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Announcements made at this year’s Secret Wars comic event brought an official end to the complex and sophisticated Marvel Universe (video coverage of the kick-off event is linked below so you can see for yourself). Once crowned the kinds of continuity, Marvel intends to apply almost 60-years of lessons-learned to a fresh universe (while trying desperately not to alienate die-hard fans of the franchise).

Instead of being an update on the original Secret Wars released in the mid 1980’s (within which, a variety of heroes and villains came together from universes near and far to battle each other), the plan appears to be a mash-up intended to bring all universes into one: Battleworld.

The good news? We don’t have to feign amnesia for the 616-universe. All of that history remains in tact, delightfully free from the complications and confines of current storylines.

The bad news? Marvel has confirmed the slaughter of at least a few beloved characters (though Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso also promised that other heroes will survive and thrive… or even see resurrection). Trying to anticipate who will remain is a guessing-game at this point, but it seems reasonable to assume that Captain America will make the cut ahead of Howard the Duck.

Three sets of comics will get things started:

    Secret Wars: Last Days – These titles will address what the characters from the Marvel Universe have planned for their final days before the start of Secret Wars.

    Secret Wars: Battleworld – If you want the full story, Battleworld is set to deliver a much-needed overview. Marvel Editor-in-Chief promises us answers to the questions already keeping us on the edge of our seats: “Who polices Battleworld? How do the various domains interact? What happens when those domains go to war? What strange, never-before-seen creatures inhabit this world? What familiar faces will make appearances?”

    Secret Wars: Warzones – Once you are ready to dig a little deeper, Warzones will deliver stories of the individual nations found in Battleworld… with a teasers that will offer a glimpse of the future.

Think of Secret Wars as a means for Marvel to do some streamlining and restructuring –but certainly not simplifying. An encyclopedic knowledge of their publishing history may be a value-add here, but in a world filled with bottom lines it seems wise to capitalize on new-comers who may have only hopped on board after enjoying Marvel’s highly-successful feature films.

If this all sounds a little familiar, DC tried a similar reboot of their universe called “The New 52″ that combined bits and pieces of their existing material into a fresh product –though hopefully Marvel has more success maintaining interest beyond the initial launch excitement.

We don’t have long to wait now, with the first issue (written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Esad Ribic) readying for launch on Free Comic Book Day in May.

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You may already be familiar with LibreOffice, known for being an incredibly popular open source office application (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). The good news, is the developers at Collabora are making the move to Android –beginning with a beta version of their LibreOffice Viewer. They warn that it’s not stable (and therefore not recommended for mission critical tasks), but they are also welcoming of all feedback and bug reports in an effort to make this app as successful as possible.

Easily capable of becoming a go-to app, LibreOffice Viewer can handle nearly any document type that is thrown at it:

  • Open Document Format (.odt, .odp, .ods, .ots, .ott, .otp)
  • Microsoft Office 2007/2010/2013 (.docx, .pptx, .xlsx, .dotx, .xltx, .ppsx)
  • Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP/2003 (.doc, .ppt, .xls, .dot, .xlt, .pps)

Functionality is pretty basic at this point, but future releases (available weekly) promise to work with URLs and accessing external SD storage.

Ready to try an alternative for reading documents on your Android devices? Download LibreOffice Viewer Beta for free now!

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Please brace yourself, I have a few truths to reveal… and they may come as a surprise to many of you (if my Facebook news feed is to be believed). It doesn’t matter how many times you share the post with all of your friends, Costco will not give you a free $500 gift card. Nobody has a stash of yet-to-be-released iPhone 8.5’s that they are just dying to give away to 200 lucky Facebook users who like and share their post. A sick child will not get a new heart if you share their heart-string-pulling photograph. I am also begging every single one of you to do a single Google search to validate any news you plan to share about a celebrity that has (supposedly) passed away.

Thankfully, Facebook understands the pain many of us feel when we see our friends falling for these ridiculous hoaxes. A feature being added to the site will allow those of us who do our research to flag a post as being false news (as well as a few other designations such as being pornographic, advocating violence, annoying, or distasteful); doing so will remove the post from your feed, so you can forget it ever happened. The more flags a post receives, the less it will be seen in general (though Facebook will never actually delete a post).

Of course, there is a downside to this added moderation: idiots and bullies get the same functionality as everybody else.

At least it’s a step in the right direction, and one I suspect will be fine-tuned over time. My suggestion some time ago was that Facebook force users to click a disclaimer before sharing or adding content that begs for confirmation that the content contained within the post was fact-checked first… and if not, accept that they risk eyerolls and sighs of disbelief from their friends.

Now that Facebook has potentially solved this problem, I’d really appreciate it if they got to work on some kind of alert system that would let people know that their mothers will not think they aren’t loved if you stop sharing those sappy greeting card poems within 10 seconds of reading it… and maybe give them a heads up that I do still love them as a friend even though I’m unwilling to describe in a single word the way we met as a comment on their status.

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Any of us who have been around in the tech industry for a year or twenty will remember that before Apple was what Apple has become, there was Microsoft… and they were the company you loved to hate (and hated to love). There was a time when we waited on the edges of our seats to see what was coming up in the next version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system (and then we would salivate while also joking that there is no way we’d be installing it until there was at least one major service pack). Thanks in part to the availability of solid alternatives plus a little sprinkle of Ballmer (whose goofiness made a lot of us take the company less seriously), it’s been a while since we cared about a new version of Windows. Until now. Windows 10 has now been previewed, and it actually sounds pretty fantastic.

Windows 7 was pretty solid. Windows 8 was basically a disaster. Windows 10 promises to pull the best from past versions, while leaving behind the stuff that just didn’t work.

At the top of the feature list is a makeover to the desktop experience that intends to provide a consistent user experience across all platforms (mobile and otherwise). Hard to disagree with that approach, given how interchangeable technology is these days –but what else can we look forward to with Windows 10?

  • Cortana – Designed to be Microsoft’s version of the ever-popular digital assistant, Cortana looks like a combination of both Apple’s Siri and Google Now. If demo’s can be believed, Cortana listens more clearly (and responds more accurately) to voice commands than any of the competition.
  • Universal Apps – Long gone are the days when users are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on individual software titles (especially when they only work for one platform and you end up buying secondary clients and access apps for your mobile devices as well). As an added bonus, Microsoft’s Xbox One is also included here.
  • Project Spartan – So many people have a foul taste in their mouths over Internet Explorer. It’s wavered back and forth between being the only browser worth using and then the one that needs deleting (if only you could) more times than I can count. Microsoft isn’t abandoning their flagship browser entirely, but they are planning a new and separate web browser that is light-weight and Chrome-like.
  • Updated Control Panel and Settings – Simply stated, Microsoft wants to give users more control without over-complicating things. With the addition of the new Action Center, a series of toggles will control common options like switching WiFi on and off. Configuration of notifications happens here as well, with syncing across all devices so if you handle something on one device it’s taken care of everywhere (Apple users will really appreciate this, I can’t tell you how many times I end up dismissing things like calendar alerts across all of my hardware).
  • Continuum – A bit of a niche for those using convertibles, but very cool nonetheless. When docked with a keyboard and such, apps will behave in a windowed manner –pull them off the dock and use them tablet-style and the user interface adjusts accordingly. As long as this works as advertised, Continuum is all about the elegance and refinement that the corporate world really likes to get behind.
  • Gaming – Finally! Microsoft is bridging the gap between their Xbox and all other Windows-based hardware by providing apps and interfaces that let you use it all together.
  • Free Upgrades – As long as you are already running Windows 7 or 8.1, and you upgrade within the first year, Windows 10 will be free. This price-point is important because at this stage a large number of Windows users will only upgrade now when it falls under the heading of “what the heck, it’s free”.
  • Skype Integration – Featured front and centre just like iMessage and FaceTime, Skype is the hub of text and video messaging for all Windows devices. If either Apple or Microsoft really wanted to impress me though, they’d make them fully compatible with each other (without having to use a different third-party app on both platforms).
  • Microsoft Office Free for Mobile – Another stolen note from Apple’s playbook perhaps, but it seems Microsoft is finally going to offer their Office Suite (including Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) free of charge on Windows Phone and small tablets.

You may have noticed that I left Microsoft’s HoloLens out of my ‘features list’. This was intentional, due in large part to my confusion over why it was included in these announcements. It is an AR platform that displays 3D projections using a pair of rather goofy looking wireless goggles. No sense in talking much about it yet, the release date was very vague (in the Windows 10 time frame they suggested)… and typically with Microsoft this means to expect more than a few delays. For whatever my opinion is worth, I think Windows 10 is Microsoft’s last chance to impress the corporate world and prove they are still relevant –so trying to look all space age and Google-like just cheapened the rest of their news.

In case you wondered if this is still the same old Microsoft, rest assured they are… few companies hold huge launch events with only the vaguest of release dates for the wares they are showing off. In this case, you can expect Windows 10 to ship sometime (later) in 2015. Almost certainly. Probably. Likely. We hope.

Now, with that said, I do want to see it in action when it comes out.

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Few things entertain the tech industry more than speculating on what Apple may have up their sleeves. It appears to be that time again, with rumours of an updated iPad gaining traction –the latest of which being a series of patent filings that suggest the company will introduce a proprietary stylus/iPen/Apple Pen of some sort.

This rumour is a weird one. All speculation suggests that this stylus would be an optional accessory, which makes it not at all unlike the thousands of existing third-party options on the market already. So with that in mind, why would Apple create their own product? The only thing that makes sense is that this accessory would feature additional sensors that improve and customize its functionality with the new iPad (possibly making it work elegantly for things like 3D handwriting)… offering more incentive than just feeling more like pen and paper than finger and tablet.

It also probably means we have yet another thing in our lives that requires charging (hopefully with the same Lightning connector that Apple is already using for their mobile product line).

If this latest rumour turns out to be true, Steve Jobs would be most unimpressed (having famously said that ‘if you see a stylus, they blew it’).

Would you opt into an Apple-branded stylus? Do you currently use a stylus with your tablet (Apple or otherwise)? While there are certainly potential applications in the corporate and educational worlds, the idea that a pen of any sort is necessary seems antiquated to me (though it does feel a little odd to write my own signature with my fingertip, I have to admit).

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Once upon a time, movies cost crazy amounts of money to make… which reserved their creation for huge studios with equally large budgets. Now we live in an age where high definition cameras are in the palms of our hands and the bottoms of our pockets. Using computers for special effects is faster and easier than ever before. Post-production takes a fraction of the time it used to. So what does all of this mean? Companies like Amazon have the opportunity and the option of producing their own feature films.

After winning a Golden Globe for their dark comedy television series Transparent, Amazon has announced their intentions to produce indie style movies with budgets between $5 million and $25 million (in addition to more work on television series, including a second season of Transparent and something brand new from filmmaker Woody Allen).

Amazon’s original movies are intended for theatrical release, though they will also see early distribution on their Prime Instant Video service (proving membership really does have its privileges).

Original content is one thing that sets streaming services apart. Netflix has long since offered their own content unavailable anywhere else, which means Amazon has to make the same move in an effort to be competitive. To this end, it’s important that Amazon doesn’t cause people to equate smaller budgets with a lower quality entertainment.

Does original content help you decide on what streaming services you subscribe to? Who do you think is doing it best?

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Have you been waiting (not so) patiently while it seems like everybody around you gets to play with Android Lollipop before your device delivers the operating system update? Google seems to understand that it is hard to wait, proving an update to the Google Now Launcher that will make it seem like you’re ready to rock with Android 5.0.

Google Now Launcher and the Google Search app now feature the beautiful new Material Design styling –instead of the way it used to work, where they tailored themselves to whatever version of Android your device was running.

All in all, functionality is about the same as it was before… but you will see the Google Search bar sport a fresh white colour and entertaining animations at the top of the launcher. Google Now has added a slide-in panel on the left side of the screen that allows you to switch between accounts, set reminders, and update your corresponding settings.

Think of it as a bit of a cheat (or at least a preview), and enjoy!

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Even though it seemed to be a popular program, Apple has killed their decade-old “Single of the Week” promotion (having first launched in 2004). One of the longest-running marketing campaigns in Apple history, delivery of a free music track every week was designed to bring users to the iTunes store while offering attention to up-and-coming and lesser-known artists. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoying taking advantage of these free tracks, the give-aways stopped when the clock struck 2015.

A lot is happening in the Apple music world, with the addition of music industry experts like Jimmy Loving and Dr. Dre to their team. Without official statements and announcements to turn to, suppositions and rumours suggest Apple is preparing for a transition away from traditional downloads toward a subscription-based streaming option (much like the highly successful Spotify service).

Silence from Apple on this matter seems strange –why not just tell people the promotion is ending? It makes me wonder if there was supposed to be a new product launch before this 2015 deadline… but things were delayed, and the wheels were already in motion to stop things? No matter the truth, we should know more soon.

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There are plenty of successful mobile apps (games especially) –the measure of which is usually calculated by the dollars earned either up-front or from in-app purchases. According to Apple, Monument Valley has earned every bit of their success (enjoying their Game of the Year status while also boasting an Apple Design Award). The developers behind the game at Ustwo are happy to give back: giving an inside look toward what it takes to develop a popular mobile game.

While Monument Valley rests in the popular puzzle game genre, it takes more than challenging mazes and striking artwork to dominate and stand out amongst the competition. There are a lot of details to review and consider, but a few highlights to consider include:

  • Official sales numbers place iOS in the lead with over 1.7M users paying to play. Android lags considerably behind, with less than 1M across multiple app stores. While the reasons for this disconnect are difficult to speculate on, it may be due to better marketing efforts or search functionality within each app store –or it may represent a user base more willing and ready to pay for apps.
  • To date (since launch day on April 3, 2014), total revenue for the Forgotten Shores franchise is nearing $6M, with 81.7% of that figure credited to iOS.
  • Official sales by country show clearly that the USA is the dominant user base for an app of this type, with 38% of sales coming from that region. China, UK, Germany, Japan, and Canada run nearly tied for second place in the 4-5% range.
  • Development costs for the original game came in at $852,000 over 55 weeks, while the second piece in Forgotten Shores was an additional 29 weeks and $549,000. There are 8 core team members (based in London), but other resources were added as required and contributed to those totals.
  • A remarkable 50% of players who started the game, completed it. When you consider how much competition there is out there for mobile entertainment attention, this is an impressive statistic.

So what does it all mean? Reading between the lines, one thing is clear: successful apps require an investment into their development.

If you have an iOS device, you can give Monument Valley a try for under $5. If you prefer to play on Android, download Monument Valley for $4 now.

The release trailer for Monument Valley has been out for some time now, but it is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it (linked below).

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Microsoft has unveiled three new apps for large screen Android tablets that is a cause for celebration. They have created native apps of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, it is basically Microsoft Office in your pocket.

These 3 apps are in preview mode, which means you have join their official Google+ community to get a free key from Microsoft.  Google Play does offer the apps right now, but restrict the downloads to only residents of the US and users who only have certain tablets. Good e-Reader is making available not only the necessary Android files, but also the large data files (OBB). Once you download our free client, the data files automatically install and you can begin using the app.

In early 2015 Microsoft said that they do a broad release to the public and offer two different versions, a basic and one that requires a 365 subscription — just like Office for iPad does. There is a ton of advanced features already available, such as cross platform document editing, creation and syncing with Onedrive. If you are in the creation business and are heavily invested in Android, check these apps out today.

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It isn’t very often that news in the tech world causes an actual frenzy of excitement –but when Samsung (supposedly) puts 7.5B on the table in a bid to purchase Blackberry, the interest is warranted. We knew that senior executives were chatting at CES last week, and that a possible buyout was on the table, but that means things materialized rather quickly.

Who knows exactly what Samsung has in mind for BlackBerry, though you can bet it involves having their hands on the considerable patent library enjoyed by the Canadian tech company. When you consider that BlackBerry also has the trust of the corporate sector by way of security and existing platform adoption, this merger news is probably scariest for Apple (who stood to benefit most from what seemed like the eventual collapse of BlackBerry)… though I would wager Microsoft is watching this move rather closely as well (as they struggle to maintain any kind of corporate relevance in the mobile marketplace).

Following the news of this potential transaction, share prices for BlackBerry have shot through the roof (which is something I never thought I would have the chance to say again).

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Over recent years, there has been a huge boom in the popularity of online gaming, especially at casino online. With more and more gamers choosing to play whilst on the go, what are the current casino games for your Android driven smartphone?

GSN Casino

The GSN app is perfect for anyone who loves the big graphics and themed games. Offering free blackjack, poker and slots, the app has a traditional Vegas style of gaming with a modernised twist. You can enjoy TV themed games like Wheel of Fortune and Deal or No Deal, with a Ghostbusters set to be released in the coming years.

Big Fish Casino

If you are a seasoned casino gamer, this app probably isn’t best suited for you. Big Fish Casino is aimed for those looking for a more laid back and casual gaming experience, as you can play with your friends as well as create visuals and buy gifts for your loved ones.

Royal Baccarat

One of the more sophisticated casino games, Royal Baccarat would be the app of choice for James Bond. The app has no fancy graphics or visuals to distract you from your game, so you can fully concentrate on winning. If you are a novice, it has great tutorials to help improve your game.

Zynga Poker

Zynga Poker has over 6 million player each day, so it’s a great app to get involved in a gaming community. Starting with over 20,000 chips, you can either play on your own against the computer, or try your luck in one of the online tournaments to see how good you really are!

Big Win Slots

If you are a fan of both 3 and 5 reeled games, Big Win Slots is definitely the app for you. Staying loyal to the traditional Las Vegas rules, you can earn yourself VIP credits and choose from dozens as different slots to have a go on.

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It was bound to happen eventually, but it may surprise you to know that one of the first (non-communist) leaders to call for a ban on encrypted messaging is UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Speaking out in favour of a ban on apps that provide this service, Cameron feels strongly that the likes of WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Apple’s iMessage serve as a potential threat to national security.

Justifying his position, Ars Technica quoted Cameron saying:

“Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read?” Cameron said Monday while campaigning, in reference to apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other encrypted services. “My answer to that question is: ‘No, we must not.'”

Protecting our privacy is a controversial subject no matter the country in which you happen to reside, but you can bet that if Cameron is successful it will set a potentially dangerous world-wide precedent. While restrictions prohibiting the use of encrypted messaging services could be inconvenient for would-be bad guys, I’m not sure I think it will ultimately prevent much of anything (because I tend to believe that if you build a better mousetrap, you will just cultivate smarter mice).

When we look to the government for protection, is it also then reasonable to allow them any and all tools they require to deliver it? If Cameron gets his way (and others like him), would you feel more or less safe? While there may be more questions than answers right now, it should give you cause to consider how you are using your mobile devices –and not do anything with them that you wouldn’t want to be made public.

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