DMA TECH WATCH: Apple’s Encryption Standoff, Virgin’s New Spaceships

By Phill Powell

Welcome to DMA Tech Watch, where we review the biggest news events and tech trends now on the radar. Here’s what we’re watching as of February 22, 2016:

TRICKY AND STICKY SITUATION

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This case could have a huge impact on three industries: computing, electronics and communication.

The standoff between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice over iPhone encryption continues, spurred on by Apple’s recent refusal to honor an FBI request for an electronic means of gaining access to an encrypted iPhone. (The iPhone was owned by a gunman in a Dec. 2015 San Bernardino, Calif. massacre that killed 14 people and wounded 22.)

The FBI says having access to the shooter’s phone will help its investigation. Apple, on the other hand, alleges that it doesn’t even have the encryption technology requested, and that if Apple were to give such technology to government officials, it could create a “back door” to any and all iPhones. All of Silicon Valley is watching this case with intense interest…

VIRGIN GALACTIC ROLLING OUT NEW SPACESHIP

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Virgin’s fleet of space-traveling jets has just gotten bigger.

The always interesting Virgin Galactic has just unveiled its new SpaceShip Two, which the space tourism pioneer will use to fly passengers about 62 miles above the earth. The brief, 25-minute flight includes a few precious minutes of weightlessness as well as a staggering view of space from the sleek new spaceship, dubbed the VSS Unity (reportedly by scientist Stephen Hawking).

Getting to scrape the bottom edge of outer space doesn’t come cheap: Passage on the VSS Unity flights (reportedly largely sold out at this point) costs $250K and flights really take off at around 50,000 feet, when the VSS Unity disengages from the massive plane carrying it to that height. Then, once it’s on its own, the rocket motors kick in and start the ride of a lifetime. Book your passage now!

(Or maybe learn about rocket science this summer at space camp?)

TESLA: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

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Tesla also makes products besides cars, like its PowerWall home energy storage unit.

You would think that Tesla Motors, the future-looking automobile company launched by inventor extraordinaire Elon Musk, would certainly own the URL “Tesla.com,” but until recently that hasn’t been so. Back in 1992, a man named Stu Grossman purchased the URL, based on his admiration of the famed Serbian scientist and technologist Nikola Tesla (and the auto company’s namesake).

Grossman had intended to create a tribute site to Tesla, but those plans never came about. So, from 1992 to 2016 (24 years!), the URL basically sat in disuse. Now, through an undisclosed deal, the car company owns the URL and can get back to the business of trying to perfect autonomous driving for the U.S. auto market.

A REALITY SHOW ABOUT VIDEO GAMERS

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Chasing the Cup gets you up close with pro gamers. For cool headgear alone, our favorite is SonicFox.

A pack of 16 hopefuls competes to see who can go the distance and emerge victorious. Singing contest? Nope. Dating program? Not even close. It’s the CW’s latest reality show, Chasing the Cup, which tracks the press-and-click backstories of pro gamers, adults who support themselves with their game tournament winnings and endorsement deals, and try to win a fortune in Mortal Kombat prize money.

We caught a few minutes and like many reality shows, this one can make you keep watching if you’re not careful. The moment in Chasing the Cup that really hooked us? Seeing an exhausted gamer rest his hand in a bowl of ice cubes, just like a pro baseball pitcher after throwing for ten innings.

(Want to learn game design this summer?)

THE LIGHT SHOW FROM BELOW

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Like pretty Easter eggs in a row – a series of toilets outfitted with the IllumiBowl night-light.

Our friends over at Digg.com showcase some of the craziest ideas, which have been turned into the coolest tech toys. Behold the IllumiBowl toilet night-light, a battery-powered light that uses a vibration sensor to monitor when anyone’s walking into the bathroom. Then it turns on a soothing glow that illuminates the bowl and lid. You can either select the soothing color of your choice, or let it go wild and continually change colors, for that popular “rainbow toilet” effect.

How useful it actually is varies widely by user, but there’s no denying IllumiBowl scores high marks on the cool scale. And for only $19.95, how can you afford not to buy this, if only to dazzle any guests who might be stopping by? And if your guests don’t turn green (with envy), don’t worry…your toilet will!

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