Tech Retrospect: Snowden speaks and Mac turns 30

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

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read

After saying an awful, awful lot about the woes of the NSA and American techno-surveillance in general last June, Edward Snowden quickly retreated from the public eye -- and you certainly can't blame him, what with the whole "act of treason" thing. Coinciding with the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) finding the NSA's bulk monitoring of electronic transmissions both illegal and ineffective, Snowden broke silence this week to answer a series of questions posed over Twitter.

He indicated that the warrantless surveillance must be stopped, instead reverting to the usual way of doing things -- involving warrants and court orders. That said, he made it clear that we should not vilify the people working at the NSA or other intelligence organizations. "They're good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was."

Edward Snowden
Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

With the PCLOB's findings and President Obama applying some limited restrictions on the power of the NSA just last week, it's certainly beginning to look like the days are numbered for this spying program. What remains to be seen, of course, is the legal fate of Edward Snowden himself here in the United States.

Microsoft up, Nintendo, Samsung, and Nokia down this earnings season

Surface 2
Sarah Tew/CNET

It's earnings season, dear readers, and the best part about earnings season is that it comes every season, whether you like it or not. I tend to think it's pretty boring most of the time, so let's make this quick. Microsoft's revenue was up, with sales of $24.5 billion beating estimates despite Windows OEM revenue dropping three percent. However, Surface revenue doubled compared to last quarter, up to $893 million. That's generally good news, even though the Surface unit overall is still losing money. Xbox One sales now sit at 3.9 million worldwide.

That contrasts painfully to Nintendo's Wii U sales of 2.8 million units over the past 12 months. That's well below expectations and enough to turn Nintendo from an expected $961 million profit to a $336 million loss this year.

Nokia, meanwhile, had little good news to share. Revenue of $3.57 billion is 29 percent lower than this time last year, and Lumia smartphone sales dropped from 8.8 million last quarter to 8.2 million this quarter. Finally, Samsung had a seemingly good quarter, posting $7.7 billion in profits, but it wasn't good enough. That's an 18 percent decline, largely thanks to a drop in device sales. That Galaxy S5 can't come soon enough.

BlackBerry stock surges thanks to misread DOD press release

BlackBerry has hired a former HTC exec to lead the devices business.
Josh Miller/CNET

A reported 80,000 unit order of BlackBerries for the US Government sent BlackBerry stock soaring nearly 10 percent on Tuesday. The stock is still trading at or above that level -- despite that story being bogus. The press release, misread by many (including, sadly, ourselves), actually indicated the number of devices that the DOD was currently supporting and had nothing to do with a new order. Sorry to get your hopes up, Waterloo.

Apple rumors start spinning

Apple TV

A new year, time for new Apple rumors. First up: bigger displays for the iPhone. The Wall Street Journal is reporting we'll see multiple new iPhones this summer with display sizes somewhere north of 4.5 or even 5 inches. Another report, from QQ Tech, indicated 4.7-inch and 5.7-inch sizes. Is the era of the iPhone Pro upon us?

The other rumor has to do with the Apple TV -- the set-top box, not the actual television. Word according to 9to5Mac is that sometime in the first half of this year, Apple will upgrade the box to include a proper App Store and support for game controllers, the sorts of things we've been expecting for years now.

Beats Music launches on Android and iOS, only for paid subscribers

Beats Music
Beats Music

Do you like paying roughly $10 a month to listen to music? You now have another venue for doing so: Beats Music. The service offers basically the same sort of functionality you've come to know and love from any of a number of premium streaming offerings, with the big difference here being a basic lack of a free version. Yes, this is for paying subscribers only.

Beats CEO Ian Rogers said: "If music, and a service that brings you great music experiences and playlists from everyone from Pitchfork to Downbeat to Mojo to Thrasher isn't worth $100 per year to you I'm afraid we don't have much in common." That's fair enough, Mr. Rogers, but given most streaming services generate far more revenue from their ad-based clientele than their paid players, not offering such an avenue may make the road ahead a bit rougher than it need be.

Qualcomm buys Palm and iPaq patents from HP

HP iPaq
CNET/CBS Interactive

Technology patents are increasingly becoming a currency-like commodity, hotter even than dogecoin, and Qualcomm just acquired 2,400 from Hewlett-Packard. The patents and applications cover mobile devices, particularly HP's iPaq line (remember those?) and the intellectual property remains of the Palm business. It isn't known what exactly component-maker Qualcomm will do with them, but with the launch of complete devices like the Toq, perhaps there's a line of Qualcomm tablets and phones in our future.

30 years of Macintosh