TechSummit Rewind 144

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Google Maps now lets you hail an Uber without leaving the app

Google Maps has been updated to let users request an Uber without leaving the Android/iOS app. Previously, Maps could only be used to check for price estimates and start the process of hailing an Uber, before eventually dumping you to the car-hailing app.

Once you sign in with your Uber account info, your stored payment info and other details are pulled into Maps.

The “ride services” section has been given a makeover in the new release. Instead of a list of services (Uber, Lyft, etc.) with pricing besides each one, now you’ll see the traditional on-screen map with a visual representation of where nearby drivers are.

The update is starting to rollout globally today on both platforms.

Microsoft launches StaffHub Office 365 app aimed at shift workers


Microsoft has launched StaffHub, an Office 365 app for shift workers and management. The program is aimed for those that don’t tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, and restaurants.

Since launching in “preview” last fall, over 1,000 businesses have signed up including a large California winery and a hospitality company that uses it to staff their hotels.

“There’s half a billion frontline staff workers in the world. Most companies, though, haven’t actually provided digital tools for these folks…but companies are starting to recognize the benefits of moving some of these offline processes and taking them online.”

-Bryan Goode, Office 365 general manager

To address the needs of this different kind of work environment, StaffHub posts schedules online.

When adding shifts, managers can take advantage of a variety of features to differentiate the types of shifts, ranging from custom labels (day, opening, night, etc.) to color coding, and they can also enter in notes about the work that needs to be done during the shift in question.

The program also makes it simple to update shifts from week to week with a “Copy last schedule” feature that lets managers use the prior week’s shift as a starting point before making changes.

Schedules can be viewed by day, week or month, as needed, and the program has tools for handling common requests, like time off, vacations, and sick leave.

However, the mobile experience is a lot more interesting.

Staff can privately chat – one on one or in group chats – with each other.

For example, managers can use their team chat to make informal announcements or share files. The chats also support photo sharing, which could be useful for showing the manager something out on the floor that needs their input.

Plus, the app can be used for sharing internal resources – like an employee handbook hosted on Sharepoint, computer uploaded files, a video, or a file stored on another cloud service. Files will display inline when clicked, making it easy for staff to view them right on their phone.

StaffPad is also being envisioned as an app platform of sorts for line-of-business apps (like a time clock application).

Staff can swap shifts with other workers in the mobile app and request time off – which then get routed to a manager for approval. Push notifications are used to alert users of these requests and approvals along with other updates, private notes, chats, and more.

The software is available now as part of Office 365 commercial plans on web, iOS, and Android.

Trump picks Rudy Giuliani to meet with companies on cybersecurity


President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will hold private industry meetings on cybersecurity preparedness, led by Rudy Giuliani, according to the transition team and Giuliani.

“The president-elect decided that he wanted to bring in, on a regular basis, the people in the private sector, the corporate leaders in particular, and thoughts leaders in the private sector, who are working on security for cyber, because we’re so far behind.”

-Rudy Giuliani, on Fox & Friends

According to Giuliani, he will be in charge of coordinating the group. In a statement, the transition team said that it’s “contemplated” that the president-elect’s team will hold meetings with companies that have “faced or are facing challenges similar to those facing the government and public entities today,” including hacking and other security threats.

“The President-elect’s intent is to obtain experiential and anecdotal information from each executive on challenges faced by his/her company, how the company met the challenges, approaches which were not.”

-President-elect Trump’s transition team, in a statement

Obama expands NSA’s ability to share data with other agencies


The National Security Agency can now share raw surveillance data with all 16 of the United States government’s intelligence groups, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and Drug Enforcement Administration. The agencies can submit requests for raw data pertaining to specific cases, and the NSA will approve or deny each requests based on its legitimacy and whether granting access would put large amounts of private citizens’ information at risk.

Lily shutting down, refunding customers


Lily, the autonomous camera drone that sold $34 million in preorders, has shut down.

According to an email sent to customers, the startup was unable raise the additional round of funding that would’ve allowed it to start production of the drone. An automatic refund will be offered to all preorder customers within 60 days. A form will need to be filled out if the card used to preorder has since expired.

Opera launches Neon experimental desktop browser

Opera has launched Neon, an experimental version of its namesake browser for Windows and Mac that tries to reimagine what a modern browsing experience should be.

When you first open Neon, you’re not greeted with a task bar or bookmarks bar (the URL bar is alive and well). Instead of having tabs and the top, there are round bubbles on the right. Your desktop background is automatically pulled in as the background image of your new tabs page.

There’s also a left-hand sidebar that lets you control audio and video playback (which can be popped out so you can watch it even while surfing in other tabs), also features a screenshotting tool and access to your recent downloads.

For those of you with large or wide screens, Neon also lets you place two browser tabs side-by-side within the same window (similar to the split-screen view on iOS or Android).

Opera stresses that this is meant as a “concept browser” that won’t replace Opera’s existing browser.

“However, some of its new features are expected to be added to Opera this spring.”

-Opera, Neon developer

Google launches Toontastic 3D cartoon-making app


Google has launched Toontastic 3D, an expansion of the Toontastic iOS app used to make cartoon-style video content.

The launch comes two years after Launchpad Toys, the startup behind Toontastic, was acquired by Google to create “more amazing creativity tools for kids.”

“With Toontastic 3D, kids can draw, animate and narrate their own adventures, news stories, school reports, and anything else they might dream up. All they need to do is move characters around on the screen and tell their story. It’s like a digital puppet theater … but with enormous interactive 3D worlds, dozens of customizable characters, 3D drawing tools, and an idea lab with sample stories to inspire new creations.”

-Google, in a blog post

HTC’s U Ultra flagship has AI, a second screen, but no headphone jack


HTC has gotten 2017 off to a flying start with an early announcement of its U Ultra flagship phone. The 5.7-inch device inaugurates the new U series and is joined by a smaller and less expensive U Play that scales things down to a 5.2-inch display and less robust cameras and processor. HTC is touting a new Sense Companion powered by AI and a second screen at the top of the U Ultra. Neither of the handsets have a headphone jack.

However, HTC packs in a pair of USonic headphones with an improvement in sound thanks to being powered by USB-C.

“We believe the audio experience on the phone can be so much more than just the simple transmission of sound. The sonar-like capabilities of USonic wouldn’t be possible with a 3.5mm headphone jack. We have microphones built into both earbuds that “listen” for sonic pulses, which can then adjust your audio to match your ears’ unique architecture. We believe the market is ready to push audio into new innovations that benefit consumers’ listening experience.”

-HTC, in a statement

This looks markedly different from the One lineup. HTC has moved to a new all-glass exterior here that it dubs Liquid Surface construction, and the company has spent a lot of time creating a material that mimics the property of liquid.

The Ultra has a thin two-inch strip residing to the right of the front-facing camera and immediately above the Super LCD 5 screen. The 5.7-inch Ultra has what is now a pretty standard Quad HD resolution on its main display, and it maintains the same pixel density on the 160×1040 second screen. It serves as a landing spot for notifications, reminders, shortcuts to frequent contacts, and music playback controls.

The U Ultra is pretty much cut and paste from any other premium smartphone: A Snapdragon 821 processor’s at the heart, along with 4GB of RAM, and either 64/128GB of storage. There’s also a microSD card slot that can expand storage by 2TB. The camera has been upgraded with the addition of phase-detect autofocus, but is otherwise unchanged from the 10’s 12-megapixel UltraPixel shooter. You still get laser autofocus, large pixels, an f/1.8 aperture, and optical image stabilization. Ironically, the front camera is now at 16 megapixels, although there’s an UltraPixel mode that provides 4-megapixel snaps.

The batteries seem small for the size of the U Ultra and U Play at 3,000mAh and 2,500mAh, respectively. Meanwhile, the U Play makes some significant drawbacks with a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, 32/64GB of storage, and a 16-megapixel rear camera with smaller pixels. It also makes do with 1080p display resolution. However, the most glaring sacrifice is in the Android Marshmallow OS that it ships with. The U Ultra, meanwhile, ships with Android Nougat.

HTC hopes that its U phones will stand out on the software front, with a focus on the user (hence the U name) and a series of AI enhancements that basically predict what you’ll want to do and serving up helpful suggestions. If you’re comfortable to let the phone learn your habits, it’ll do things like suggest you recharge if it knows you’ll be away from a power outlet for longer than it expects its battery will last or tell you to dress warm on a cold day. One neat thing here is always-on voice detection that’ll allow HTC’s AI to accept commands even while the phone’s display is off. The company has also developed a form of voice-based biometric authentication.

The HTC U Ultra with 64GB of storage is on pre-order today for $749 from HTC’s website in blue, black, white, or pink. Deliveries in Taiwan will begin by the end of January, while the rest of the world will get it in March. The U Play will follow later this spring.

A limited edition U Ultra will also launch with a sapphire glass screen and 128GB of storage. Pricing and launch date hasn’t been announced.


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