Tech Industry

Tech Retrospect: Amazon listens with Echo and Office mobile apps go free

Is a Bluetooth speaker that's always listening creepy? And how much would you pay for Office mobile apps? We'll address those questions and more in this look back at the week in tech.

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When officers in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" spoke up and asked the omniscient computer for directions to a place, an answer to a question or simply for a cup of hot tea (you know what kind), our reaction was simple: Wow, I want that. Now, 20 years after the series went off the air, Amazon is offering us a taste of that very functionality with Echo -- and everyone seems to think the idea is creepy.

I won't delve into the cultural and technological shifts that have led to this change in perception, and while I confess I don't necessarily want a retailer listening in on all my conversations, I do find the idea of Echo compelling. It's a little, cylindrical Bluetooth speaker that contains Siri-like virtual assistant technology. Called Alexa, the assistant can spin up music for you by voice command, look up things on Wikipedia and generally help you out.

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Amazon

The price is $199, but Prime subscribers can get them for $99 for a limited time. That's not a bad price for a good quality Bluetooth speaker, and so I'm tempted to pick one up for that alone. Problem is, I already have plenty of Bluetooth speakers kicking around. None, sadly, are all that smart.

Microsoft Office now free on mobile devices

Microsoft's new Office mobile apps come to the iPhone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Regardless of the quality of your premium product, you will quickly learn that it's awfully hard to compete with free. Really, really hard.

So, when Microsoft released Office for iPad and Android with a sort of half-freemium model -- free for viewing, fee for editing -- it faced a strong, uphill battle against the alternatives on each platform. Namely: iWork on iOS, Apple's mobile operating system, and the various Google Drive offerings on Google's Android operating system. Obviously things weren't looking so good for Microsoft's alternative, so now, it's free. Office on Android and iOS will now let you do what you like without any fee, and the apps have seen some nice updates since their initial release. It's great to see, just a shame that Microsoft didn't see the writing on the wall and release them that way in the first place.

WireLurker malware targets Macs and iPhones, Apple shuts it down

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Apple never seems to get its fair share of malware and security attacks, what with Windows machines usually having all the fun, but the tables were turned this week with word of a nasty infection called WireLurker. The code was embedded in some apps downloaded from a third-party Chinese Mac OS X store. Those apps, if installed, would also run a service that would wait in the background for an iOS device to be connected. Once detected, the app would scan the attached device and, generally, have its way with the poor thing. Apple quickly shut down the infected apps, and it's worth pointing out that this only impacts users in China, so I wouldn't lose too much sleep over this one.

Consumer Oculus Rift kit just 'months' away

Oculus

It seems like Oculus has been teasing us with its Rift virtual reality headset for ages now, ages and ages, releasing ever-better developer kits but never giving a solid indication of when a consumer version will be ready. We still don't have a concrete date, but founder Brendan Iribe said it's getting close. He refused to be more specific than saying it's still . But after waiting years, I'll take that. He also took the time to challenge the competition to not "poison the well" by releasing inferior products. You tell 'em, Brendan.

Amazon opens Cloud Drive to all your photos

CNET

Have a lot of vacation photos? Holiday snaps? Wish you had somewhere more secure to archive them? Let Amazon make your day.

The company opened up its Cloud Drive service to accept all the photos you can shove in there, free of charge -- well, free if you're already paying for its $99-per-year Prime service. You still get just 5GB of overall storage free, but any image file (including RAW) won't count against that. I don't know about you, but I know what I'm uploading this weekend, and my Internet service provider (ISP) probably isn't going to be happy about it.

Google Nexus Player reviewed

Now Playing: Watch this: Google Nexus Player not mature enough to compete
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Google's popular $35 Chromecast dongle is a great way to add some smarts to an older TV, a great cheap way. But if you have a TV made any time in the last few years it doesn't really add that much to the experience. Enter the Google Nexus Player, a more full-featured offering that squares off against Apple TV and its ilk. How does it compare? Not so well. It's lacking in apps, connectivity and performance. You'll want to read our full review to know more.