Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge or HTC One M9 Starting March 27th [Update]

Three new flagship Android devices, the the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and HTC One M9, will be hitting store shelves this April. For those smartphone geeks out there that want to be the first on the block to get their hands on the new devices when they officially go on-sale, the date for pre-orders has been confirmed as tomorrow March 27th for all most all major carriers.

For those wanting Samsung's latest flagship devices the company made it official that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge will go live in the US on March 27. Sales will begin nationwide on April 10 with all three device storage variants; 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB being available. The devices will be available in three colors at launch: Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum and White Pearl. The Blue Topaz and Green Emerald colors exclusive to the S6 and S6 edge are expected to be available later on, presumably for different carriers. Keep in mind these are just general dates, and  actual carrier pre-order/shipping dates (and even colors and capacities available) may vary a little.

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless will offer both the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge, while Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS will carry the Galaxy S6. Samsung Experience Shops at Best Buy BBY, Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart will also carry the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge and should have demo units available for anyone wanting to review the new devices.

Update: Verizon has confirmed that it will not begin offering pre-orders to its customers until April 1st and they will be offering both devices Black Sapphire and White Pearl – in 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models. Pricing for the Galaxy S6 is $599, $699 and $799. Pricing for the S6 edge is $699, $799 and $899.

Again at this time it is still unclear which variants each carrier will be offering though AT&T's pre-order information page does confirm they'll be offering all three colors and memory capacities.

For those geeks out there that are clamoring to get their hands on the newest offering from HTC, we now know the company will be putting the new HTC One M9 up for pre-order and sale on the same dates March 27th  and April 10th. This goes for the HTC online store as well as most major carriers. From April 10, the One M9 will be available from all four major US carriers, as well as retailers Amazon, Best Buy, Best Buy Mobile specialty stores, Costco Wholesale and Target.

Update: Verizon has confirmed HTC One M9 pre-orders will begin April 1st.

Both devices will carry similar price tags with the unlocked 32gb HTC One M9 costing you $649, and the 32gb Galaxy S6 fetching somewhere around $679. The Galaxy S6 edge will be price significantly higher at $750+. (Exact pricing details for each variant are expected tomorrow)

Now that we have the dates set in stone, one question remains. Which one of these three new devices will you be buying? Or will you go a different route entirely? Let us know with a comment below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Facebook's New Messenger Platform May Be The Last Straw For Me!

It is no secret that Facebook is looking to become all things mobile and in doing so they are looking to expand every aspect of not just their main site but their social add-ons like the standalone messenger application. Today at the company's F8 developer conference they announced a couple new projects involving the messenger platform which integrate even more services into the fold creating an even larger mobile foot-print for the company's platform.

First is the new Messenger Platform, which allows developers to integrate separate stand alone applications into the Facebook Messenger service. The new platform is meant to allow users to download third party add-ons for Facebook Messenger keeping you glued to Facebook while you share even more content from other sites. For instance, if you’d like to send a GIF with Giphy, attach an image with Imgur or send personalized stickers with JibJab, you no longer have to go to each website to complete these actions. Just download each app to work alongside the Facebook Messenger app, send it over to your friends or colleagues and you’re all set.

In addition to the Messenger Platform, Facebook also announced Businesses on Messenger. A more business oriented service, I take that as a potential advertising platform, that enables users to connect with businesses via messenger to do things like: receive receipts, track/cancel orders, and even have a conversation with the business regarding a recent order. The goal would seemingly be to replace a direct phone call, email or other online connection.

The new Businesses on Messenger platform will launch in the coming weeks with a limited number of partners. Of course, Facebook says you don’t have to receive your updates through Messenger or communicate with a a business, but the option will be there if both the business and user would like it.

Facebook's Growing Encroachment on Privacy

At the heart of it these subtle changes to the Facebook Messenger application seem to be fairly innocuous. Unfortunately from a privacy stand point that may not be so. The addition of third party apps, and inclusion of connections to businesses could poise several security issues and could open the door to several new privacy concerns.

As the social media giant continues to grow both it's mobile and advertising platforms we start to see lines being blurred.The company's 'all encompassing' approach could allow for further incursions into a users shopping habits, usage on outside sites and other areas they may not currently have.This access could lead to more acutely pinpointed advertising. It could also lead to more privacy concerns with potential for leaks or cross-platform hijacks.

My thoughts:
I for one have never been sold on the idea of allowing a single company to have total control and access to all of my online life. I tend to lend towards keeping my multiple platforms separate, not using Facebook or Gmail account log-ins as frequently as possible, not relying solely on a single use platform for email, messaging services ect. I've never been one to 'place all my eggs in one basket'. Call it the old school geek in me, but from a security stand point that has always been a traditional stance.

I wouldn't mind having better access and better communication with businesses I use. However, the thought of having to give up any further privacy to Facebook (or any other site) isn't one I'm open to. Neither is the idea of download multiple different add-ons to communicate with friends through messenger. I wasn't impressed with the changes Facebook made to the messenger app when they forced it on users as a standalone service. Nor am I convinced that Facebook Messenger privacy isn't a concern. These new changes will undoubtedly pave the way for more monetization efforts, which will also open the door to more ads and intrusions.

Therefore these new changes, as well as further growing concerns over my overall privacy within Facebook, may just be the last straw for this geek. I may have to let the Facebook ship sail and leave messenger in the past - probably where it belongs!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10 Upgrades Coming For Free | No Your Pirated Version Won't Suddenly Be Legit

Microsoft made big headlines yesterday when they dropped the news that Windows 10 upgrades will be available for free to anyone even Windows pirates. However, it now appears as though some of those previous reports were not totally accurate.

According to the original reports Microsoft said they'd be "upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10." At the time the program was only confirmed to be rolling out in China as a chance for Microsoft to "re-engage" with the hundreds of millions of Windows users in China. Windows piracy is a major concern in China, and to deal with the problem, Microsoft wanted to offer customers a chance to get on-board with legitimate software. It will dole out Windows 10 through security outfit Qihoo 360 Technology and Tencent Holdings, China's most popular social networking company with more than 800 million users.

This however led to more speculation that Microsoft would be rolling out the same program world wide. It now turns out that is the case, though there are a few caveats that were not initially covered by the previous reports. First is the statement from Microsoft confirming the Windows 10 free upgrade program:

"We are excited to launch Windows 10 this summer. Anyone with a qualified device can upgrade to Window 10, including those with pirated copies of Windows. We believe customers over time will realize the value of properly licensing Windows and we will make it easy for them to move to legitimate copies."

This is the same blanket statement that several sites have confirmed receiving yesterday. Today however we have more clarification on the program and what will and won't be covered. Microsoft revealed the Windows 10 upgrade details to Polygon. This short and to the point statement makes it all clear, the free Windows 10 upgrade will simply be a software update and in no way offers a legitimate license or changes the status of the non-genuine license. Here's the full statement:

"The consumer free upgrade offer for Windows 10 applies to qualified new and existing devices running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. Some editions are excluded from the consumer free upgrade — including Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to other Windows 10 enterprise offerings.

"We have always been committed to ensuring that customers have the best Windows experience possible. With Windows 10, although non-Genuine PCs may be able to upgrade to Windows 10, the upgrade will not change the genuine state of the license. Non-Genuine Windows is not published by Microsoft. It is not properly licensed, or supported by Microsoft or a trusted partner. If a device was considered non-genuine or mislicensed prior to the upgrade, that device will continue to be considered non-genuine or mislicensed after the upgrade. According to industry experts, use of pirated software, including Non-Genuine Windows, results in a higher risk of malware, fraud (identity theft, credit card theft, etc), public exposure of your personal information, and a higher risk for poor performance or feature malfunctions."

So it now seems as though not much is actually changing. Microsoft is simply stating that they will offer the Windows 10 upgrade software to just about anyone for free. You'll still need to purchase a license to actually be on the legal side, though it likely means you can purchase the cheaper upgrade pack instead of a full retail license. We still don't have full details on what else this might mean or how the 'unlicensed' software will perform or if we'll see things such as nag screens, intermittent reboots, etc.

For those that are going to be interested in Windows 10 here are the upgrade paths according to Microsoft's PowerPoint presentations. As of right now there will be no direct upgrade from Windows XP or Windows Vista. All Windows 7 and Windows 8.x versions (Windows 7 RTM, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 RTM) will require an ISO image, which you can have on a DVD or USB drive.
  • Windows 7 RTM: Media (ISO)
  • Windows 7 SP1: Media (ISO) or Windows Update
  • Windows 8: Media (ISO)
  • Windows 8.1 RTM: Media (ISO)
  • Windows 8.1 S14: Media (ISO) or Windows Update
  • Windows RT: N/A
  • Windows Phone 8.0: N/A
  • Windows Phone 8.1: Windows Update
That's a pretty wide range Microsoft is covering, so long as the minimum hardware requirements are met. They include:
  • Processor: 1GHz or faster
  • RAM: 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)
  • Free HDD: 16GB
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 with WDDM driver
  • Microsoft account and Internet access
If you are adventurous and want to checkout what Windows 10 will offer, there is still time to download and install the beta version. Checkout this post for more details.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Apple's iOS Public Beta Program Now Live, Sign Up Here [Update]

iOS Beta

[Update] According to reports via it now appears as though the new beta program may not be a true public beta test, instead it may be invite only. Editors at iMore refer to an email they received that has also been confirmed to be sent out to a handful of people who were already signed up to the early-access beta program. The email was a direct invitation to them to participate in the iOS 8.3 beta. As mentioned below there were some issues with some users accessing the beta. So this could explain it as not everyone that has attempted to register has received this invitation - and of course, if the beta was available to everyone, it would make very little sense to send such an email out to only a handful of people.

For those looking to checkout the latest improvements and changes to iOS, Apple has launched a new public beta testing program that will allow anyone that is willing to test out the latest versions of the company's mobile software.

What is the Apple Beta Software Program?
The Apple Beta Software Program lets users to try out pre-release versions of software, applications, and services. The feedback you provide on quality and usability helps us fix issues and make Apple software even better. Please note that since the public beta software has not yet been commercially released by Apple, it may contain errors or inaccuracies and may not function as well as commercially released software. Be sure to back up your Mac using Time Machine and your iOS device with iTunes before installing beta software. Install only on non-production devices that are not business critical. We strongly recommend installing on a secondary system or device, or on a secondary partition on your Mac.

You can get started in the program by signing up on the Apple Beta Software Program site. Before downloading any of the new software Apple asks that users backup their device to iTunes and then download a configuration file which will let the beta show up on the Software Update screen.

Just note that the only way to downgrade to the current shipping version of iOS (8.2, at this writing) is to completely wipe your device and restore that backup. Otherwise your phone or tablet will continue to install beta builds and, eventually, the final release of iOS 8.3.

According to 9to5Mac the program is still in the roll out phases and not everyone has been able to access all parts of the site. However, they have put together a great overview of the sign-up and installation process. Once you've signed up with your Apple ID, you have to install a profile from, which points your iPhone or iPad at the beta software update channel instead of the standard channel. You then download and install the newest iOS 8.3 beta as you would any over-the-air update.

For more details on the program head over to the FAQ. It should be noted that beta software, even that from Apple, can often times be very buggy and is generally not completely stable. There is also going to be limited support if there are any issues.

Apple has traditionally limited beta software access to its registered developers - anyone can sign up for an account whether they’re actually intending to develop apps or not, but the OS X and iOS programs each cost $99 a year.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Apple Spring Forward Event Confirms One Thing, Owning An Apple Is Still Really Expensive!

Apple is the headline of the day today and rightfully so! Their Spring Forward event featured several exciting announcements, well exciting for Apple fans anyways. After the dust has cleared and the excitement has worn off a bit we are left with one major key point: Being an Apple fan is damn expensive!

From an entry level $349 Apple Watch, to a newly updated and redesigned $1300 MacBook, to the over the top $17,000 Edition featuring 18kt gold, all of Apple's products announced today featured fairly hefty price tags. Even the accessories carried what most of us geeks would likely consider high prices. Items like the brand new $80 USB-C adapter that you'll need to work with legacy devices, or the Apple Watch bands that will cost anywhere from $149-449.

With these prices it looks like being an Apple Geek will certainly put a dent in your wallet, or Apple Pay account as it were.

Recapping Apple’s Watch and MacBook Event

Today's event had mixed focus, covering everything from the inclusion of HBO Now on Apple TV, to the aforementioned Apple Watch and MacBook details (along with MacBook Pro and other updates), to additional details about Apple Pay, iOS 8.2 and Apple's new ResearchKit. Below are some of the main highlights.

The show stealer: A new ultra-thin 12" MacBook: Featuring a super slim 13.1 millimeter, 2lb chassis and a long awaited retina display the new 12-inch MacBook was easily one of the most talked about of today's announcements. To achieve their new 'thinner lighter' design Apple utilizes one of Intel’s new energy-efficient Core M “Broadwell” processors, sitting in a logic board that is 67 percent smaller than Apple’s previous record. The processor uses a mere 5 watts of power, running at 1.1GHz that can Turbo Boost to 2.9GHz, which also allows for exceptional cooling finally giving Apple the option to go fan-less.

To keep size and weight down Apple has also added a new layered, terraced battery design that lets the company use all the available space inside the unibody chassis. Theses terraced, contoured battery cells are said to give the 12-inch MacBook 9 hours battery life while web surfing, or 10 hours while watching video. In addition to new battery designs Apple cut down on thickness by removing all but one port on the MacBook instead option for a single USB 3.1 Type-C connection.

This backward-compatible cable does it all: It’s capable of delivering 100 watts of power, 10Gbps data transfer speeds (twice that of USB 3.0) and audio or video via the DisplayPort protocol. (Goodbye, power cords, HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt. And the Type-C connector is reversible, too, just like Apple’s MagSafe connector, so you’ll never have to fumble with shoving your USB cable in the right way again.)

An Apple Watch for for all but the budget minded: Most of today's Apple Watch news centered on finally confirming release dates and pricing information, as we already knew many of the rest of the details. We now know the Apple Watch is going on sale April 24 in nine countries with prices ranging from $350 to a high end of $17,000. Other details confirmed are battery life, which is said to be 18hrs of 'normal use', though many predict the average geek will see significantly less.

Updated MacBook Pro and MacBook Air: Not to be overlooked in today's announcement are updates to the 13 inch MacBook Pro and updates to the 11 and 13inch MacBook Air. Both line-ups will now feature the latest Intel processors, more powerful graphics and other various hardware updates. Much like the new 12-inch MacBook the 13-inch MacBook Pro will also see an upgrade to a retinal display.

New medical and health research tools with ResearchKit: Last but certainly not least on Apple agenda today was an introduction to ResearchKit, an open source software framework designed for medical and health research. ResearchKit turns a users iPhone into a powerful tool for medical research. When granted permission by the user, apps can access data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps.This data can then be sent to doctors and researchers to help better diagnose and prevent disease or track the effectiveness of your current treatments or condition.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Google Wants To Sell You Auto Insurance With New Comparison Tool

Looking for the best prices in auto insurance? Sure you can visit one of the many comparison sites out there, but Google wants to make it even easier than that. Starting today Google is launching a new feature called “Google Compare for Auto Insurance,” a comparison-shopping site that lets you compare auto insurance rates from several different insurance providers.

Initially, the service is being made available to California residents, and should start popping up in Google Search results as soon as you search 'car insurance' (it didn't work yet for us). As of launch time the site only features a handful of insurance providers and unfortunately is currently limited to California but Google says other states will soon follow later this year.

For those willing to test out the program you can start here by entering your zip code.  This will bring up a questionnaire that requires personal details such as name, DOB, address ect and other information about your vehicle. If they choose to fill that out, Google will return a comparison unit listing insurance premiums, provided by its insurance advertiser partners.Policies can then be purchased online or over the phone through the provided contact information.

As Google Compare for car insurance rolls out to more states, they also plan to introduce ratings and reviews, as well as local agent support for providers with agent networks. Currently there are providers listed including: Mercury Insurance, MetLife, 21st Century, General Insurance and about 10 more, though ti looks like most of the major insurance providers (Allstate, State Farm ect) have not yet opted to join. Companies involved aren't required to pay for listings and Google says that payment isn’t a factor in ranking or eligibility, so there should be no bias to 'best pricing'.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Samsung, Oculus Expect 'Consumer Level' Gear VR By Year's End

The pairing of virtual reality company Oculus and telecommunications giant Samsung made big headlines last year when the two announced a joint venture dubbed the Gear VR “Innovator Edition”. The collaboration between the two companies involved using some of Oculus' own technology featured in their Oculus Rift headset coupled with Samsung's Galaxy series smartphones to provide users a virtual reality experience without wires or the need for a PC.

The launch of the device sparked much interest even though the devices carried the “Innovator Edition” label, which is similar to a beta tag. This was a concession made between Samsung and Oculus after the phone company wanted to “productize” the hardware while Oculus said it wasn’t ready.These 'beta' products are current available to the general public, but don't carry the full fledged 'consumer' tag, meaning they don't carry all the bells and whistles Oculus and Samsung intend to add the the finished product.

Good news though, during a speech at this year's Game Developers Conference Oculus VR CTO John Carmack took the stage to discuss the Gear VR headset, and he revealed that Oculus and Samsung will release a consumer version of the mobile virtual-reality device before the end of this year.

The new Gear VR 'Consumer Edition' will launch alongside the next line of Galaxy products from Samsung most likely in the Fall. Which could place it alongside the next Samsung Galaxy Note launch. This should give developers some time to prepare software for the launch. Carmack aslo revealed that this consumer product will come with a major media campaign from Samsung that will include commercials and other kinds of promotions.

"We have a plan, we have a date," Carmack said. "Oculus is going to go as hard as we can, to sell as many units as possible, to unleash the full marketing power of Samsung with the next edition of Gear VR."

Virtually reality has been a hop topic over the past several months with many major players joining Samsung and Oculus to announce their own offerings into the market. In just the last year, companies ranging from Sony and Microsoft to tiny startups have announced their plans to build virtual reality devices. Even smartphone makers like HTC and game makers such as Valve have unveiled prototypes.

More from John Carmack at GDC via Ars Technica