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All eyes are once again on Google. The tech giant recently revealed a second version of the Google Glass device that includes upgrades that members of the Explorer Program, the first group of individuals to get to try and test Glass, gave feedback on. A single earbud was added for better sound quality in noisy areas. Another important hardware upgrade is the ability to wear Glass with prescription lenses. Wearers will reportedly have the ability to clip the camera-computer portion of glass onto their regular glasses. 

Among the many software upgrades coming to Glass is the integration of music services. Google made a big push in the past year to break into the music scene — challenging Apple, Spotify and Pandora with Google Play Music. Music coming to Glass was just a matter of time, but this could represent a big win for Google as it is yet another in-house product to channel users through Glass.

Some of the biggest news coming from this unveiling is that Google will expand the Explorer Program to new users. The original Explorers are each allowed to invite three people to become new Explorers. Both new and old members of the program will receive the newer version of Glass, with original Explorers sending their devices back to Google to swap for new units. 

ABI Research estimates the global market for wearables will reach $6 billion within five years. While Glass is gaining much more traction than initially expected, it still has some hurdles to overcome in terms of social norms. In a recent Statista survey, only 10 percent of respondents said they would buy Glass, while a whopping 45 percent say it would be socially awkward or uncomfortable to wear Glass. Many expect a consumer version of Glass to be on retail shelves by mid-2014.

Rumor Mill: Bigger, Curvier iPhones

It’s been several weeks since Apple released the iPhone 5C and 5S, and that can only mean one thing — new iPhone rumors. According to a report from Bloomberg, there will be new 4.7 and 5.5 inch variants of the smartphone with curvy LCDs. This is not the first report claiming 2014 iPhones will be bigger. The Wall Street Journal recently claimed Apple has been testing devices between 4.8 and six inches. Curvy screens are becoming somewhat feasible for mass production, with Samsung and LG having already unveiled curved smartphones. 

Last year, reports surfaced that Apple made huge investments into struggling LCD manufacturer Sharp in order to wean itself off of using Samsung-manufactured internals in its devices. This is particularly significant in Austin, as Samsung’s local semiconductor manufacturing plant has traditionally provided millions of chips to the Cupertino giant. Apple will shift at least a portion of production to New York-based GlobalFoundries. This is partially because of the recent legal battles between the smartphone makers, but it also makes good business sense as the company tries to diversify its supply chain.

Apple uncovered not one, but two new iPhone models Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif. On top of the new iPhone lineup, Apple also unveiled a 64-bit A7 processor, and a fingerprint-detecting home button.

Apple’s latest appeal for consumer attention comes amidst a power vacuum in the mobile device market. With competitors like Samsung and Microsoft fervently vying for a bigger piece of the market-share pie, Apple is in dire need of a splash to sustain its historical success. Aside from improved battery life and Android-bashing jokes, Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted some promising new features.

To capture a wider range of customers, Apple simultaneously introduced the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C models. While the matte iPhone 5S will be marketed as a higher end device with a starting price of $199, the “unapologetically” plastic iPhone 5C will target consumers with a tighter budget. Rather than continue to sell older iPhone 5 models at a discount price, Apple will now market the iPhone 5C as its cheapest smartphone product with a price tag of $99. Both devices will go on sale starting Sept. 20. 

Color is another notable aspect of the new iPhone sub-generation. The plastic iPhone 5C will sport four vibrantly colored backsides and support an equally bright set of Apple-designed cases. The iPhone 5S will be available in silver, gold and “space gray.”  It should bring a more glitzy charm to an older product design.  

iOS7, the new native operating system for the iPhone, will now support a 64-bit processor. This is a fairly big talking point for Apple, since no other smartphone can boast this kind of processing “oomph.” But in the context of mobile devices, the 64-bit A7 processor might be overkill. For consumers not playing graphics-intensive games or switching furiously between apps, the increased RAM capacity a 64-bit chipset affords is not that big of a deal.

The A7 chipset will, however, assist in other more crucial functions of the iPhone 5S, particularly the “Touch ID.” This thumb-scanning software is built right into the home button Apple fans are familiar with, and will make security a more fluid experience for mobile users. Purchasing a new song or simply logging onto the iPhone device will now be validated with touch of a user’s fingerprint.

When it comes to innovation, smartphone design is quickly drying up. But Apple does bring some important improvements to its mobile products. Among them is the camera, which now possesses an expanded aperture, a slow-motion capture mode and an M7 motion processor for measuring acceleration and gestural data.

In terms of software, Keynote, Pages and Numbers are now all free apps on iOS7. These will make their debut on the iPad when iOS7 is released for free Sept. 18.

Is there really anything here to set the iPhone apart from its competition? Probably not. Sales of the new iPhone sub-generation will act as a litmus test for Cook and may suggest the future success of Apple in the mobile device market. 

Apple’s iOS 7 is a game-changer for the smart phone. While many doubted that it was possible, Tim Cook and his crew over in Cupertino breathed new life into
the iPhone.

In mid-June, Apple officially announced iOS 7, the refresh of the iPhone operating system. While previous iPhone operating system updates have only seen incremental changes to phone operation, the seventh iteration is the most radically different system update thus far.

What sets iOS 7 apart from previous releases is that it delivers more of a visually appealing display, while making it easier and more intuitive for the user. When you are on the home screen, swiping up from the bottom of the screen will bring up “Control Center,” which allows the user to toggle on or off a multitude of settings. Control Center also has brightness and volume sliders, as well as a dedicated camera button and a flashlight application. When you tilt the home screen, the background moves as a separate layer from your apps, giving a three-dimensional view.

Adding to the new visuals is a slimmer font and newly redesigned application icons. Jony Ive, the head of hardware and software design at Apple, worked with the Apple marketing team in redesigning the application icons, which seemed to be more congruent with the visual language of Apple’s advertising campaigns. Apple has also done away with the “skeuomorphism” that Steve Jobs loved, which is where applications mimic the appearance of real world objects such as a notepad or rolodex. 
 
Outside of the visual refresh, Apple has also added minor changes to the operating system, making the user experience less tedious. Among these changes is the ability to automatically update your applications in the background, which is a refreshing change. You no longer have to go into the Application Store and press “update all” every day. Another addition is the ability to have an unlimited amount of apps in a folder. While this seems like a no-brainer, Apple had previously capped the folders at 12 applications.

Apple also launched “iTunes Radio” with iOS 7, which is its version of Pandora Radio. With it, you are able to purchase any song through iTunes directly on your phone.

Can Apple take back some of the mobile phone market share with iOS 7? Only time will tell. The changes Apple decides to make with the inevitable iPhone 5S will determine whether or not they can truly compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, which both run their own unique, skinned versions of the Android operating system.

UT will make lectures and course materials available for free in its new partnership with Apple’s iTunes U, which already offers more than 500,000 educational resources.

The iTunes U platform allows participating universities to distribute their content around the world. Students can access UT content on a range of topics with lectures and content from four of its 17 colleges and schools and additional content from the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Division of Student Affairs. The College of Natural Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Education and the Cockrell School of Engineering have course material posted on the service. Their collections include audio and video from lectures and material from departments and libraries across the University.

Unlike edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses that UT partnered with earlier this month, iTunes U content is not offered in course format, said Noel Strader, director of educational technology in the Center for Teaching and Learning. Instead, iTunes U offers individual lectures and podcasts to anyone without requiring users to enroll. Strader said UT joined the service to make some of its resources available to current students and the outside world.

“There are all kinds of great lectures out there, not only from UT but from other institutions,” Strader said. “Students can use iTunes U to get information while studying for a class.”

Engineering professor Randy Machemehl said he began using iTunes U to collaborate with a former student working as the Dean of Engineering at the University of Jordan. Machemehl said he shares his teaching materials with instructors at the University of Jordan who then use them as a supplement to their own lectures.

“It turns out that the lectures are also handy for students in my class,” Machemehl said. “Plus the price is right. It’s free.”

Engineering assistant professor Michael Webber said he is not paid to post lectures, but rather makes them available digitally as a way to increase their availability to the broader public. As part of one of his courses, Webber requires students to produce podcasts on energy technology and policy, which he publishes on iTunes U.

“I think iTunes U is benefiting students by increasing the exposure of their work,” Webber said. “It also helps other students and prospective students who want to access the information but can’t afford to enroll in the University.”

Printed on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 as: UT, iTunes U team up to offer free content

With General Motors, Apple and Samsung all announcing plans to bring new operations to Austin, students looking to work in the technology industry will soon have more options close to the 40 Acres.

General Motors announced last week it will build an IT Innovation Center in Austin and hire as many as 500 to work at the facility, which is expected to be in the Tech Ridge area of Northeast Austin, according to the Austin American-Statesman. GM, which makes the fifth highest revenues in the nation, will employ software developers, project managers, database experts, business analysts and other information technology professionals at the new center, it said in a statement.

Some technology professionals say the GM plan is part of a trend in Austin. In March, Apple announced it would hire 3,600 employees and build a new facility in Austin. Samsung also announced an additional multi-billion-dollar investment in its existing chip manufacturing center in Austin. Randall Mott, GM vice president and chief information officer, said a skilled workforce is already in place in Austin.

“The next generation of IT workers, the talented visionaries we want contributing at the Innovation Center, are being trained at top computer science schools in Texas and surrounding states,” Mott said in the company’s statement.

UT’s computer science graduate program ranked eighth in the 2010 U.S. News and World Report college rankings among computer science departments including Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technoloy, Carnegie Mellon and Princeton. UT’s Computer Science department chair Bruce Porter said the local industry growth has picked up in the past two years.

“During the economic downturn, frequently students would need to go to Silicon Valley or New York City or somewhere else for an internship or a job,” Porter said. “So the growth in Austin is going to make a big difference to our students.”

UT’s computer science program is not only competitive but large, with more than 1,300 undergraduates. The department routinely sends students to intern and work for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, Porter said.

Porter said the technology industry operates as an ecosystem made up of universities, companies and venture capitalists.

“You need all those things together to make a community as vibrant as what we have in Austin right now,” Porter said.

Tech companies tend to gravitate to one area, Roger Kay, founder of tech analysis company Endpoint Technologies Associates, said. He said Dell was one of the first major tech companies in Central Texas. Dell currently has its headquarters in Round Rock.

“Dell is very much a trickle-down company, in that secondary and tertiary levels of the company got rich,” Kay said.

This company’s success spawned growth in Austin, he said. The growth attracted big companies like General Motors and Apple, and it also attracted entrepreneurs looking to invest in tech startups, Kay said.

Tommy Nguyen, a UT corporate communications and computer science alumnus, works as a software consultant for BP3, a technology consulting company. Nguyen said he was happy to find a tech industry job that allowed him to stay in Austin and use his computer science skills. Nguyen interned at BP3, which employs up to 30 people, during his last year at UT and got the job after graduation.

“We’re actively trying to look for college recruits,” Nguyen said. “We’re one of the fastest-growing companies in Central Austin.”

Printed on Friday, September 14, 2012 as: Austin tech expanding

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne)

In 2011, Steve Jobs’ death made news around the world. In the spring of 2012, his name was back in the headlines, this time in a theater production. Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was heavily criticized for its description of a Chinese factory that made Apple devices. The production, originally advertised as “nonfiction,” came under fire as many learned that facts about the working conditions in the factory were exaggerations.

After some revamping and removal of certain embellishments, the controversial show is coming to the stage at 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Performing Arts Center.

The monologue intertwines descriptions of how Apple products are made in the factory in Shenzhen, China, with descriptions of the odd genius of Steve Jobs, going back and forth between startling facts about working in the Foxconn plant and how decisions made by Jobs affected these workers.

The controversy surrounding Daisey’s original production first emerged after Daisey read an excerpt of his monologue on the national radio program “This American Life.” The excerpt reported several details that were later proven to be false, including Daisey’s claim that girls as young as 12 were working in the factory and that the factory was guarded with guns.

Though Daisey drew criticism for his embellishment of the conditions at Foxconn, the factory that assembles all things Apple, the rebooted version of the show has garnered praise since it opened this summer. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote in his blog, “Version 2.0, in my view if anything, is more powerful, funny and engaging than the earlier production.” Isherwood also noted, “the details about the long hours worked and the spate of worker suicides at the Foxconn compound are still both disturbing and well-documented.” Reviewer Andrew Long of the Austin Chronicle wrote that it was a piece of theater absolutely worth seeing.

Despite its controversial past, Daisey’s monologue is particularly relevant to college students, who, as studies show, are increasingly using Apple products for studying and entertainment. According to an article published in 2010 by CNNMoney, 47 percent of college students use MacBooks.

“That statistic doesn’t really match with what I have seen,” business and Plan II student Diana Yang said. “Most of the people I know use MacBooks.”

Freshman Lindsay Richmond also said that Apple products have played an increasing role in her life. “I have a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, an iPod and my family has an iPad, not to mention the old iPods that I have had,” Lindsay said. Yang has around four Apple products as well.

The increasing dependence of society on products such as iPhones is a topic explored in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey, a self-proclaimed “Apple fanboy” says in the show, “I had never thought, in a dedicated way, about how they [Apple products] were made.”

“I think that it is important for consumers to know some information about how the products they use are made,” Yang said. Cindi Baldi, teaching assistant for the class, Organizational Corruption and Control, said.

“I’m all for the truth about [working conditions] at Apple coming out,” Baldi said. “However, I don’t think a monologue or something presented as theater is the right platform because even if the facts or stories presented have an element of truth, people are viewing it as entertainment and will subconsciously dismiss much of it as fiction.”

UT students will get the opportunity to learn a little more about Apple or a little more about entertainment, depending on their perspective, when Daisey performs Thursday through Saturday.

Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S III, right, and Apple’s iPhone 4S are displayed at a mobile phone shop in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Last Friday, in one of the biggest patent lawsuits in history, a jury ruled Apple will receive more than $1 billion in damages from notable competitor Samsung.

Apple’s suit claimed that Samsung had infringed upon multiple patents with its phones running Google’s Android software, including scrolling, zooming and navigation features, as well as icon design and appearance. The jury sided with Apple, stating Samsung had used Apple technology on six different patents, and awarded the Cupertino-based company a $1.05 billion settlement.

There is much debate as to how this decision will affect both companies as well as third-party competitors. Some believe this defeat for Samsung will open new doors for lesser names in the smart phone industry, such as Microsoft’s Windows Phones. Others believe this challenge will force Samsung to step up to the plate and create new technologies. What is certain is to stay competitive, Samsung will have to invent new products that do not infringe on Apple’s patents — something many of its latest and best-selling products have been ruled guilty of. With Apple-like technology removed from Samsung’s products, usability for the Android devices will likely decrease. However, this gives Samsung an opportunity for genuine innovation.

The real mystery, however, lies in the story’s omniscient third party, Google. A market share loss for Samsung will also hurt the Android software and its owner. In a statement released by Google regarding Apple patents, the company said, “Most of these (Apple patents) don’t relate to the core Android operating system.” Google believes the core Android operating system to be safe from Apple’s patents, and will likely push manufacturers toward a more uniform Android base. A more streamlined Android market would make it easier for consumers to buy new phones across the Android platform, while staying familiar with the software.

Early last week, Texans for a Conservative Budget, a coalition composed of powerful small-government proponents, released a proposal containing solutions for the current state budget deficit. But the proposed “solutions” are misleading. The proposal calls for working out an admittedly flawed budget but addresses the problem with spending cuts to programs that already endured austerity-inspired slashing this past legislative session — including ones to higher education.

The plan aims to “revamp” higher education, simultaneously implying that the budget deficit results from allegedly wasteful universities and then dismissing any argument that the higher education funding structure itself is a problem. Conspicuously, the proposal says that higher education funding should be shifted toward “student-centered” funding, though it is hard to imagine how further limiting that budget could benefit students. Presumably, the approach that insists on “streamlining” and “efficiency,” by some convoluted logic, would assist students by forcing their universities to spend smarter. Unfortunately that has not been the case.

While Texans for a Conservative Budget blithely proposes a simple 3-percent budget reduction, UT students will be facing a budget reduction of their own in the form of a 3-percent tuition hike. The coalition’s student-centered funding model was indeed centered on students — but only in the sense that students ended up absorbing most of the cost.

Going beyond direct effects on higher education’s budget, the proposition calls for an elimination of Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund, a program used to attract employers to the state. The elimination of the successful program, in part responsible for maintaining the state’s low unemployment rate, would be a mistake. Most recently, the Texas Enterprise Fund and its city-level equivalent came under fire for providing subsidies to Apple, which was deciding whether to locate a new facility in Austin that will provide 3,600 high-wage jobs. Thanks to the incentives, UT students will be able to work at one of the country’s most innovative high-tech companies. The development would continue an interesting trend: 2 percent of all Apple employees are UT graduates, according to Business Insider.

The coalition’s member groups — most notably, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Americans for Prosperity — are an amalgamation of budget-cutting muscle that have proven their ability to strong-arm the state Legislature into getting controversial cuts passed. Last year, the alliance fought to restrain the Legislature from using the state’s Rainy Day Fund, though Texas faced an unprecedented budget crisis. In all likelihood, the coalition’s members will be able to successfully lobby legislators on at least some of the plan’s provisions during the next session.

And at the root of that lobbying, coalition member Julie Drenner told The Texas Tribune, is one basic choice for each state program: “Do [we] reform it, or do [we] eliminate it?” By outlining the budget discussion in such limited terms, the proposal sets universities up to fail by making them an enemy. But by fostering an educated workforce, higher education can be one of the state’s greatest advocates for economic development and, in tandem, fiscal responsibility — but only if it is allowed to do so. Texans for a Conservative Budget proposes fiscal responsibility, but defunding higher education is exactly the kind of irresponsibility it vilifies.

It has been a little over a week since the death of Steve Jobs. In that time we have mourned the passing of a true genius, remembered his numerous and varied accomplishments and replayed clips of that 2005 Stanford commencement speech over and over again. The loss of the man is sad, but the loss of life-changing inventions coming from him is a tragedy. Apple fans everywhere are asking: what now?

How many students and professors walk to class every day with those characteristic white ear buds glued to their heads? How many people have followed the little blue dot on their iPhones’ GPS to get from the Drag to South Congress? How many students in a 300-person lecture class are typing notes, playing on Photo Booth or browsing Facebook on their MacBook Pros? Thousands of people would probably fight, kick and scream if someone tried to take their precious Apple products away, the same way they would if someone abducted their child or was slowly sucked out all the oxygen from a room.

Luckily, our iPods, iPhones, iPads and MacBooks live on, a most fitting legacy to the man in the black turtleneck. But that is all they will do — stick around. We have grown accustomed to an exciting new apple-stamped machine hitting Best Buy at the beginning of every holiday season since 2001 when Apple introduced the first generation iPod. Furthermore, we have grown accustomed to buying whatever exciting new apple-stamped machine is hitting Best Buy, disregarding such mundane things as cost, practicality and need.

Did I need the iPad I got for my birthday last year? No, my HP desktop computer was perfectly capable of running Word and getting me onto Facebook, but it sure was cool to play Angry Birds on a 9.7-inch screen. We bought the first generation iPod touch when it was grossly overpriced at $400 just like we bought the camera-less first generation iPad even though it was widely said that consumers should wait for the faster, cooler iPad 2 with a camera. Even last week when the iPhone 4S was revealed, appearing just about identical to the iPhone 4, first day pre-order sales topped a record-breaking one million. We have adopted every Apple progeny into our lives year after year, iThing after iThing, no questions asked. What happens if the stuff that Apple comes out with is no longer life changing? Can something with that iconic apple stamped on the back be uncool?

I find myself imagining the next 10 years of Apple releases and already being disappointed. Picture an Apple special event in 2021. Senior vice president Phil Schiller, who unveiled the iPhone 4S last week, looks sweaty. Could that be from the hot stage lights or the overpowering nerves? He works that stage back and forth like a pro during the presentation — or is he pacing the jitters out? Finally the moment comes. He has managed to build up the audience of media reporters and technology junkies to a state of tangibly excited anticipation. Maybe, just maybe this new product will be that cutting edge thing that Apple fans have been missing for the past decade of increasingly lame products. At last, the new iPhone flashes up onto the projector screen.

“Here it is, the new iPhone 10 – now in blue!”

We will probably buy it anyway because of some utterly irrational, deeply ingrained dependency on brand new Apple products. We consumers have not yet been able to resist Steve’s siren song for the latest and greatest iThing. Will his death mark the end of this decade of Apple frenzy?

Hansen is a Plan II and public relations freshman 

Printed on Friday, October 14, 2011 as: What are we to do in a world without Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple Inc. in 1976, died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday, October 5.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs died Wednesday, Oct. 5, of pancreatic cancer, Apple announced. Jobs stepped down from his role as CEO of Apple in August, and the newest iteration of the company’s popular iPhone, the iPhone 4S, was revealed yesterday by new CEO Tim Cook.

Jobs, who co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, was perhaps the most high-profile and influential celebrity CEO since John D. Rockefeller. After being fired in 1985, Jobs returned to the computer company in 1996 and ushered in a wave of advancements that would forever change how an entire generation of consumers would think about its relationship with technology and media.

In 2001, under the guidance of Jobs, Apple released the first-generation iPod. It was a thick, brick-like device that had a low-resolution black-and-white screen and five gigabytes of storage space. At the time, it was only compatible with Macintosh computers and retailed for $399.

Ten years later, the current iPod model, the fourth-generation iPod Touch, is comprised of a glossy touchscreen display, can hold up to 64 gigabytes of data, can record and play back high-definition video and features a front-facing camera for video conferencing over the Internet. IPods currently make up 78 percent of the portable music player market share.

The speed at which new developments came from Apple under Jobs’ command helped create a culture of commerce that values immediacy. In addition to its nearly annual refreshment of its product lines, which includes iPods, laptop and desktop computers, tablets and mobile phones, the launch of the iTunes Store in 2003 dramatically shaped how the entertainment industry entered the digital age.

More importantly, Jobs made the crucial distinction that entertainment and technology are inherently tied to each other by the Internet. ITunes was a bold reversal to the pervasive digital piracy of the ’90s and early ’00s — its massive success (now the largest and highest-grossing music retailer in the world, with more than 16 billion downloads) proved that consumers are more than willing to pay for digital content when the program is attractively designed and easy to use.

Design and ease of use became the guiding modus operandi for Apple under Jobs to reach great creative and financial success. The iPhone, perhaps Jobs’ greatest and most influential creation, has defined the mobile device marketplace since its release in 2007. Its sleek, intuitive design, user-friendly interface and unshakable cool-factor has become the standard for consumer electronics.

But the largest reason for the iPhone and Apple’s success is Jobs’ careful construction of his company’s emotional narrative — he made computers and phones feel human. In Jobs’ keynote presentations and in the commercials and advertising for Apple products, the emphasis is laid on how the products foster intimate, almost poignant human connections.

In one of the ads for the iPhone — the first to feature the FaceTime video conferencing technology — a mother and her newborn child conference call with her husband, who is away for work; grandparents get to see their granddaughter’s graduation; and a couple are able to use the camera to speak to each other in sign language. Jobs blurred the distinction between living with technology and living through technology — an inspiring, effective touchstone of a brilliant career. 

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: Apple co-founder, innovator dies at 56