2015 is quite likely to be the year when wearable technology finally reaches the mainstream, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Apple Watch. CES is, of course, awash with wearables, but few of them really appeal to me and I can’t see those devices finding much of an audience either. Part of the problem is a lot of wearables are designed to duplicate functionality already found in existing devices. People are used to glancing at their phones to see the time, and get notifications, and that makes a smartwatch -- which offers the same, albeit slightly reduced functionality, on a much, much smaller screen -- seem unnecessary. And there are other problems.
The current generation of wearables, from smartwatches to smartglasses, are also designed to replace watches, spectacles, and so on, that you might already own. While most people I know don’t wear watches, I do. My timepiece of choice is the Omega Seamaster, and I love it. It’s the perfect blend of style and functionality for me. The idea of swapping my watch for something that looks cheap and ugly as some (not all) smartwatches do really doesn’t appeal in the slightest. I currently have an UP24 fitness band nestled up against the Omega (because Jawbone recommends you wear it on the non-dominant arm for improved accuracy) and the black rubber band looks horrible next to the Omega’s polished stainless steel strap.
When, in 2013, Apple announced the iPhone 5s would be available in a gold color there were a few raised eyebrows and snarky comments. However, as is often the case, where Apple leads, others follow, and it wasn’t long before gold versions of other smartphones started to arrive. Handsets given the Midas touch include the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8), LG G3, Huawei Ascend Mate 7, and Sony Xperia Z3.
And now Microsoft has decided to add a little bling to its Windows Phones with gold editions of the Lumia 830 and Lumia 930 -- and they look good. Really good.
WorldWide Telescope is the best free astronomy program around, and comes packed with detailed views of the universe and tons of interactive educational content, including tours narrated by astronomers and experts. It’s used in schools, universities, and planetariums around the world. If you’ve never tried it, and have an interest in the stars, then it’s well worth a download.
Although WorldWide Telescope has always been free, today Microsoft takes the giant leap of making it open source, which is fantastic news and will make an already great program even better. As Microsoft explains:
The Enterprise edition of Windows 8.1 has a feature called Windows To Go, which lets you build a portable version of the operating system that you can run directly from a USB flash drive. It works well enough but you need a super-fast (and therefore expensive) USB 3.0 stick to get decent performance.
Intel has come up with an alternative solution that can turn any HDMI display into a fully functioning computer running Windows 8.1 with Bing, or Ubuntu Linux.
When Mozilla announced that Yahoo would be replacing Google as the default search choice in Firefox in the US, there were raised eyebrows everywhere. After all, Google has been baked into Firefox for the past decade, and Yahoo’s days as a top search engine are long gone. Or were long gone at least.
Yahoo’s inclusion in Firefox has given the ailing search engine a major boost, helping it achieve its highest US search share since 2009. Unsurprisingly, this share increase came at the expense of Google.
January is the time of year when people traditionally decide to lose weight and get fit. Partly it’s because a new year equals a new start, and secondly it’s because the month follows the holidays when we’ve all overindulged and packed on the pounds.
This is the perfect time for companies to release fitness products, and veteran games company Atari is hoping to cash in with the announcement of a new 'gamified' fitness app that offers an unusual nostalgic twist.
In late 2013, the Internet Archive introduced a new area of its site called the Console Living Room which lets visitors play classic console games from systems of the past (including the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, ColecoVision, Magnavox Odyssey and Astrocade) in a web browser. In 2014, it made over 900 classic arcade games playable in its Internet Arcade. And now, in 2015, playable DOS games arrive on the site.
If, like me, you spent a lot of the 90s playing games on the PC, this is like a late, but very welcome, Christmas present. There are currently 2,391 games available to play, including classics like Cannon Fodder 2, Boulder Dash, Duke Nukem 3D, Prince of Persia, Championship Manager, The Incredible Machine, Eye of the Beholder (and its sequels), Hexen, Sim City, Wing Commander Academy, and the Kings Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry series -- to name just a few. More titles are promised, and the collection will change over time.
At the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, Lenovo celebrated shipping 100 million units of the ThinkPad, and updated its portfolio for 2015, which includes the third generation X1 Carbon.
The Chinese tech giant also introduced ThinkVision X24, a 7.5mm thin IPS 23.8 inch monitor with DisplayPort and HDMI connectivity, and ThinkPad Stack, a power bank that offers mix and match interlocking accessories.
Yesterday, web analytics firm NetMarketShare released its monthly breakdown of desktop operating system usage share, and it contained a huge shock. According to the figures, Windows 8.x had dropped to its lowest usage share since March 2014, putting it back below XP.
It was a surprise because Windows 8 and 8.1 had both shown solid growth in the previous two months, but suddenly, according to NetMarketShare, 8.x had dropped a whopping 7.07 percentage points in a single month, most of that going to Windows NT. As I observed when reporting, something not quite right there. Late yesterday, the figures were pulled, and new ones have appeared today that show the tiled OS still doing badly, just not quite as badly.
The Windows Store might still be a bit of a mess, and there aren’t anywhere near as many decent apps as those found in the Apple App Store and Google Play, but things are definitely improving.
Changes to the store in 2014 resulted in 30 percent more active users, and over 110 percent year-over-year increase in app downloads and gross sales. Microsoft says it has seen an 80 percent increase in registered developers and a 60 percent increase in app selection too, which is good news for the platform. The software giant has also revealed big plans are afoot for 2015.
Considering the very rocky start Microsoft’s slate got off to after it launched in 2012 (middling reviews, a $900 million charge relating to Surface RT inventory adjustments when no one bought it, etc.), you can’t blame Microsoft for being a bit boastful now that it’s finally getting things right with Surface Pro 3.
So when Microsoft releases a video called 'Accolades -- Surface Pro 3' you’d expect it to be filled with, well, accolades for the Surface Pro 3. But instead of a video offering up quality trumpet blowing, we get the equivalent of someone tooting on a kazoo.
My colleague Alan Buckingham has already listed his favorite tech of the past year, and now it’s my turn. I’ve taken all sorts of new products for a spin over the past 12 months, so narrowing the selection down is actually pretty tricky. Apple disappointed me a little this year -- as the owner of an iPhone 5s I needed a big reason to upgrade to the iPhone 6, and a larger screen and Apple Pay wasn’t it. The iPhone 6 is an excellent phone, but I think I’ll hang on to the 5s for another year. Similarly, the iPad Air 2 just wasn’t different enough for me to consider that either. Thinner is a feature, not a benefit for me.
But fortunately, there was plenty of other new tech around that I did love, and here’s my top selection, in no particular order.
Google Chromecast is the perfect stocking filler -- it’s small, affordable, and guaranteed to be a hit with anyone who receives it as a gift this holiday season. Google is continuing to bolt on features (most recently it added a guest mode), so you’ll be able to do even more with it throughout the coming year.
The tiny powered dongle plugs into your TV set and lets you watch streaming video from the likes of YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and Google Play. You can even 'cast' content from your Chrome browser on to the big screen, and play your own videos.
A little last minute gift shopping and panic wrapping aside, we're all ready for Christmas here at BetaNews. The tree is trimmed, the eggnog is flowing, and we’ve got all the Santa tracking apps we need fired up and locked in on the jolly big man and his reindeer-powered sleigh.
Hopefully you're similarly prepared for the big day tomorrow, (even if you don't celebrate Christmas, we trust you've got something fun in mind to do) and we'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a merry Christmas. We’re crossing our fingers that you receive all the tech treats you're hoping for.
It’s that time of the year again when news sites and search engines look back at the stories and events that shaped the year. The top stories on BetaNews are obviously going to be different -- mostly -- from the top stories on other sites because we focus on technology. So in other words don’t expect Kim Kardashian "breaking" the internet to appear anywhere in our list. Although that’s not to say she won’t make an appearance somewhere…
Because BetaNews offers a mix of content, we’ve put together three top 10 lists -- News, Opinion/Editorial, and Guides. With news, it's not necessarily the biggest stories of year that make the list, but rather the content that was viewed the most. All three lists are presented, as ever, in reverse order.