Apple preps iOS 8 and new mystery products for upcoming WWDC conference

Apple has confirmed early June for the 2014 edition of its WWDC conference, par for the course for the past decade plus – but this time the keynote could take a sharply different tone than in years past. The keynote address at Apple’s annual developer conference is typically a software preview session for Mac and iOS developers which coincidentally serves as a teaser for whatever new versions of its existing product lines will debut in the fall. Apple must reveal the nuts and bolts of its upcoming system software platforms to developers so they can gear their apps and software development accordingly in order to integrate the new technologies and features in time for the fall launch, but it makes a point of keeping as many of the details of its upcoming hardware under wraps as possible. That creates a summer atmosphere in which consumers are generally aware of what the next generation iPhones and iPads will deliver in terms of software while having no idea what the new products will look like. But this year’s WWDC in particular is ripe for a diversion from the norm, in the form of new mystery products apart from the inevitable iOS 8 preview.

The process of revealing the iOS 8 interface and core software features in advance creates a tricky tightrope for Apple, which doesn’t want sales of its existing iPhone and iPad generation to fall off too severely before the new hardware actually arrives. For instance last year’s summertime WWDC saw an extensive demonstration of iOS 7, but made no mention of which new products it would run on; the iPhone 5S and 5C weren’t officially shown off until just weeks before they shipped in October. But that becomes a different matter when entirely new products are involved.

When Apple first unveiled the iPad, it did so nearly three months before it began shipping. The lag time was used to gradually build hype for the new product, with no fear of cannibalizing existing sales because Apple didn’t already have a tablet product on the market at the time. Apple is widely rumored to be working on and close to readying new product lines ranging from smart televisions to smart watches. Any of these new products will require some level of support from third party developers, meaning that they could be initially introduced at this June’s WWDC. And even if they don’t ship until months later, Apple loses nothing by showing off the hardware designs now.

Until such time, speculation will continue to swirl regarding just which new areas Apple will indeed venture into. But the one sure bet for the WWDC is the unveiling of iOS 8. Last summer Apple introduced the biggest-ever overhaul of its mobile operating system in the form of iOS 7, leaving it with two possible directions to go in this time. One is to use iOS 8 as an opportunity to debut any software features which weren’t completed in time for last year’s ambitious release. The other is to essentially make iOS 8 a maintenance release, keeping in line with its pattern of essentially making every other iOS version a landmark. In the latter case, Apple would instead rely on a specific headlining feature to drive sales of the next iPhone and iPad, as it has done in past years with features like Siri and the fingerprint ID sensor.

One key question mark for WWDC is whether Apple will follow up last year’s OS X Mavericks, an update to its Mac computer system software, with another version. Apple’s new OS X versions have arrived at inconsistent intervals in recent years, meaning it could opt to wait until 2015 before deliver the Mavericks successor.

Second Google Glass wearer attacked, but circumstances remain isolated

For the second time this year, someone wearing Google Glass has been physically attacked in a manner which included violence toward Glass itself. But those who have early-adopted the wearable computing technology, or who are considering joining the fray once the product is released to the public later this year, shouldn’t worry about an epidemic of Glass related attacks just yet. As it turns out, both reported attacks thus far have come with their own caveat. The first came after an aggressive war of words, and the second was a direct result of someone tempting fate.

The first known Google Glass attack was first reported by Sarah Slocum herself via her social media pages just minutes after it happened. When the ultimately posted the Glass-captured video of the incident, it revealed that an angry exchange of words between patrons in a bar ultimately led to the attack. While it’s debatable as to whether Slocum or the other party was the bigger aggressor in the exchange, the Glass assault likely wouldn’t have happened if not for the verbal sparring.

The second Google Glass attack came this week as Kyle Russell’s Glasses were removed from his face and smashed, as reported by Mashable and others. But the details reveal that Russell is a journalist who went to investigate a group of anti-Google protestors, one of whom spotted the Google product on his face and proceeded to take his protesting to an extreme.

Over the several months there have been few thousand people testing Google Glass, wearing it out in public. Beyond sometimes visiting places of business who have asked them to remove the headgear due to privacy issues, Glass wearers have rarely incurred any trouble or controversy. As for acts of violence, Glass users appear to be safe so long as they don’t get into a shouting match while wearing it, or attempt to use it to report on a group of people who are in the act of carrying out an organized protest against Google and its products. That all adds up to a remarkably safe Google Glass user experience thus far for users who aren’t specifically looking for trouble.

No apologies: Lorde shows her teen spirit by fronting Nirvana for Hall of Fame

After reuniting in 2012 to record a new song with Paul McCartney as their lead singer, the surviving members of Nirvana pulled off the only thing last night that could qualify as even more surreal: the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” group performed with an actual teenager. Seventeen year old Lorde, the high school girl from New Zealand who has risen to pop stardom over the past year with her songs Royals and Team, took the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony with Nirvana members Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear to perform the band’s classic hit All Apologies.

Nirvana “reunions” have been sparse since the death of frontman Kurt Cobain and the subsequent demise of the group twenty years ago. Grohl has gone on to become better known as the frontman for his own group Foo Fighters, with Smear joining him on and off, and Novoselic finally appearing on a Foo Fighters album in 2012. The three teamed with McCartney to record “Cut Me Some Slack” for the soundtrack to the documentary Sound City, but aside from a Saturday Night Live appearance, the lineup was ultimately a one-time thing and never did include any performances of any classic Nirvana songs.

But Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall last night was a different matter. The context required that Nirvana songs be performed, which all but ruled out McCartney by default. So whom would Novoselic and Grohl tap as their frontman this time? Speculation over the past year pointed to everyone from fellow Sub Pop veteran Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, to Cobain’s mentor Michael Stipe of R.E.M. – And while Stipe did show up to give the induction speech, Nirvana proceeded to take the stage with a series of female singers in tow.

They recruited the hard rocking Joan Jett to sing Teen Spirit, along with Lorde, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, and St Vincent, each delivering their own versions of Nirvana’s hits. In hindsight it was the only move that made sense: asking any contemporary male rock singer, even the likes of Cornell or Stipe, to get up there and try to mimic Cobain would have come up short by any measure. By tapping all women, Nirvana ensured that each song would automatically sound different than Cobain’s versions. And by tapping Lorde, they reintroduced Nirvana’s legacy to her teenage fans.

It was a gamble which could have backfired. Would these veteran rockers in their mid forties look silly performing with a high school kid who hadn’t even been born yet when the song she was singing was popular? Could Nirvana be taken seriously with a singer who is several years younger than even Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean? But the understated performance, which quickly spread to YouTube as fans in attendance raced to record and upload it, instead reveals that a song like All Apologies is indeed as timeless twenty years later as we all thought it would be when it first released.

With Grohl married to Foo Fighters, and Novoselic having largely stayed away from the full time music industry for the past two decades, one has to wonder if last night’s induction was indeed the last hurrah for Nirvana reunions. But then again, which each such reunion turning out to be that much more surprising and surreal than the last, anything is possible.

Facebook strikes user discord after threatening to remove messaging from mobile app

Facebook says it will soon begin removing the messaging functionality from its official mobile apps for devices like iPhone and Android, in an attempt to force users to turn to its separate Messenger app instead, as a test in a handful of small nations. This is the latest attempt on Facebook’s part to boost the popularity of its standalone messaging app. Earlier this year Facebook released a new app update which, without warning, disabled messaging functionality within its flagship app for users who also had Messenger installed. While the goal was to motivate those users to go ahead and use the Messenger app full time, it had the opposite effect on at least some users, who figured out that messaging functionality could be restored by deleting the Messenger app entirely. Now Facebook is trying a heavier hand. If the immediate backlash among users upon hearing the news is any indication, the test run may be problematic.

“I downloaded messenger for a hot minute,” says Nicole Nelson. “It’s just easier to use messages within the mobile app.” Tim Robeson, an independent IT contractor, believes that forcing users to adopt Messenger would be “a really stupid move.” But Facebook appears intent on dominating the standalone messaging app market, having spent roughly twenty billion dollars last month to acquire Whatsapp, the dominant messaging platform in some Eastern nations where Facebook doesn’t dominate as a social network. The move was widely thought to be a backdoor attempt at boosting the popularity of Facebook in general in those regions. But coupled with the news that Messenger will now become mandatory for at least some users, it now appears that Facebook considers messaging its top priority.

That priority could put Facebook’s dominance as a social network at risk. In western nations where Facebook is the dominant social network, it also tends to dominate as a messaging platform by default due to the fact that it’s integrated directly into the social network and provides instant access to existing contacts. The standalone Messenger app provides access to those same contacts but requires users to jump between apps in order to browse status updates in one while reading or composing messages in the other. By forcing its users to keep exiting the official app in order to do messaging in external app, Facebook may unwittingly steer some of its users toward trying out competing messaging platforms. That in turn could erode the dominant hold that Facebook has on its billion users, ultimately motivating them to try out competing social networks such as Google+ once they’ve broken the chains on the messaging side.

It’s unclear what Facebook’s overall strategy is here. Its acquisition of rising specialty apps such as Instagram over the past two years initially looked like a mere attempt to prevent any of them from rising up to become full-on competitors. But if messaging is removed from the main Facebook app and moved strictly to the Messenger app, could the next move be for Facebook to remove the ability to post photos from the main app in favor of making Instagram usage mandatory? Those are the questions which users will have to ponder as Facebook’s messaging gambit continues to play out.

Controversy erupts over iOS force-quit feature

Apple’s long controversial iOS force-quit feature on the iPhone and iPad has taken another turn this week when a former Apple retail store Genius affirmed that force quitting apps in such manner has no effect on background processes or battery life. In fact he claims that habitually doing so actually has negative effects. “It does shut down the app,” says Scotty Loveless on his personal blog, “But what you don’t know is that you are actually making your battery life worse if you do this on a regular basis.” He goes on to explain that doing so removes an app from the device’s RAM memory, forcing it to be reloaded the next time that app is launched, which requires additional battery power.

Since the force-quit feature was introduced, Apple has made clear that it’s only intended for use when an individual app is frozen or behaving oddly. Initially the feature was buried fairly deep within the Home button hierarchy. But as of iOS 7, Apple has made the feature more accessible; double clicking the Home button brings up an array of recently used apps, which can then be tapped on for launch or swiped away to be force quit. Numerous iPhone and iPad users have since mistaken this feature for being a method of preventing apps from running in the background, and thus a method of preserving battery life. That misguided advice has become a persistent myth.

One iPhone user, Angie Tuel, states that she was “led astray” by the misguided advice of a tech savvy family member and had been “obsessively clearing those pages several times a day” until she became educated on the specifics of iOS background tasks. Apple limits the ability of third party apps to function in the background except for specific functions such as refresh and push notification, and can be controlled in Settings on an individual per-app basis. In contrast, when scrolling through apps after double clicking the Home button, users are merely viewing a still image of the last thing they were doing in each app before leaving it.

But the confusion persists. Another iPhone user, Frank Miller, acknowledges that the confusion led him to visit an Apple Store Genius Bar in order to inquire whether he should force quit the apps in order to conserve battery life. He was advised to “Leave em be, no problem, they just there,” and was instead steered to the Settings app. But no matter the attempts on Apple employees (or a former Apple employee in the case of Loveless) at setting the record straight, a large contingent of users continue to express the belief that force quitting apps after each use is advisable. Apple may be left with no choice but to bury the force quit feature further back down into the interface, where it had quietly resided through iOS 6, when it launches the eventual successor to iOS 7.

David Letterman will announce his 2015 retirement tonight, says Mike Mills of R.E.M.

Mike Mills, founding bassist of the rock group R.E.M., claims that David Letterman will announce his pending retirement on tonight’s episode of the Late Show. Mills, who will be appearing on tonight’s episode to perform with former bandmate Peter Buck along with singer Joseph Arthur, stated “Dave just announced his retirement” via Twitter several minutes ago. Letterman tapes his episodes in the mid afternoon, which lines up with the timing of Mills’ claim.

Although the account claiming to belong to Mike Mills is not officially verified by Twitter itself, his previous tweet was a photo of himself backstage at the Letterman taping, seemingly confirming that the account is indeed valid. That means that unless Mills is attempting to pull off a belated April Fools prank, Letterman is indeed retiring in 2015 and the announcement will be broadcast tonight.

Letterman, who has been at CBS in the 11:35pm time slot for more than twenty years, had been the lone long term stalwart even as longtime rival Jay Leno retired (twice) while other hosts like Conan O’Brien have shifted around the dial. Letterman had been widely expected to inherit the NBC Tonight Show from Johnny Carson, but the gig went to Leno instead, prompting Letterman’s shift to CBS.

R.E.M. disbanded four years ago, but while singer Michael Stipe has since retired from the music industry altogether, Mike Mills and Peter Buck have continued to appear in various musical capacities together and separately.

It’s not immediately clear whether Letterman will be succeeded by longtime 12:35am CBS host Craig Ferguson, or whether outside talent will be brought in.

Ringo Starr taps Joe Walsh and Steve Lukather for new album

Those wondering why the recent televised Beatles tribute featured the likes of Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and Toto mainstay Steve Lukather so prominently may now have their answer: they’re both a part of the new solo album which Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is in the process of recording. A recent group “selfie” posted from the studio reveals that Starr is in fact collaborating with Walsh and Lukather among other musicians. The new album will be Starr’s first since the release of “Ringo 2012″ two years ago.

Joe Walsh is best known as the guitarist and occasional lead singer of the Eagles, with whom he’s been touring the past year as part of their Farewell Tour. Walsh has also been connected to the other surviving Beatle, Paul McCartney, when the two jammed together to close out the Grammy awards three years ago. Walsh was seen sitting in the audience next to both McCartney and Starr during the Beatles tribute. Steve Lukather was on stage acting as house guitarist alongside Peter Frampton throughout the evening.

The question now becomes whether Ringo’s new album might also include a coloration with McCartney. There is no specific evidence of that yet, but with mutual friends like Walsh confirmed to be participating, anything is possible.

Facebook acquires company led by Marc Andreessen and John Carmack

Facebook has acquired virtual reality company Oculus Rift, but what it acquired for its two billion dollars may be less important than whom it acquired. Buzz is quickly building across the tech industry as to just what Mark Zuckerberg and company might have in store for the technology, as VT gaming appears to have little in common with Facebook’s social network. But the answer may lie with two names among the Oculus Rift ranks: director Marc Andreessen and CTO John Carmack. One helped pioneer the web browser and the other helped pioneer computer gaming. And now they’re both on the verge of becoming Facebook employees.

There’s no guarantee that either industry legend will actually follow Oculus Rift into the hands of Facebook Incorporated, as either or both could simply cash out and move on. But this wouldn’t be the first time in which a multi-billion dollar acquisition tech industry acquisition included a notable executive. Earlier this year Google acquired Nest, a smart home technology firm headed up by iPod creator Tony Fadell, who will be joining Google’s ranks. And more famously, Apple acquired NeXT several years ago and in the process brought its own co-founder Steve Jobs back into the fold.

Andreessen could help Facebook with its web browser based interface on traditional computers, although social networking is increasingly shifting from the desktop toward mobile app based interfaces. Carmark’s strategic value for Facebook is less clear, as his background with first person shooter games contrasts with Facebook’s own more famous games, which largely consist thus far of online farming and the like.

Facebook’s other recent acquisitions have had a more clear path of integration. Instagram’s photo sharing functionality was already popular among Facebook users, making the merger almost inevitable. Oculus Rift is a different matter. Does Facebook plan to go through with the Oculus plan to release a virtual reality gaming headset, or will it attempt to modify the technology into a more broad wearable computing device with Facebook interactivity built in?

Last year Facebook attempted to branch out into the hardware market indirectly by partnering with HTC for the First smartphone, which sold poorly. Whatever Facebook has in mind with regard to wearable technology, it appears to have decided that acquiring the hardware maker is more efficient than trying another outside partnership.

New York Mets apologize for Dice-KKK remark

Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka began his game perfectly yesterday, but the New York Mets turned it into an error. After the starting pitcher struck out the first three batters he faced, the team attempted to combine the “K” abbreviation for strikeout with his nickname by labeling him “Dice-KKK” on Twitter – thereby making an unwitting reference to the Ku Klux Klan.

After an immediate negative outpouring from fans and sports journalists across the social network, the Mets deleted the tweet and apologized for it, declaring “That was unintended.”

Daisuke earned the nickname Dice-K as a phonetic attempt at making his Japanese name more easily pronounceable in English after he joined Major League Baseball. The K in his nickname has frequently been emphasized in reference to his strikeouts, but never before in quite the manner the Mets did yesterday – and considering the embarrassment which ensued, likely never again. No word yet on whether the employee running the official Mets Twitter account still has a job.

Mark Sanchez eyes Eagles in hopes of Vick-like career resurrection

The Philadelphia Eagles are eyeing
Mark Sanchez, a former top pick who washed out with the New York Jets and was released last week. Some were expecting Sanchez to seek out a weaker team where he would have an immediate chance to win the job as starter, but instead he’s set to land with a playoff team where he has no chance at the starting quarterback job and may not even be able to win the number two position. Sanchez, however, appears to be attempting to follow the same career rejuvenation strategy which Michael Vick used to get himself back into the NFL’s good graces. Vick, in fact, used his stint with the Eagles so well that he just took Sanchez’s old job with the Jets.

The quarterback switcheroo, in which Philadelphia and New York are essentially swapping unwanted quarterbacks, is something of a rarity in NFL circles but appears to make sense for both teams. The Jets need insurance after watching high draft pick Geno Smith look terrible for most of his rookie year, and while Vick has shown himself to be too fragile to make it through a full NFL season, he can competently step in if at any point in the season the Jets feel that Smith isn’t up to the job. The Eagles already have Pro Bowler Nick Foles locked in as their starting quarterback and appear to be set on Matt Barkley as their backup, meaning they can afford to take a risk with the number three slot.

It’s not unlike the manner in which the Eagles signed Vick a few years ago, shortly after his release from prison, at a time when they already appeared to be set at quarterback with starter Donovan McNabb and second round draft pick Kevin Kolb. But once Vick finally saw the field, he sparked the team in such a manner that he was able to hold onto the quarterback job for a time. While he was eventually supplanted by Foles, Vick showed enough that the Jets now see him as a potential starter.

If Sanchez were to latch onto a bottom feeding team this season and win the starting quarterback job by default, he likely would have continued to suffer from the same mental breakdowns and rattled demeanor which sunk his tenure in New York. But by signing on with a winning franchise whose head coach Chip Kelly is known as a quarterback guru, Sanchez gives himself an opportunity to fix what’s gone wrong with his game. If at some point over the next season or two he’s given the opportunity to play, it could enough of a showcase to convince another team to take a chance on bringing him in as a starter, and that scenario would give him a better chance of ultimately resurrecting his career than if he takes the plunge in a no-win scenario such as Cleveland now.

In such case the Eagles could end up trading Sanchez for a mid round draft pick in a season or two, or if he supplants Barkley on the depth chart, retain him as their long term backup. And if Sanchez never does regain the form he showed in his first two seasons in the league, the Eagles are out nothing.