This week in web was a busy one for Google, which unveiled a YouTube just for kids, competed against Apple to gain control of car dashboards and consumer wallets and banned porn from Blogger. Meanwhile, Apple created emojis in six new skin tones, and Sony hoped to make a success with its own version of the ill-fated Google Glass. Lenovo had a bad week, facing a lawsuit from furious consumers after it pre-installed adware on some of its laptops.
You're Never Too Young for YouTube
Google isn't satisfied with trying to monopolize the attention of every adult and teenager on the planet -- now it is going after little kids too. In what Google calls its first product to be built especially for children, the new YouTube Kids app for iOS and Android is aimed squarely at kids as young as three or four.
The app provides bigger pictures, brighter icons, and a voice-activated search feature to make it easier for kids to navigate the YouTube universe. It also addresses concerns of parents by pre-screening all content to make sure it's appropriate for children, providing a virtual lock on the parental controls that little kids won't be able to open, and setting a daily usage timer so that the toddlers don't spend all of their waking hours watching videos -- that can wait until they are older.
Google and Apple Want You to Take Them for a Ride
In its quest to be everywhere, Google is not only invading the nursery, but also the automobile -- a goal it shares with its rival Apple. Within a few weeks, many new cars will have dashboard systems that let drivers use their smartphones to connect with the cloud to play music, navigate, and communicate more safely.
Drivers' smartphones will use the dashboard's center screen to display icons that will be optimized for speed so that drivers don't have to take their eyes off the road too long. Other features meant to minimize distracted driving are bigger fonts, no back button, no streaming video, and social media blocks.
Google (Android Auto) and Apple (CarPlay) have each made deals with about two dozen car manufacturers, many of which will be offering both systems to consumers.
Users Who Are Super Annoyed at Superfish Go to Court
The backlash has begun after computer maker Lenovo pre-installed Superfish adware on some of its laptops. A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court, alleging that Lenovo acted fraudulently and endangered users' privacy and security.
Superfish not only serves up annoying ads on users' screens, but it also creates a security hole, according to security experts, that allows hackers to steal sensitive personal information, including banking information and email, even if the information is encrypted.
Even the government is outraged. The Department of Homeland Security calls Superfish "spyware" and urges users to remove Superfish from their systems.
Can Sony Succeed Where Google Failed?
Google Glass never took off with consumers. Now Sony is taking a stab at creating a wearable eyeglass device that will sell for half the cost. The device, dubbed SmartEyeglass, will connect to the Internet via Android. Images should be easier to see on the Sony device than they were on Google Glass, but on the negative side, Sony's version requires wearers to use a separate controller unit.
SmartEyeglass will go on sale in March, but this release is aimed mostly at developers and industrial users. A release for the general public isn't expected until 2016.
Will Target's Free Shipping Offer Hit the Bullseye?
Target announced that it is offering free shipping with a minimum $25 purchase, That's half of its own previous minimum and less than Amazon's current free-shipping minimum of $35 (for customers who aren't subscribed to Prime) and also less than Walmart's minimum of $50.
Target is hoping to repeat the success it had over the holiday season, when a free-shipping promotion increased quarterly sales by 40 percent.
Competition for Mobile Payments Heats Up
If you're still reaching for your wallet when you're at the cash register, Google, Apple, Samsung, and a Walmart-led retailer group would like you to reach for your smartphone instead. All these companies are working hard on their mobile payments applications, hoping to capture the most users in this emerging technology.
Google's latest efforts include making distribution deals to get the Google Wallet apps pre-installed on phones from the largest wireless companies, and buying technology from its former mobile-payments rival Softcard.
Apple Unveiling New, More Diverse Emojis
Apple deserves a smiley face for introducing 300 new emojis, including some featuring six new skin tones. In addition to bringing more diversity to its faces, the new set of emojis will include 32 new country flags, more gadgets, and relationship emojis with same-sex couples. The new emojis will be included in iOS 8.3, which will be released to the general public within a few months.
Blogger Bans Porn
Google announced that its free blogging platform, Blogger, is banning images and videos that are "sexually explicit or show graphic nudity" starting on March 23. Content that violates the rule won't be removed completely, but the blog will be set to "private," and only the blog's owner and people specifically invited to view the blog will be able to see it.
At the same time, nudity will still be allowed on Blogger if it has a "substantial public benefit," which puts Google in the difficult position of deciding what is and isn't pornography.