Welcome, dear readers! We're getting back into the swing of things after a busy few of weeks, including a couple of holidays, a Consumer Electronics Show, and even a North American International Auto Show. Busy times, but now it's time to dig back in to this week in tech news to make sure you have all the knowledge required to rule the watercooler -- virtual or otherwise.
Far and away the biggest story of the week was Google's purchase of Nest. This blew minds around the world, largely thanks to the sheer volume of cash involved: $3.2 billion. That's twice what YouTube cost back in the day. Pundits far and wide immediately weighed in on whether this was an example of extreme forward-looking or extreme overpayment. Either way, Google now has a legitimate foothold in the smart home space, some much-needed traction after its Android@Home platform failed to find any.
What the future holds for this relationship remains to be seen. Nest's Tony Fadell has been adamant that user data won't be shared to Google services. For now, at least. The initial benefit for Nest includes tapping into Google's worldwide experience for distribution, which Fadell indicates will turn his company into "a rocket ship." If all goes well, look to the smart thermostats to turn into smart hubs, monitoring and controlling future devices around the house.
Obama begins the slow process of NSA reform
Addressing the concerns raised by many since the disclosure of the breadth and depth of NSA spying of US citizens, Obama spoke today to specify that some changes are in store for the agency. While online and phone information will still be monitored wholesale, it will be now stored in a third-party database. If the NSA wants access, a court order will be required. This is a small but significant step forward from the current state, where the NSA owns the whole thing soup to nuts and can look at anything whenever it wants. We still have a long, long way to go before trust in the NSA can be fully restored, but this is progress, folks.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite lowers the entry barrier
The Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 have well and truly proven that the market has a hunger for cheap little tablets, and while Samsung already offers the $200 Galaxy Tab 3, it's going even lower with the upcoming Galaxy Tab 3 Lite. The upcoming tablet offers similar specs to the other 7-incher -- including a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 1,024 x 600 resolution display -- but lowers the quality on the rear camera to 2-megapixels and drops the front-facing cam altogether. Storage is only 8GB, but microSD expansion means you can add up to 32GB more. Curiously, Samsung opted to not state a price for this budget-conscious slate, but expect it to fall somewhere between $150 to $175.
Apple settles with FTC, will refund $32.5 million worth of in-app purchases
It never ceases to amaze how smart kids are when it comes to using tablets and smartphones, and their ingenuity is now causing some pain for Apple. The iPad and iPhone maker has settled with the FTC over complaints about unauthorized in-app purchases. To be more specific: in-app purchases made without parental consent. Yes, parents did need to enter in their password for an initial in-app purchase, but that then allowed kids to go on a 15-minute buying spree if they liked, without further adult intervention.
The FTC indicates "tens of thousands" of complaints were made, some for thousands of dollars worth of in-app purchases made by clever kids too young to have any serious fiduciary obligations of their own. Going forward, Apple will ensure it receives "express, informed consent" for all purchases -- even for kids who've been really, really good and completed all their chores.
Best Buy holiday sales down, shares tumble 28 percent
Big box electronics retailer Best Buy announced its sales for the 2013 holiday period, and the news wasn't exactly good. Sales were down from $11.8 billion last year to 11.5 billion this year. That's a roughly one percent drop, seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but enough to send investors running. The stock price dropped 28 percent on Thursday, the market obviously believing this to be something of a tipping point that will see Best Buy sliding toward the same fate Circuit City faced years ago.
Spotify offers unlimited web music streaming, Rdio quickly does the same
Were you paying $10 a month just so that you could listen to all the music you wanted through the Spotify web interface? You were something of a rare breed, you, and Spotify has now removed a small financial burden your shoulders -- assuming you don't mind listening to ads. Starting immediately, web streaming is free, though you'll still need to pay for full access to all the joys the mobile apps offer.
Rdio wasted little time in joining the fun, announcing that it, too, now offers free unlimited streaming, punctuated by "short and sweet" ads to help pay the bills. You can't blame them, can you?
Winamp lives on
Llamas beware: Winamp isn't dead. Belgian online radio aggregator has acquired the struggling media player, along with Shoutcast. Terms were not disclosed, leaving one to wonder what, if anything, was paid, but don't sweat the details. What's important is that one of the most storied names in media playback lives on, and will return to active development, with Radionomy promising to add support for 60 new audio and video formats soon. Hopefully those augmentations don't come with unwanted search toolbars or other bits of annoyware hidden in the installers.
Virgin Galactic completes third supersonic flight
I leave you this week with footage from Virgin Galactic's third successful powered flight. SpaceShipTwo rocketed upward and through the sound barrier, testing out some new thermal shielding on the rear control surfaces -- and generating a beautiful video in the process. Enjoy!