrics synchronized to the song playing on the Kindle Fire HDX.
I’ve been testing the Fire HDX, and it’s a good, basic color tablet. This latest model, which starts at $229 for the 7-inch-screen version I used, is a definite improvement on last year’s Fire HD, which started at $199 for the 7-inch version. (There’s also a costlier, larger HDX version, with an 8.9-inch screen.)
Like earlier Fire models, it’s best thought of as a hardware gateway to buying digital content from Amazon. The base model blasts ads at you from the home screen, but you can buy one without ads for $15 more.
However, the 7-inch Fire HDX, like its predecessor, still isn’t as versatile or full-featured as rival tablets, like Apple’s iPad mini or Google’s Nexus 7. It offers only a fraction of the third-party apps available from the Apple or Google app stores. Among the missing are such popular offerings as Instagram, Dropbox, Google Maps, YouTube and Netflix (Amazon says a Netflix app is coming soon).
Unlike the mini or the Nexus, the 7-inch Fire HDX lacks a rear camera, so you can’t easily show your surroundings to others during a video chat (the bigger model has a rear camera).
And the HDX has no equivalent to its rivals’ voice-controlled, artificial intelligence features, Apple’s Siri and Google Now.
And the Fire HDX turned in a so-so battery life of 7½ hours that, while better than the 6 hours of the latest Nexus 7, paled before the iPad mini’s 10 hours and 27 minutes. (I used my standard test where I set the screen to 75 percent brightness, keep the Wi-Fi on and play videos stored on the tablet until the battery dies.)
So, what makes the new Kindle HDX better than the last model? Well, it has a gorgeous, high-resolution screen that displays 323 pixels per inch, the same as the latest $229 Nexus 7, but much higher than the $329 iPad mini’s 163 ppi (though the mini’s screen is significantly larger, at 7.9 inches). The screen also was a bit more readable in sunlight than the iPad’s. The Fire HDX has a faster processor that has eliminated the latency I encountered when testing last year’s model.
The Fire HDX has a new operating system and some cool new features. The home screen still has a carousel to show recently used apps, songs, books and videos, but below that there’s now a standard grid of icons for favorite apps and you can hide the carousel if you find it distracting. There’s also a new sidebar for quickly switching among running apps. This appears when you swipe from the edge of the screen.
Perhaps my favorite new feature is called X-Ray for Music, which shows synchronized lyrics to the song you’re playing. So far, it’s only available on “tens of thousands” of Amazon’s 25 million songs, starting with the newest and most popular. But I found scattered cases in songs going back to the 1970s and enjoyed using it.
The Fire HDX is slimmer and lighter than last year’s model, and has tapered edges. But there’s a downside to this design. Because the tapered edges are narrow, the volume and power buttons have been moved to the back of the tablet. I found them clumsy and slow to use.
Like its predecessors, the Fire HDX is technically an Android tablet that buries Android so it’s invisible. The HDX lacks any hint of Google’s Android interface, the standard Google apps that come on most Android devices and the standard Android app store, Google Play. Instead it uses an Amazon operating system now called Fire OS 3.0.
Amazon has its own app store for the Fire HDX and it contains 85,000 apps, compared with roughly a million each in the Google and Apple app stores.
The Mayday help button worked mostly as advertised, though I got little useful help, partly because Amazon is training a large number of support people and few have much experience yet with the new HDX.
When you click the Mayday button, which appears in a settings bar that swipes down from the top of the screen, a small, movable video window pops up. You can see the support person, but he or she can only hear you. To better explain things, the person can draw on your screen. And if you allow it, he or she can take over the Fire to perform tasks.
The support people appeared in 10 seconds or less and were unfailingly friendly. But they often just went poking around the device, looking for a menu item or icon that would accomplish what I couldn’t figure out. In two cases, they put me on pause, to do some quick research. Amazon says their knowledge will grow as they get more familiar with the new hardware and software.
In one case, a Mayday agent I had previously talked with followed up on an earlier question concerning how to get an app that wasn’t in the Amazon app store for the HDX. She sent me an email explaining how to do a 10-step workaround.
Mayday isn’t entirely private. You have to give agents your name, email and address, the call is recorded and customer-service management can see reports on individual calls. But overall, it’s a great idea.
If you mainly want a tablet for consuming content and regularly use Amazon content, the new Kindle Fire HDX is a good deal.
Vanity Fair magazine thinks Jeff Bezos is top dog of the digerati this year, giving him the No. 1 spot on its annual New Establishment list.
While it’s no “People’s Sexiest Man Alive”-list kudos — these are largely geeks, after all — the Amazon impresario vaulted to No. 1, displacing Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and design guru Jonathan Ive (now at No. 3) because of his continually disruptive ways. Also, in an epic retro-chic move, Bezos up and bought the Washington Post, so there’s that.
The magazine gave Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and the pairing of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and its premium online video content exec Ted Sarandos the biggest jumps on its list of 50 “leading innovators who are shaking the foundations of their industries and shaping the world we live in today.” (This year, at least.)
Sandberg went from No. 41 to No. 14 (Lean in, people!), while Hastings and Sarandos went from No. 40 to No. 12 (Francis Underwood, people!).
Interesting new debuts on the list are Samsung’s ruling family Lee Kun-hee and Lee Jae-yong, and National Security Agency head Keith Alexander — the former for making a lot of popular smartphones, and the latter for hacking into them without telling us (shhhhhh, this egregious invasion of privacy is classified!). Also added, the yoga-loving hedge fund dude, Dan Loeb of Third Point, who has basically been buying and selling tech stocks of late to the irritation of various managements, at No. 20.
One glaring omission: Not one single person from Microsoft.
While the list also includes entertainment and media types — let’s be clear, no one is curing cancer here — most of the women on the list are from tech, including: Sandberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer (No. 15) and Google’s advertising queenpin Susan Wojcicki (No. 36). (Full disclosure: Me too, at No. 33, with my longtime All Things Digital partner Walt Mossberg.)
Here is the whole list in order, as well as one called the “The Powers That Be” — power players who presumably just won’t go away:
THE NEW ESTABLISHMENT
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google
Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive, Apple
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, SpaceX
Lee Kun-hee and Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics
Keith Alexander, National Security Agency
Jack Dorsey, Square, Twitter
Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz
Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn/Greylock
Dick Costolo, Twitter
Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, Netflix
Ben Silbermann, Pinterest
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo
Herb Allen III, Allen & Co.
Preet Bharara, attorney
Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures
Tyler Perry, filmmaker
Daniel Loeb, Third Point
Yuri Milner, Digital Sky Technologies
Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp
Dan Doctoroff, Bloomberg L.P.
Salar Kamangar and Robert Kyncl, YouTube
Cory Booker, politician
Kevin Systrom, Instagram
Chris Meledandri, Illumination Entertainment
Megan and David Ellison, film producers
Paul Graham, Y Combinator
Jennifer Lawrence, actress
Drew Houston, Dropbox
Peter Thiel, Founders Fund
Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, AllThingsD
Tony Hsieh, Zappos
Nate Silver and Bill Simmons, ESPN
Susan Wojcicki, Google
Alex Karp, Palantir Technologies
Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler, Kickstarter
Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, comedians
Tony Fadell, Nest Labs
Daniel Ek, Spotify
Sebastian Thrun, Udacity
Travis Kalanick, Uber
Brian Chesky, Airbnb
Hosain Rahman and Yves Béhar, Jawbone
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed
Evan Spiegel, Snapchat
Ali Pincus and Susan Feldman, One Kings Lane
Shane Smith, Vice Media
David Karp, Tumblr
THE POWERS THAT BE
Jay Z and Beyoncé, musicians
Michael Bloomberg, New York City mayor
Brian Roberts and Steve Burke, Comcast
Bob Iger, The Walt Disney Company
Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox
Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, Beats Electronics
David Zaslav, Discovery Communications
Jill Abramson, The New York Times
Jenna Lyons, J. Crew
Harvey and Bob Weinstein, The Weinstein Company
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central
Robert Thomson, News Corp.
J. J. Abrams, filmmaker
Lionel Barber, Financial Times
Matt Drudge, Drudge Report
Michael Kors, Michael Kors Holdings
Len Blavatnik, Access Industries
Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective
Tory Burch, designer
Jon Feltheimer, Lionsgate
Peter Chernin, The Chernin Group
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Important Studios
Mike Allen, Politico
Ben Affleck, actor, director
Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington, AOL
(More full disclosure: I occasionally write for Vanity Fair, and Peter Kafka of AllThingsD has written some of the media-focused mini-profiles on the lists.)
(Photo credit: Jonas Fredwall Karlsson, exclusively for Vanity Fair)
I have an iPhone 4S and I upgraded to the iOS 7 operating system, but I really dislike it. Is there any way to get the old iOS 6 back?
No, Apple typically doesn’t allow downgrades or reversals to an older operating system. For a brief period after the new OS appeared, there was a workaround to do it, but now you can’t.
I am concerned about the security implications of allowing Siri, the Notification Center and the new Control Center on the iPhone to be used even though my phone is locked. Is there a way to prevent that?
Yes, in the Settings app in iOS 7, you can block all three features from use on the lock screen. For Notification Center and Control Center, go to their sections of the Settings app and turn off the switches that say “Access on Lock Screen.” For Siri, go to the General section of Settings, and then to “Passcode Lock.” Turn off the Siri switch under “Allow Access When Locked.”
My wife and I — one pulling 70, the other pushing 80 — need to buy new PCs. We are only interested in connecting to the Internet for news, and exchanging emails. What notebook/PC would you recommend for us? Also, should we get Windows 8 or stick with Windows 7, with which we are familiar?
I would buy simple, basic Windows PCs, without touchscreens, for around $500. Stick to name brands and if possible, find models that still ship with Windows 7.
Holding video chats on your mobile devices can be a great thing. But many of the common video chat apps only allow two-party calls, at least for free, or require you to have an account with a large service or social network.
Now, there’s a new video-chatting service for mobile devices and it’s free. It allows up to 10 parties in a single chat session and it doesn’t require an account to participate in a chat. This new service, called Spin, also allows you to share photos and videos with others during a chat. And it’s built for touch so you can swipe or flick in and out of chats, which it calls “gatherings.” Or you can pinch and zoom to enlarge the whole gathering, or just the small tile representing an individual in that group.
Spin launched Tuesday evening for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. An Android version is in the works for the first quarter of 2014. The app comes from a San Francisco company called Net Power & Light, which produces apps for education.
A gathering in action, with participants shown in tiles
I’ve been testing Spin in recent days on two iPads and an iPhone, and found it to be a nice way to communicate. It has a dash of whimsy, and good video and audio quality. But Spin is so different from traditional video-chatting apps that it can be a bit confusing at first, something the company says it recognizes and promises to take steps to ameliorate.
In one test that included six people on a Saturday, some of us were at home, one was at a sidewalk cafe and one was in a vineyard. Photos and YouTube videos were shared and anyone could flick through the pictures, or advance or reverse the videos, for all to see. The person at the vineyard switched between front and rear cameras, alternately showing herself and the endless vistas of vines. In another test, a friend showed me photos of a trip to Japan while she was eating breakfast and we were talking.
When you launch the Spin app, you’re presented with a large tile representing yourself and a series of smaller tiles arranged in piles, or “stacks.” These include stacks for people you have either chatted with before, or those you’d like to invite to a gathering; invitations to gatherings on future dates; and photos and videos you may want to pull into a gathering. The photos can either be those on your own device or those you’ve stored on Facebook or Flickr. The videos can be from YouTube, or from your own Facebook videos. You can participate in a gathering without sharing any photos or videos. These stacks and tiles appear to float atop a background photo of the ocean, and you can flick them around on the screen in any arrangement you like.
Invitations can be sent for gatherings for future events, such as video chatting while watching football.
There are two ways to initiate a gathering. You just drag a tile or tiles from your People stack onto your own tile, and Spin generates invitations to the people to join the gathering. If they have the Spin app and are using it at the moment, they can join in seconds. If they aren’t active in Spin, they get an email invitation.
The other method is to set up a gathering for a specific date and time — say, the time of a televised sports event. Each person gets an email invitation to the planned gathering. If they don’t have Spin, the invitation includes a link to learn about it and get the app. Spin has accounts called Spin IDs. They aren’t needed to take part in gatherings but you need one to convene a gathering.
Once in a gathering, you not only can see and hear each other, and share photos and videos, but you can do other things. These include writing and doodling in different colors and triggering effects, like sending a stream of hearts, throwing a tomato, launching a paper airplane or triggering an animated standing ovation. I found most of these effects juvenile, but I could see how they’d be fun while everyone was watching a game on TV.
One cool feature lets you adjust the audio while watching a video to either emphasize the video’s own audio track, or the conversation about the video from participants.
You leave a gathering by just dragging your tile out of it.
Spin emphasizes that it isn’t a social network, it has no advertising and it isn’t out to gather information about you. It hopes to make money by selling premium features.
The company says it is devoted to privacy. Spin says only people who are invited can see who is in a gathering you convene and nobody can join unless you invite them, or someone you’ve invited does so. Similarly, nobody can drag you into a gathering without your consent, and nobody can see your photos and videos unless you choose to show them.
So what’s not to like about Spin? Well, I found it confusing to use at first. It wasn’t obvious how to drag people or photos in and out of gatherings for the first couple of sessions, and I resorted to an overlay of tips pointing to things on my screen. I was annoyed by the many times when I was trying to zoom a gathering to full-screen size, or shrink it, or move it, but ended up drawing colored lines instead, because there’s no clear way to turn the drawing function off.
Also, if you invite someone with one email address, but they sign in with another, they won’t show up. Spin is planning to make this clearer in invitations, and over the next month, it plans to make it easier to join gatherings from multiple emails.
On two occasions, Spin warned me I was having network problems, even though I was on a fast, reliable network that worked for other apps. The company says it’s looking into this.
Overall, Spin is worth a try for people who want to hold free group video chats on Apple devices.
According to sources close to the situation, Ford CEO Alan Mulally has vaulted to the forefront of the candidates to become the new CEO of Microsoft.
Earlier this month, the well-known leader of the car maker categorically denied he was leaving the Detroit company in an email to me, writing: “I continue to be focused on serving Ford … and I have my red Ford vest on right now!!”
The typically ebullient Mulally was referring to the iconic sweater he often appears in with a Ford logo on it.
People with knowledge of the situation said that while the 68-year-old Mulally — who has been CEO of Ford for seven years and is a well-known business star — was not seeking the job at first, he has become more amenable to the idea in recent weeks.
Among the factors: Mulally was a former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the Seattle area and has long wanted to return there, where he continues to keep a home. In addition, he was a close adviser to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in his recent effort to create a new management structure for the company.
In another interesting move, earlier this month, Reuters reported that the Ford board had given Mulally the ability to step down earlier from his position than is called for in his contract. Some speculated at the time that it could point to a position in the Obama administration.
Or perhaps in a big tech company in desperate need of a jolt.
Heidrick & Struggles has been conducting its search for a top exec to take over for Ballmer, who announced in August that he was stepping down within the year from his longtime post.
Soon after, Microsoft bought Nokia for $7.2 billion and it was thought that its CEO, Stephen Elop, was the top contender — I even called him the one to beat — given the huge deal and his former experience at the company.
Sources said that while Elop has remained a top candidate, there has been a shift in recent weeks toward Mulally, who has much turnaround experience.
The other top internal exec in contention, said sources, is Microsoft exec Tony Bates, who had previously been CEO of Skype. Externally, several sources said former Microsoft exec and current Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz had been contacted.
Sources said Mulally has not entered formal contract negotiations with Microsoft, but that discussions with him about the job have been serious.
One person critical to the decision will be Microsoft Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates, who stepped away from his role as CEO many years ago. Five years ago, he left full-time work there to focus on his huge charitable organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But sources said that Gates has been spending more time at Microsoft over the last several weeks. He is also on the special committee to pick the new CEO and is, of course, one of Microsoft’s biggest shareholders.
Also, he is, well, Bill Gates.
Microsoft declined to comment and Mulally — who is one of my favorite CEOs since he returns emails and answers questions on the record — has yet to do so.
But a Ford spokesman said Jay Cooney declined to comment on “speculation” and said that there is “no change from what we announced in November,” that Mulally’s tenure has been planned to run through 2014.
We’ll see about that! But, until then, here’s the video of a sassy interview that Mulally gave to Walt Mossberg and me in 2010 at the eighth D: All Things Digital conference:
I want to buy an iPhone 5s, but how can I disable the fingerprint-recognition feature so it doesn’t send my prints over the Internet where somebody might steal them?
First of all, the fingerprint-recognition feature, which allows you to unlock your phone with just a touch instead of a password, is off by default. Unless you turn it on and then train it to recognize your fingers, it doesn’t operate and you can just keep typing in a password, or use no lock method at all.
Secondly, Apple says the fingerprint data never leaves your phone, never goes onto the Internet and never even is backed up to the cloud. Instead, Apple says, it is stored in a secure area of the phone’s processor chip, and the scanner checks with this stored data — not with any online database — to decide whether your finger matches the stored parameters.
I notice that on the new iPhone operating system, the phone downloads many more emails at one time, making it much more difficult to mark them as read. Is there a way around this?
Yes. In a mailbox, or the combined inbox, you just tap “Edit” at the upper right, then tap “Mark All” at the lower left. Then choose “Mark As Read” from the pop-up menu and all your messages should be marked as read.
Is the new iPhone 5s compatible with Ford’s Sync system for music and phone calling in the car?
I asked a Ford spokesman and he said: “Ford expects to provide our Apple customers with full compatibility for Sync v3.6.” And I can report that, while I don’t own a Ford, the iPhone 5s I tested was able to make and receive phone calls, stream music over Bluetooth or via a cable, and transmit text messages to my new-model car.
Creating your own videos is easier to do than ever, and it’s more tempting than ever to view and share them on multiple devices. But it isn’t always simple. Videos can be large files that are clumsy to move around. And they aren’t always created in formats compatible with every device you or your friends may use.
One obvious solution is cloud storage and sharing. Popular social networks Vine and Instagram let you take smartphone videos and share them from the cloud, but these videos are just seconds long. You can store longer videos on general cloud storage services like Dropbox and SkyDrive, but video isn’t their primary focus.
With RealPlayer Cloud, an iPhone can share videos with an Android phone, and vice versa.
Now, RealNetworks, the media-software company whose last major product launch was in 2008, is aiming to make video storage, portability and sharing a no-brainer with a new service called RealPlayer Cloud. It lets users of many different devices store their videos online; stream or download them; share them with others (even if the recipients lack Real’s software); and move videos easily among devices on the same network. It also has built-in playback and sharing of your friends’ Facebook videos.
Real boasts that its new service reformats videos to best suit the device to which you stream or download them, taking into account device type, screen size, bandwidth and storage space.
The service works using new or updated Real apps on Android devices, iPhones, iPads, Windows PCs and Roku TV set-top boxes. A Mac app is in the works, but meanwhile it can work, with some limitations, in a Web browser on a Mac (or any device with a browser).
I’ve been testing RealPlayer Cloud on all these devices and despite some hitches, found it performs as advertised. Real’s mobile apps and website were better designed and easier to use than its old-looking Windows app. Real’s new iOS apps (the ones for iPhone and iPad) worked well, but I ran into trouble with the Android version, though the company has fixed much of that problem.
I easily uploaded to RealPlayer Cloud a video of my wife and son dancing at his wedding a few years ago. I streamed it or downloaded it, via the cloud or my home network, to a PC, an iPhone, an iPad, a Web browser on a Mac and an Android phone. I also could stream it through my TV on a special RealPlayer Cloud channel via a Roku box.
An Android phone
I did the same with fresh videos captured on an iPhone 5 and the Android phone, a Nexus 4. It works on iOS 5 and later, Android 4 and later, and on Windows 7 and 8. On the Mac, I was able to use it in both the Chrome and Safari browsers.
I downloaded videos from Real’s cloud onto my iPad, iPhone and Android phone, for playback on a plane without Wi-Fi. I was able to share cloud videos with others by emailing them links and they could view the videos on almost any device without having to download the app — a big plus. Another plus: While you can share videos to large social networks, you can limit your sharing to small groups.
RealPlayer Cloud worked very well on every device except the Nexus 4. On the Android phone, I saw stuttering and buffering of the exact same cloud videos that played smoothly on the iPhone, iPad, Web and Windows — even though all were on the same Internet connection. The company sent me a revised, pre-release Android version that fixed the playback issues but not another problem — frequent crashing. Real says it was still working on that Tuesday.
The apps are free, but the catch is that, like a lot of cloud services, RealPlayer Cloud charges for storage. You get 2 gigabytes of storage free, but must pay $49 a year for 25 gigabytes; $99 for 100 gigabytes; or $299 for 300 gigabytes.
There are other limitations. The company stresses the product is “designed to help consumers move, watch and share videos they have created.” So to discourage piracy of TV shows and movies, there’s a 15-minute limit on videos shared from PCs or the Web. There’s no limit on videos shared from the camera rolls of iPhones or Android phones because it’s assumed those were taken by the user.
Finally, while the service is out of beta and isn’t invitation-only, the company warns that even though it will go live on Tuesday night, some users may have to wait a few days or even a week to get it. That’s because Real wants to guard against its servers getting overloaded and crashing.
Real says that when you upload a video from one device, it creates several versions of that video in its servers in the most common formats used by other devices.
There are common features across the different versions of the product for different devices. In each, you can view all your videos — stored on your device and in the cloud. Icons tell where they live. You can view just videos from your camera roll, or those you’ve downloaded.
If there are other devices on your local network running RealPlayer Cloud, those are listed in the app for quick video transfers. This feature doesn’t work with the Web-browser version. And while the Windows app can be seen by iOS and Android devices, it can’t detect them. The company says it views the Windows app as mainly a server for the mobile apps.
The mobile apps also let you play and share, but not download, a preselected offering of Web videos, plus videos from your Facebook friends, though you don’t have to link it to Facebook.
I think RealPlayer Cloud is well-designed and makes storing and sharing videos easy across different devices. There are other ways to do it, but this one is pretty clean and simple.
First things first: We’re keeping the Steelcase hot-seat red chairs. Forever. In fact, we own quite a few now.
And we’ll still be scooping and reviewing all things digital right here, at this Web address, for a few more months.
So, while we appreciate the teary farewells we’ve been receiving today across the Web, they’re premature — not by just months, but by many, many years.
What are we blathering about, you ask?
Well, earlier today, the owner of this site — the Dow Jones unit of News Corp — issued a statement stating that, by mutual agreement, the AllThingsD team and the parent company had decided to part ways when our current contract is up on Dec. 31. The separation impacts both this website and our suite of conferences, including the most famous, the D conference, which we built together from scratch — with a whole lot of help from our stellar staff — 11 years ago.
That statement is true. But you, dear reader, can’t get rid of us quite that easily.
First of all, this site will operate just like it does now until year’s end, with the same fantastic group of reporters, editors and business-siders, and helmed on a day-to-day basis by Kara. So, those of you who like it can take a breath, and those who don’t like it can turn that smile upside down.
In addition, Walt’s long-running column will continue to appear in The Wall Street Journal, and here on AllThingsD, too, through the end of the year.
Then, starting Jan. 1, 2014, we will still be Web-siting and conference-producing and much more, albeit under a new corporate structure with new partners and investors. While we can’t give any details yet — and there are details — you can assume that this new independent business will be laser-focused on continuing and extending Web journalism and conference journalism with the highest standards. Plus, we will finally be able to have added resources, so we can grow in new and exciting ways, including hiring more journalists and doing much more video.
In addition, not only will Walt continue his reviews on the new site, but we’ll be adding more reviewers to our current superb group, to praise or condemn even more digital products.
As for Kara, she will be continuing her famously fierce pursuit of the news, with an ever-growing team of major reporting talents like the ones we are so privileged to work with now.
And those red chairs — the iconic seats in which every major tech and media leader has been grilled at our conferences for 11 years? We’re keeping them, because we will be holding our usual style of big, news-making conference in 2014, and many others, as well.
We have truly valued our time at Dow Jones. That was due at the start to the amazing foresight of former execs like Paul Steiger and Gordon Crovitz, who deserve immense credit for the creation of the AllThingsD franchise. They, and many others over the years, have allowed us to create what we hoped would become the next version of ethically sound, fair, accurate and even enjoyable tech journalism for the new digital age.
That was then, and this is now — meaning that it’s just about time for the next Next.
But that’s three months away, so stay tuned for our usual daily dose of the best tech journalism our amazing AllThingsD team always serves up to you. It’s our pleasure and also our privilege to be able to do it.
The Dow Jones-owned Wall Street Journal has confirmed today that it will part ways with All Things D. The media publication — and conference powerhouse — is still in talks with potential suitors but its relationship with the Journal is dead. The news was first reported by Fortune’s Dan Primack.
Negotiations have been going on for some time and sources tell us that this is largely due to the fact that Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, the founders and standard-holders of the ATD brand, have been looking for funding to expand the business, rather than simply selling out to a larger media publication. One of the potential acquirers, we’re hearing, was AOL, which owns TechCrunch, Engadget, Autoblog and other blog properties including Patch.
“We plan to embark on a major global expansion of our technology coverage, which will include adding 20 reviewers, bloggers, visual journalists, editors, and reporters covering digital,” said Gerard Baker, Editor in Chief of Dow Jones and Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal. “As part of this global push, we will also be expanding our conference franchise to include an international technology conference and building a new digital home for our first-class technology news and product reviews on The Wall Street Journal Digital Network. “
At this point the ATD brand remains with the Wall Street Journal, which would likely continue to use it in some fashion. The fate of the conferences, from what we know, is still up in the air. Whether a deal is cut to have them continue to run the conferences — or to buy them out — while parting ways on other matters, is yet to be determined. It seems unlikely that Dow Jones will want to let the lucrative events, run by Mossberg and Swisher, out of their grasp, and it’s difficult to see how that relationship would work out. It seems doubtful that they would shutter them entirely, however, as they’ve become marquee events.
The Wall Street Journal says that part of its deal will be for a new conference that will focus on international markets.
As far as the team goes, they are contracted with a corporation owned by Swisher and Mossberg, so they will stick together wherever the team ends up. This will be a deal for the whole kit and kaboodle, even Mike Isaac.
Primack reports that ATD won’t share any content and ‘certain’ advertising functions with the Journal, but that Mossberg will also leave his column. The timeline for the shuttering, as we’ve been hearing for some time, is end-of-year. Potential funding sources that that are being discussed for Mossberg and Swisher’s new effort are Reuters, NBCUniversal, Bloomberg, Condé Nast, Cox and The Washington Post.
For years, Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal has enjoyed working with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher to bring the best of tech coverage to readers around the world under the All Things Digital brand, however, after discussions, both parties have decided not to renew the agreement when the contract expires at the end of this year.
Technology is the central driver of economic growth and the Journal is committed to being the indispensable global source of news and information in this critical area. We plan to embark on a major global expansion of our technology coverage, which will include adding 20 reviewers, bloggers, visual journalists, editors, and reporters covering digital.
As part of this global push, we will also be expanding our conference franchise to include an international technology conference and building a new digital home for our first-class technology news and product reviews on The Wall Street Journal Digital Network. This new initiative will be an integral part of The Wall Street Journal and will be rooted in the Journal’s reputation for excellent, fair, objective, reliable and stimulating journalism. As part of the mutual separation, Walt Mossberg will be leaving the Journal at the end of this year. I want to offer heartfelt thanks for more than twenty years of Personal Technology columns as well as his very fine reporting on national and international affairs in the years before he turned his attention to technology coverage.”
Apple brings out a new top-of-the-line iPhone model every year, but a redesign only every other year. In the intervening cycles, the company tends to keep the phone’s exterior the same, but changes the innards and the software. This is one of those in-between years, but the new iPhone 5s has a potentially game-changing hardware feature and a radically new operating system.
The iPhone 5s’s reliable, easy Touch ID.
The iPhone 5s is the first digital device I’ve seen with a simple, reliable fingerprint reader — one you can confidently use, without a thought, to unlock the device instead of typing in a passcode. You can even use this fingerprint reader, called Touch ID, to authorize purchases from Apple’s App, iTunes and e-book stores.
It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s a real advance, the biggest step ever in biometric authentication for everyday devices. After using Touch ID, I found it annoying to go back to typing in passcodes on my older iPhone.
The new iPhone 5s, which starts at $199 with a two-year contract and goes on sale for all major carriers on Friday, has a beefier processor that Apple says can double its performance. And it has a better camera.
Then there’s the new operating system on this phone, called iOS 7. Its new look, new user interface and new functions represent the biggest overhaul to the iPhone’s core software since the original model launched in 2007. Nearly everything has been improved, including multi-tasking, notifications, access to common controls, email, Web browsing and Siri. Like any big change, it’s a shock at first, but I have come to like it and consider it a step forward, despite a few issues.
The new iOS 7 won’t just be limited to the 5s, or Apple’s other new iPhone, the $99 iPhone 5c. It’ll be a free, optional download starting on Wednesday for many older model iPhones and iPads.
After a week of testing the iPhone 5s, I like it and can recommend it for anyone looking for a premium, advanced smartphone. If you are an iPhone fan with any model older than the iPhone 5, the new 5s will be a big step up. If you own an iPhone 5, there’s less of a case for upgrading, unless you want the fingerprint reader and improved camera. You can get the new OS free of charge.
iOS 7 has simpler-looking icons.
The Touch ID fingerprint sensor is built into the iPhone’s familiar, round Home button. To use it, you must first set up a passcode as a backup and then go through a brief training session for each finger you want to use. There have been laptops and at least one other phone with fingerprint sensors, but they have generally been unreliable and people tended to stop using them. Apple is using a different technology that turns the Home button (which still performs its usual functions) into a rapid, accurate finger scanner.
A steel ring around the button detects your finger and then a sensor scans it. This sensor can identify your finger even if it’s off-center or when the phone is in any position. It looks beneath the outer layer of skin, a capability Apple says means it won’t work with dead tissue, such as a severed finger or a plastic fingerprint imprint — favorite security workarounds seen in the movies. The detection process only takes a second or two.
In my scores of tests, with three fingers, the reader never failed me and none of the 20 or so people I asked to test it was able to unlock the phone. If a finger match fails three times, the phone offers you a chance to type in your passcode instead. After five failures, it requires the passcode. Apple says the odds another person’s finger would work are 1 in 50,000, versus 1 in 10,000 for breaking a four-digit passcode.
There is one bug in the system: Sometimes, while trying to use a finger to authenticate an online purchase, the phone asks for a password. Apple says it expects to fix this bug very quickly.
The iPhone 5s boasts something called a 64-bit processor, which means the system can process data in bigger chunks, and thus much faster. But I didn’t notice any dramatic speed improvement, partly because few apps have yet to be rewritten to take advantage of it.
The new camera is still 8 megapixels, but has a bigger sensor that allows for larger pixels that can capture more light and color information. It has a lens that lets in more light and a flash that allows for warmer tones in low light. All my pictures were slightly sharper than on the iPhone 5 and low-light pictures were much less washed out by the flash. The camera app has been improved, with a new burst mode that takes many shots quickly and then picks the best ones, and a slow-motion video feature that lets you choose parts of an action sequence to slow down. It worked seamlessly.
Voice calls were excellent, even over Bluetooth in a car. I didn’t do a formal battery test, but the iPhone 5s lasted a full workday, including one day where it still had 15 percent of battery left after 14 hours.
iOS 7 gives an overview of your day, such as weather and schedule.
There are too many new features in iOS 7 to list here, but it’s a big improvement. The icons have been redesigned to be flatter and simpler, but they appear to float over your wallpaper, giving the effect of depth. Many elements are translucent, subtly changing shades to match the wallpaper color.
The fonts are sharper, finer and more delicate. Buttons and controls are thinner and lighter and, in the browser, they disappear or shrink to make a little more room for content. Overall, the effect is to make the 4-inch screen seem larger.
Any app now can be set to update in the background, though the system learns the ones you use most often and updates them intelligently to save battery.
The phone now shows you thumbnails of every running app and you can quit any of them by just flicking upward, as in Palm’s now-dead WebOS operating system.
The browser shows a stack of open tabs.
The notification panel, which pulls down from the top, now gives you an overview of your day, including weather and schedule.
And, taking a page from Android, the iPhone now has a quick-settings Control Center that pulls up from the bottom to control Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, music, brightness and other features. It even can turn on a flashlight function.
The browser gives you a handsome graphical view of open tabs and the email program now downloads thousands of messages at once, letting you mark them all as read with a few clicks.
I found Siri to be more accurate and useful. It now has an almost human voice and can glean answers from Bing, Twitter and Wikipedia.
The photos app now automatically groups your camera roll by time and place. You can send photos with one tap to other iOS users nearby.
In iTunes, there’s now a Pandora-like radio feature.
My biggest disappointment is that there have been only minor improvements to the keyboard. Unlike in Android, Apple still bars you from substituting third-party keyboards with better auto-correction. The company says this is due to security worries.
Overall, however, the new iPhone 5s is a delight. Its hardware and software make it the best smartphone on the market.
We have an iPad for me and my wife, but we’d like a tablet for our daughter, 4, to use on long drives and flights to keep her entertained. We would like to find something at a lower price point than an iPad, but something reliable and durable on which she can watch movies and TV show episodes. Do you have any suggestions?
I’d recommend the seven-inch Kindle Fire or Fire HD, which start at $159 and $199, respectively. They have access to lots of kid-friendly content and even have a feature called FreeTime, which allows parents to preselect what content kids can access, restrict the time they spend with the tablet and create a special kid-friendly home screen. Amazon offers a subscription service, FreeTime Unlimited, which provides unlimited apps, games, movies and TV shows handpicked for ages 3 to 8 for $5 a month.
I will spend the month of October in Paris in an apartment without an Internet connection. I will have my new Verizon Galaxy III phone and my new Lenovo Yoga laptop. Is there an easy or inexpensive way to connect without visiting a cybercafe?
Your phone should be able to connect to the Internet over the cellular-data network and the phone can act as a portable Wi-Fi hot spot (a feature you turn on in settings) that will enable the laptop to see it as a Wi-Fi network and get on the Internet. However, this can be costly if you are roaming on your U.S. network for a month. So, assuming your carrier and plan allow this, I suggest you switch the phone to a French carrier, which can cut costs dramatically. This may require you to get the phone “unlocked,” either here or in Paris.
I have two homes, both of which have cable TV and Internet service. Lately, I heard of Slingbox as a vehicle to make cable TV service “travel” with the subscriber. My question is whether I could use this technology to make one cable TV subscription work at both locations?
Yes, that’s exactly what Slingbox does. It’s a small box, starting at $180, that connects to your cable box and home Internet router. It then sends the live and recorded programs from your house, via the Internet, to a laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can control the cable box remotely. The smartphone or tablet app costs $15, but there are no subscription fees, beyond what you already pay for cable at the originating location and for Internet service at both locations.
When activist investor Carl Icahn gave up his quest to block a buyout of computer maker Dell this week, he compared the attitude of the company’s board with 1930s movie idol Clark Gable’s most famous line: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
What if you were reading this news online and didn’t know who Clark Gable was? You could look him up in a source like Wikipedia, but that would mean leaving the page where the Icahn story was, and possibly never returning to learn more about the story.
If you had a new Web browser add-on called Curiyo, you could simply click on his name and learn about Mr. Gable from Wikipedia or other sources in a pop-up box — never leaving the page or the story.
Curiyo underlined Clark Gable’s name in a story about Carl Icahn. Clicking on the actor’s name brought up a box showing sources with information about him.
Right within the Curiyo box, you could see tweets about Mr. Gable and view images or video clips of him. You could even find his famous movie line from “Gone With the Wind.”
Then you could dismiss the box with another click and keep reading the news story.
Curiyo is a free extension — a small piece of software that adds a feature to a browser. Starting Tuesday, Curiyo can be downloaded at Curiyo.com. It works with all four major browsers on both Windows and Mac: Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox. It comes from an Israeli company of the same name and was developed by the founder of the reference website Answers.com.
An Apple story with a box on the city where it is based
I’ve been testing a pre-release version of Curiyo for about a week as I browsed the Web, trying it out on both Macs and Windows PCs and on all four of the browsers. Curiyo generally worked well and I can recommend it, especially for readers like me, who tend to get interrupted by unfamiliar references and find it hard to continue reading without looking them up.
Curiyo places a faint dotted line under terms, names and phrases its algorithms suspect readers will want to know more about. When you move your cursor over the dotted line, a tiny question mark appears, and when you click on the underlined words, the Curiyo box pops up.
This box presents you with a choice of sources you can use to learn more, arrayed along the top. These sources are dynamic and context-sensitive. They include not only Wikipedia and some dictionary sites, but, when the subject is relevant, news sites like USA Today and the Huffington Post; sports reference sites; the entertainment reference site IMDb.com; images; YouTube; Twitter; and more.
Curiyo also allows you to perform a Google search on the chosen topic.
In the case of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, I was able to consult his up-to-date season and career stats from the respected site Baseball-Reference.com.
You can turn most of these sources off or on to get just the ones you want to consult.
If Curiyo hasn’t underlined a term you’d like to explore, you can try looking it up anyway, by simply performing a “long click” — clicking for a couple of seconds — on a word.
For instance, in one story I read about the Syrian crisis, Curiyo underlined such things as the names of the Russian and Syrian foreign ministers. But it didn’t underline the phrase “chemical weapons.” A long click on the word “chemical” brought up the Curiyo box with information about chemical weapons, because Curiyo’s servers deduced I wanted information about the whole phrase.
Curiyo doesn’t interfere with normal links on Web pages. These continue to do whatever the publisher intended. And its pop-up box can be moved anywhere on the screen so it doesn’t cover up content.
This new software is, in a way, a modern, dynamic version of the first well-known product from the same developer, called GuruNet. That software, released in 2000, allowed you to click on any word anywhere on your Windows computer and get definitions and static encyclopedia information. But Curiyo does much more and offers fresh information, like the latest news or Twitter comments.
Curiyo is free for users, but it has a business side. The company is inviting Web publishers to add their sites as sources on the service. That way key words common on the publishers’ sites would be added to Curiyo and help them get more user traffic. The company, though, says it won’t accept any and every site. It hopes to make money by selling ads, though none are present now.
I did find a few drawbacks to Curiyo. It often took 20 seconds or more for the product’s dotted lines to appear. The company says this is because it waits for the whole page to load first. Also, as in the chemical-weapons example, it was sometimes hard to figure out why some terms were underlined and others weren’t.
Finally, Curiyo can perform differently on different sites. While it underlined “Clark Gable” in the Dell story I read on one news site, it didn’t underline the name in another site’s version of the story.
Overall, I found Curiyo to be a valuable and easy-to-use addition to Web browsing.
Is it true that Parallels Access, for controlling a PC from an iPad, won’t function on a computer running XP Pro? If so, is there another app with approximately the same functionality that will run on XP Pro?
It is true that for Windows PCs, Parallels Access requires Windows 7 or Windows 8, so it won’t work with XP, which is about 12 years old. As I noted in my column, there are other iPad apps that can remotely control a computer, but none that I have seen incorporate the iPad features and gestures the way Access does. Most make you try to emulate a tiny mouse pointer with your fingertips. However, if you can deal with that, there are some that will work with XP. One popular example is Splashtop 2.
Can photo files from a Windows PC be transferred to an iPad mini?
Yes, you just install the Windows version of iTunes on your PC, connect your iPad to the PC, select the iPad from within iTunes, and then go to the Photos tab.
From there, you can choose to sync photos to the iPad either from an Adobe consumer photo program, if you have it, or from any folder you designate, such as your main photos folder. Apple has a help article explaining this at: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4236.
For some folks, jumping from a simple flip phone to a smartphone can be overwhelming. Not only do they have to figure out the icons, apps and settings, and learn to type on glass, but their service-plan costs often shoot up.
This can be true of late adopters at any age, but is especially problematic for some seniors who find it difficult to learn new systems and may lack the eye-hand coordination to manipulate many screens teeming with small icons.
Now there’s a new $140 Android smartphone that aims to ease the transition. It replaces the standard Android icon screens with scrolling lists of large-font text boxes representing favorite apps and contacts. Its service plans don’t require a contract and can cost as little as $20 a month for minimal voice, data and texting. And it includes free 24/7 customer service and several apps aimed at seniors, ranging from a paid emergency service to a free medication reminder.
The Jitterbug Touch 2’s home screen
This phone is called the Jitterbug Touch 2 and it comes from a San Diego company called GreatCall Inc., which specializes in mobile products and services for seniors. For years, the company has made simple standard cellphones with large buttons, backed up by patient customer service. Last year, the company dipped its toe into the smartphone pool with the first Jitterbug Touch model, which had a touch screen and a slide-out physical keyboard.
Now, GreatCall is replacing the Touch with a full-blown, all-touch model. The new Jitterbug can download and run a variety of Android apps, just as they were designed, including Facebook, Google Maps and Gmail. It has both front and rear cameras, Wi-Fi and other standard smartphone features.
I’ve been testing the Jitterbug Touch 2 and have come to a mixed conclusion. I like the simplified interface very much and think it serves its purpose admirably: Making it easy to navigate and operate Android. But in my tests, the phone was often sluggish and prone to crashes. And after a short while, it ran out of storage. All this made using the phone confusing and frustrating — exactly the opposite of GreatCall’s aim.
On many occasions, the phone presented a blank black or white screen before switching apps or returning to its home screen. Or it would show a spinning circle for long periods during these transitions. At times, scrolling was briefly jerky and the screen was momentarily unresponsive. These behaviors would likely undermine the confidence of a smartphone novice.
Apps like Google Chrome and even the home screen crashed. When I tried to download a simple solitaire game and then some other small apps, I was informed the phone had “insufficient storage” to install the apps. This was despite the fact that I had only added a couple of apps, like Facebook, and one email account, and had taken only a few photos and a single video of one minute and 22 seconds. I added no music or documents. You can increase the phone’s storage with a memory card, which isn’t included.
The company couldn’t explain the problems I ran into with two units it sent me. It insisted they weren’t typical. But it’s worth noting that the phone itself is a modestly equipped model made by Chinese phone maker Huawei and it runs a two-year-old version of Android. In addition, the simplified interface involves many changes to standard Android. GreatCall has altered such basic features as the lock screen, the launcher, the contact list and the dialer.
There’s no built-in way to expose the phone’s underlying standard Android interface, though I glimpsed it during one crash. Besides, doing so would defeat the purpose of simplifying the phone, even if it somehow improved performance.
The Jitterbug Touch 2 isn’t the only smartphone with a simplified interface. The Samsung Galaxy S4 offers an “Easy Mode” with large icons and text. But GreatCall says its studies show aging seniors are much more comfortable with its text panels than with icons of any size.
When it works smoothly, GreatCall’s interface is a pleasure to use. The main screen has two large tabs at the top: “Home” and “People.” The Home tab is a customizable scrolling list of your favorite apps. Each app is represented by a horizontal panel with the name of the app in big letters and a colorful illustrative icon. Phone calling is at the top, followed by Text Messages, Camera and Photo Album. A large text button at the bottom of the screen brings up a list of all the apps on the phone.
The People tab brings up a scrolling list of your favorite contacts, complete with small pictures of them when available. A button at the bottom brings up all your contacts. (It often took quite a while for the pokey phone to display the pictures of contacts.)
There’s also a special GreatCall button, which offers options including help and “featured apps” you can download from the Android app store. This screen has a button for general customer service and an operator service where humans will look up numbers and dial them for you. I found the agents, which GreatCall notes are based in the U.S., polite and helpful.
The Urgent Care app
The phone comes bundled with three GreatCall apps. One, called 5Star Urgent Response, is a $15-a-month service that connects you to a staff trained in handling emergencies. Urgent Care lets you look up medical symptoms, free of charge, or call a nurse, who can contact a doctor if needed, for $3.99 a call. MedCoach lets you list medical conditions, medications, doctors and can remind you to take medications.
The Jitterbug Touch 2 runs on Verizon’s slow 3G network. You can choose from a variety of monthly plans for voice minutes, data and text messaging. Depending on how many minutes, text messages, or megabytes of data you want, you can spend between $20 and $120 a month. The company says most of its customers use very modest amounts of these services and pay modest fees.
GreatCall has designed a very nice interface for aging seniors and other smartphone newcomers, and some helpful mobile services. It’s too bad the phone it runs on performs poorly.
Well, it only cost $7.17 billion, but Microsoft now has a pretty obvious candidate to lead the company as soon as CEO Steve Ballmer vacates the seat he said he would leave within the year: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.
But it seems clear that the acquisition puts the former president of Microsoft’s business division in the front of the line to take over the software giant, ahead of several internal candidates and a whole lot of external ones. In fact, Elop is both external and internal.
While Elop has critics who say he did not fix Nokia or much of anything else in his long career in tech, others are likely to point to a pedigree that would also make him the favorite here (and at British bookmaker Ladbrokes already). This will doubtlessly be much-debated over the next weeks and months, as the CEO process moves to its conclusion.
But, unless co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates decides to bust a move — and he will not — it looks like this race is Elop’s to lose at this moment. That could certainly change, as we learn more about Elop’s qualifications.
I met Elop almost five years ago and was struck by the fact that he was the only exec at the company at the time who would publicly talk about how the software giant had gotten the “open” religion and was becoming “the most interoperable company in the world.”
At the time, I wrote: “I am still not sure about Microsoft, but one thing’s for sure: Elop has turned out to be one of the most interoperable of tech execs.”
Along with his stint running that powerful franchise at Microsoft, he had been COO of Juniper Networks and CEO of Macromedia, which was acquired under his tenure by Adobe.
His jump to the Finland telecom giant was a big one, given how far Nokia’s star had fallen in the mobile market, with the fast growth of the Apple iPhone and the Google Android mobile operating system.
He’s had a roller-coaster ride since then, of course, including knitting himself to Microsoft in a major partnership, and trying to turn Nokia’s fortunes around. It has been rocky, to say the least, as he has yet to bring the company back to any kind of healthy health.
While he did not start the fire, of course, selling to Microsoft is perhaps the move of someone who knew that it was an unwinnable battle without bigger hoses of money, talent and more.
Did I mention that Elop also has five kids — including triplets?
But why don’t you listen to him instead?
Here’s a video interview I did with him in 2009, when he was at Microsoft:
And here is a cool video Elop ordered up — although it was dreamed up by others — while at Microsoft, as part of an “Envisioning” series, which sketched out a world of smartphones, touchscreens everywhere, and a whole lot of innovative interacting: