Tech Retrospect: Facebook buys WhatsApp and Google launches Project Tango

Miss a few stories this week? We'll get you up to speed with this rundown of all the tech news.

The big, multi-billion dollar acquisitions just keep rolling in -- and they keep getting bigger, too. The latest comes courtesy of Facebook , which paid a total of $19 billion in cash, stock, and options for WhatsApp. At first glance that seems like an absolutely preposterous amount of money for an app that many in the US still haven't heard of. But, roll up the numbers plus the angles, and it starts to make a little more sense.

If you're unfamiliar with WhatsApp, it's a heavily messaging-focused social network that has approximately 450 million users, 70 percent active on any given day. That's about one-third of the total users that Facebook can count, but the growth of WhatsApp far outpaces that of Facebook or, really, any other social network out there. By making this acquisition, Facebook gets an instant boost in size, gains a much stronger international userbase, and has a better chance of becoming the de facto SMS replacement.

Indeed, Google was also looking to pick up the company, making a $10 billion offer , according to Fortune. Not long ago acquisition rumors hovered at the now-paltry $1 billion mark. What a difference a year makes...

Google's Project Tango definitely wants the full tour of your new house

Google knows an awful lot about you, including what you search for, what you shop for, and even what you look like -- assuming you've uploaded a profile picture on Google+, of course. Now, it wants to the layout of your house. In 3D. How will it figure that out? Through a concept device dubbed Project Tango. Using 3D scanner technology courtesy of Movidus, the smartphone can quickly and seamlessly scan its surroundings as you walk through them, building an internal map as you go. Why? Well, smarter internal navigation seems like a natural application (apps that can direct you to a shoe store in a mall are still few and far between), but Google also mentions potential gaming applications and "new algorithms for processing sensor data." (That last bit could mean anything, really.) The handset is slated to ship in March, but don't get too excited, as it's only intended for some lucky developers at this point. Fun fact: It doesn't run Android.

FCC wants another go at Net neutrality

FCC commissioners
FCC

It was a sad day last month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the FCC's Open Internet rules. This basically opened the door for internet broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast to allocate preferential treatment to whatever data they want. Namely, to throttle the heck out of Netflix traffic and turn your "House of Cards" marathon into a buffer-fest. But, don't fret, the FCC isn't done fighting. Chairman Tom Wheeler says that the Commission is taking a swing at drafting a new set of rules , rules that will provide equal rights to all data on the internet, and ultimately protect your binge streaming.

Google Fiber promises nine new regions

Google

If the above revised legislation from the FCC doesn't come in time to keep your ISP from capping your data and telling you what you can and can't do, maybe Google can help. The company this week pledged to bring its gigabit Google Fiber service to nine more regions in the US, including Portland, San Jose, Phoenix, and Atlanta. That's 34 cities in all, but at this point there's no promise that Google will be slinging cable to all of them -- or, indeed, when it might start rolling the magic stuff out. But, I think I speak for all of us when I say: let's make it happen, eh Google?

New York Toy Fair makes us all wish we were kids again

As a child of the '80s, I had no shortage of cool toys. Kids today, though, they've got it good. At this year's Toy Fair we got a chance to see playful diversions that are smarter and, yes, more educational than ever. Take the PowerUp 3.0 kit, which lets kids build their own paper airplanes and turn them into remote control aircraft. What better way to teach junior about the delicate laws of aerodynamics? Or, if you want to teach them about the risk of anti-aircraft fire, invest in a Nerf Combat Creature, a spider-like dart turret perfect for shooting wayward paper aircraft.

Smart toothbrush from Oral-B is like putting a dentist in your bathroom

The Oral-B SmartSeries electric toothbrush with built-in Bluetooth.
Oral-B

Sick of nagging complaints every time you visit your dentist? Maybe all you need is a little guidance during your morning routine. The $220 Oral-B SmartSeries toothbrush connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone app and can tell you which areas of your mouth you're missing and whether you're using the right amount of pressure. Yeah, that doesn't sound like much fun to us, either, but it sure beats cavities -- and displeased dental hygenists.

Mobile World Congress ahoy

As I write this, I am crammed in a little seat on a little plane slowly making my way toward Barcelona, Spain, the site of the 2014 iteration of Mobile World Congress. This show has grown incredibly over the past few years, turning into a can't-miss demonstration of consumer technology. There's still a focus on smartphones, but expect to see dozens of new tablets and other crazy devices. (Like that toothbrush, which will be making its debut there.) Want the run down? You can follow along here.

Robot termites build structures that dwarf themselves

We often think about termites for what they destroy, but if you look at the networks and habitats they create, you realize that they're actually incredible builders, too. Inspired by the massive structures the little critters can make, engineers at Harvard created Termes . These little robots are capable of picking up bricks, moving them around and using them to build structures. Give the bots a structure you want them to build and they'll figure it out, building stairs and plunking down the blocks as necessary. It's quite impressive to behold -- and that's why I've embedded a video of the little guys in action. Enjoy.

 

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