Tech Picks of the Week – All The News You May Have Missed

Within the incessant routine of a hectic workweek, we often forget to take a moment out of our day to rummage through our news sources, skimming for information that might be relevant to our everyday lives. We’re betting that this week was no different, and that the USA v. Ghana win in the World Cup and the Spurs win for the NBA championship dominated your newsfeed (they did ours!). Not to worry though – we’ve rounded up the tech stories you simply can’t wait until the weekend to read. 

Trust us, it’ll give you something to talk about until the USA plays Portugal on Sunday, at which point, all bets are off!

Government Aims to Regulate Map Apps

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently in the process of developing guidelines to address the use of handheld devices behind the wheel. Now, the government is intensifying its battle against distracted driving by seeking explicit authority from Congress to regulate navigation aids of all types, including apps on smartphones. NHTSA maintains that it already has the authority to regulate and recall specific electronic devices if they are deemed dangerous, including certain apps on handheld devices, and including those that can be considered accessories or additions to vehicles. 

“Safety is our top priority,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement. “We’re working to address all forms of distraction to reduce the amount of deaths and ensure drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.” 

Currently, texting-while-driving is banned in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The use of handheld cell phones while driving is prohibited in 14 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The battle between the Department of Transportation and the vastly evolving technology industry continues, however nothing is set in stone. The bill is expected to pass in Congress (in some form) by the end of the year.   

Get an Uber Ride From Optimus Prime

Some people prefer to roll up to a party in an expensive sports car or limousine; others prefer to show up in a Transformer. Luckily for the latter group, Uber is offering customers in Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles the chance to go for a spin in none other than Optimus Prime. The announcement comes ahead of the debut of Transformers: Age of Extinction later this month. The Transformer-themed car is only available between 1-7 p.m. in each location and only one car will be sent to pick people up. Each rider will have only 15 minutes in the car, according to the company’s blog.

To request a ride with Optimus Prime, choose the “AUTOBOTS” option inside the Uber app on your phone before selecting a pickup spot. Then hit “ROLL OUT,” and wait for your Transformer to arrive. There’s no guarantee that this Optimus Prime will be capable of fighting off any Decepticons. Our bet is it won’t.

Apple E-book Ruling

Apple Inc. reached a settlement with plaintiffs in a civil class-action over the fixing of e-book prices in violation of antitrust laws, avoiding a July trial in which the company faced as much as $840 million in claims. Both parties signed a “binding agreement in principal” to resolve the claims. 

However, Monday’s settlement doesn’t end the dispute between the Justice Department and Apple, which was tried last June. Apple lost. A jury ruling by Judge Cote found the company had colluded with five major U.S. publishers to drive up the e-book prices. Apple’s lawyers have denied the price fixing and called the government’s case and the arguments it was built on “absurd,” “fundamentally flawed” and favoring “monopoly, rather than competition.” The appellate brief says Judge Cote’s ruling contradicts other Supreme Court and Second Circuit decisions in previous price fixing cases. If this dispute continues, Apple’s case could make its way to the high court. The settlement now focuses attention on the pending appeal, which is likely to determine Apple’s fate.

Twitter Now Supports GIFs (FINALLY!)

June 18 will go down in history, my fellow social media comrades, as the long awaited arrival of GIFs on Twitter. The change can be viewed on the platform’s website, iOS app and Android app. The company made the announcement via a tweet (of course) where it demonstrated what the animated GIF would look like. The ability to post GIFs to Twitter with Giphy has existed since late 2013. However, a few weeks ago, Twitter teased its tweeters with the in-house feature – a few lucky folks were able to post GIFs and view them, and then the ability seemed to disappear back into the unknown. Now, it’s back, and hopefully for good.

Facebook, you’re next. In the meantime, GIF PARTY on Twitter!!(!!!!!!!)

Amazon Unveils Company’s First Smartphone: The Fire Phone

Amazon announced its first smartphone on Wednesday, a bold move into a segment currently dominated by Apple and Samsung. At a press conference in Seattle, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Fire Phone, a smartphone with a 4.7 in. 3-D display, a 2.2-GHz quadcore processor, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and 2 GB of RAM. The device, which has a heavy focus on multimedia, will offer unlimited photo storage for free via Amazon’s Cloud Drive. The Fire Phone comes equipped with the Amazon Appstore, which also runs on Kindle Fire tablets. 

Bezos indeed introduced a phone with what appears to be some very cool new features. Firefly, for example, is an exclusive Amazon feature meant to recognize “more than 100 million items,” including books, CDs, phone numbers, web addresses, music, artwork and even precise scenes within a TV show or movie [Apple’s iOS 8 will also have this particular capability. Facebook’s app currently has this capability]. 

The phone’s 3-D capabilities are its most unique feature. Through a technology dubbed Dynamic Perspective, the Fire Phone uses its camera to track a person’s head movement at all times. This allows the phone to offer a real time 3-D display that adds more depth to images than current smartphone photos. 

The smartphone will be sold exclusively on AT&T’s network (to the voiced anger of T-Mobile CEO John Legere) at a price of $199 for a 32-GB version with a two-year contract or $299 for a 64-GB version. Amazon is also throwing in a free year of Amazon Prime, its customer-loyalty program. The device is currently available for preorder on Amazon’s website and will begin shipping on July 25. Amazon faces an uphill battle by taking on the two giants in the smartphone industry, but sure – we will all be paying attention. 

LinkedIn Releases New App Dedicated to Job Searches

LinkedIn, a professional networking platform, has added another app to its collection on Thursday – The LinkedIn Job Search available on iOS with an Andriod version slated for later this year. The app is LinkedIn’s sixth standalone app and the fourth unveiled in the last 18 months. 

In the Job Search app, to search for jobs, users enter a job title, keyword and location. Users can filter search results by most relevant, most recent and proximity. Other search filters let users drill deeper based on industry, job function, seniority level and more. LinkedIn has spent lots of energy encouraging users to share more regularly on the platform, including the ability to push longer thought pieces or blog entries to individual profiles. All of that sharing is pushed to the side with the Job Search app, however. In addition to leaving out posts and content, the app keeps all user activity private, an effort at helping users stay “discrete.” 

Bitcoin to Sponsor College Bowl Game

No, the Fed isn’t yet making Bitcoin the national currency. Something even more American is happening: Bitcoin is getting its own college football bowl game. Online Bitcoin payment company BitPay announced Wednesday that it will pay an undisclosed amount to name an annual college bowl game after the currency through 2016.

Our first question: did they pay in Bitcoins!? 

Dubbed the “Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl,” the cryptocurrency-sponsored event will allow Bitcoin holders to use the currency to purchase tickets and concessions at the game. By sponsoring this game, BitPay is not only hoping to stimulate the Bitcoin community around the event, but also promote interest in the digital currency on a national scale. The 2014 game will be played on Friday, Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Until then, R.I.P. “Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.”