TechSummit Rewind 163

Apple’s spring product announcements, Android O developer preview launches, and Apple’s new Clips social video app

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

Apple’s spring product refresh

Red iPhone 7

red iPhone 7

Apple’s iPhone 7 is now available in red as part of its Product (RED) program benefiting the RED fund. While the iPhone has previously offered Product (RED) cases, this is the first time that the iPhone has itself been offered in red. This new iPhone features a red aluminum finish.

“The introduction of this special edition iPhone in a gorgeous rid finish is our biggest (PRODUCT)RED offering to date in celebration of our partnership with (RED), and we can’t wait to get it into customers’ hands.”

-Tim Cook, Apple CEO

The model will launch starting this Friday in 128GB and 256GB models starting at $749.

9.7-inch iPad

iPad 9.7

The latest version of the 9.7-inch iPad is really a successor to 2014’s Air 2.

The new iPad features a 9.7-inch 2048×1356 Retina display with improved brightness with a faster A9 processor.

The cameras remain the same, for better or worse, with an eight-megapixel shooter on the rear and a 1.2MP FaceTime cam at the front.

Notably, the entry-level price has dropped to $320 for the 32GB version. Stepping up to 128GB will set you back $459, making this the cheapest tablet the company has offered thus far in its class. LTE versions will set you back an additional $130. The updated iPad will also be available starting Friday

An updated iPad mini is also available, but is more expensive. It’s now available with 128GB of storage only for $399, and the iPad mini 2 has been discontinued.

Google releases Android O developer beta; promises better battery life, notifications

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A developer preview for Android O is available now here.

The headline feature here is battery life.

For O, Google is continuing its trend of aggressively managing what apps can do in the background to ensure that runaway processes don’t destroy your battery.

“We’ve put additional automatic limits on what apps can do in the background, in three main areas: implicit broadcasts, background services, and location updates.”

-Dave Burke, Android VP of engineering

Apps will also be able to “group” their notifications into categories called “channels.”

According to Burke, there are also “new visuals and grouping to notifications that make it easier for users to see what’s going on when they have an incoming message or are glancing at the notification shade.”

You can also snooze notifications so they appear at a later time, just like with email.

Google is also working to improve sound quality for wireless headphones with “high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs,” along with Sony’s LDAC codec.

App developers can also create “adaptive icons,” which will change their look and shape based on what home screen theme the user’s opted for.

Some other features based on how stuff gets displayed or navigated on the screen:

  • A genuine picture-in-picture mode for videos
  • A new pop-up window that apps can use instead of the system alert window
  • “Multi-display support for launching an activity on a remote display,” which could refer to a PowerPoint-like presentation mode or a Continuum-style Android-on-the-desktop mode.
  • New ways to support keyboard navigation, especially for arrow and tab buttons

Developers can test Andorid O in a desktop emulator or on the following devices:

  • Nexus 5X, 6P
  • Nexus Player
  • Pixel, XL
  • Pixel C

If you want to try it, you’ll have to manually download and flash it yourself, rather than sign up for an over-the-air update.

Apple’s Clips app makes social videos for other social networks

Apple Clips

Apple has announced a new company-made Clips app for social video that borrows features from apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Prisma, and iMovie and mashes them together into a video-making mobile app that’s separate from the core iOS camera app.

The app has a simple photo- and video-capture interface with several features. The main app page has a capture screen (square, like Instagram) with Photo, Video, and Library options below it. At the top, there are four options for styling the video: Live Titles, Filters, Overlays, and Posters. And at the very bottom of the screen there’s a timeline, because Apple has designed the app to encourage stringing together a sequence of clips.

Live Titles allow you to add text over still photos and videos with your voice without having to type in the text overlay: you can tap the Live Title option, choose a style, and then record your voice while the pap translates that to text. It will do this in 36 different languages, and create a sort of closed captioning over your Clips videos.

You also can’t scribble text over your Clips like you can on Snapchat or Instagram.

While you can save and share your Clips videos to any app, there isn’t any optimization if you share them to iMessage. Apple is rolling out Smart Suggestions for the first time, which means the app will suggest people you might want to share to in iMessage based on the same facial recognition software used in Apple’s Photos app.

Clips let you shoot or upload single video clips up to 30 minutes long, and the final video’s total run time can go up to 60 minutes. There’s also an option for full-screen, text-based graphics cards called Posters, which let you create bookends to your videos or title cards between shots.

Other not-so-new features include adding filters, basic text, contextual elements (location/time of day), emoji, and iTunes music tracks.

Clips launches next month for free exclusively on iOS.

TechSummit Rewind 162

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

eBay steps up shipping game to compete with Amazon Prime

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eBay has announced plans to offer a Guaranteed Delivery program in the U.S. starting this summer, pledging deliveries in three days or less on over 20 million products. Shoppers will also be able to filter searches to see only items guaranteed to arrive in one, two, or three days.

“We know we need to continue to up our game on shipping.”

-Hal Lawton, eBay senior vice president of North America

New seller tools that will power the Guaranteed Delivery program will give eBay more information on sellers’ working hours and the location of products, so the company can provide more accurate shipping times from around the country.

“We’re huge fans of this. It’s going to be great for the consumer, it’s going to be great for the sellers that can take advantage of this.”

-Brett Thorne, Nebraska-based seller VMInnovations vice president of business development

Under the new program, if a product doesn’t arrive in the promised time, both eBay and the seller will chip in to refund shipping costs. If an item was shipped for free, eBay and the seller will provide an eBay coupon of about $5, according to Lawton. Two-thirds of eBay’s products include free shipping, according to the company.

The change doesn’t alter eBay’s principle of not competing with sellers on the site.

“We have no plans to have warehouses or take control of inventory or assortment.”

-Hal Lawton

Instagram now lets you save livestreamed videos to your phone

Instagram live videos

Live videos streamed on Instagram Stories can now be saved to your phone for later viewing.

After you’ve completed a live video, you can either leave it on Instagram Stories to fly into oblivion, or tap the “Save” button in the upper right corner.

Only the video will be stored, not comments, likes, number of viewers, or even the live interactions that take place. The video will be saved to your phone’s camera roll and you can then share it to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or anywhere else you’d like. However, the video “will no longer be available in the app,” according to Instagram.

The update’s available now in the latest update to Instagram for ___ and Android.

Vodafone, Idea agree on merger to create India’s largest mobile carrier

The Vodafone logo is seen at the counter of the shop as customers look at mobile phones in Prague

Vodafone’s Indian unit has agreed to merge with Idea Cellular to create a wireless company’s that twice the size of AT&T by subscribers – and a new leader in the highly competitive Indian market.

Vodafone will own 45.1 percent of the combined company, after selling a 4.9 percent stake to billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s holding companies, according to a stock exchange filing from Monday. Birla’s companies will take a 26 percent stake, with the remainder being held by the public. The new company is worth $23.3 billion, based on the rough combination of both companies’ $12.4 billion and $10.8 billion enterprise values as separate entities.

The operator would have 395 million subscribers, exceeding that of market leader Bharti Airtel.

Both companies will control at least three seats in the combined company, which will also have six independent directors. Birla will also have the right to appoint a chairman.

According to a statement, the transactions is expected to close next year.

Y Combinator wants “robot factory” tech startups to apply for new AI track

y-combinator-credit-paul-miller-cropped

Y Combinator partner Daniel Gross has announced that the accelerator-turned-venture-fund will offer its first “vertical” track exclusively for AI startups. The company gathers founders from different industries together in each investment cycle, hosting interdisciplinary demo days and “dinners,” half-day sessions for knowledge sharing across founder teams.

The new track will include admitted startups along with all the others. The organization isn’t ready to break with its intersectional roots yet. However, these companies will get some additional benefits that others won’t. These include office hours with machine learning experts to help overcome technical problems and cloud compute credits for GPU instances. Making a machine artificially intelligent takes a lot more data and computing resources than having your groceries or meals delivered to your door.

In the announcement, Gross also included a request for startups with AI to enable “robot factories.”

“Many of the current techniques for robotic assembly and manufacturing are brittle. Robot arms exist, but are difficult to set up. When things break, they don’t understand what went wrong. As a result, humans are still leveraged to assemble products like an iPhone. We think machine learning (aided by reinforcement learning) will soon allow robots to compete [with humans].”

-Daniel Gross, Y Combinator partner

 

TechSummit Rewind 161

Netflix ditches five-star ratings, New figures on Uber’s anonymous division, and Qualcomm rebrands its processors

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

Netflix ditching five-star ratings in favor of thumbs up

Earns Netflix

Netflix will soon make its first change to ratings in years, switching from a traditional five-star rating to a binary thumbs up/thumbs down system, per a press briefing from company vice president of product Todd Yellin.

“Five stars feels very yesterday now. We’re spending many billions of dollars on the titles we’re producing and licensing, and with these big catalogs, that just adds a challenge.

“Bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch is super important.”

-Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of product

Per Yellin, the change will happen next month globally.

“What’s more powerful: you telling me you would give five stars to the documentary about unrest in the Ukraine; that you’d give three stars to the latest Adam Sandler movie; or that you’d watch the Adam Sandler movie ten times more frequently? What you do versus what you say you like are different things.”

-Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of product

In addition to the ratings change, Netflix will also start percent matching, meaning that it will use algorithms to show a percentage below a title based on how likely it is a viewer will enjoy it. This is personalized, per Yellin, like dating sites that match you with potential partners based on interests or earlier activity.

Netflix is also “matching” members based on a global database of activity, not segmenting it by local markets. The company found that its members are willing to watch Netflix content that has been produced in other countries or has subtitled.

“We’re finding these clusters of people and then we’re figuring out who is like you, who enjoys these kinds of things, and then we’re mixing and matching those.”

-Todd Yellin

Docs: Uber’s anonymous cars drove over 20K miles, had to be taken over at every mile

uber-self-driving-car-transportation-930x620

Per documents circulating through Uber’s self-driving group obtained by Recode, the company’s 43 active cars in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California drove 20,354 miles autonomously last week for only the second time since late December.

Uber passengers took around 930 self-driving rides in Pittsburgh last week and around 150 rides in Phoenix. These vehicles had a driver at the wheel to take over if needed.

However, those human drivers are taking over more often than they did in January.

Uber uses several methods to determine how its systems have progressed. Those include:

  • The average number of miles a car drives itself before a driver must take over for any reason
  • The average number of miles between “critical” interventions (when a driver must avoid causing harm, like hitting pedestrians or causing material property damage)
  • The average number of autonomous miles between “bad experiences” (jerky motions or hard braking, which are more likely to cause discomfort than damage)

During the week that ended Mar. 8, the 43 active cars on the road drove only an average of close to 0.8 miles before the safety driver had to take over for some reason.

The mile per intervention metric includes all the times driver have had to take back control from the system over the course of a week.

Reasoning for these interventions can vary, but they can include navigating unclear lane markings, the system overshooting a turn or driving in inclement weather. This excludes “accidental disengagements, end-of-route disengagements, and early takeovers.”

That’s down slightly from earlier this year. At the end of January, a driver had to take over roughly once every 0.9 miles and was at the one-mile mark during the first week of February.

Then there’s the company’s “critical” interventions. Last week, the company’s cars drove an average of approximately 200 miles between those types of incidents that required a driver to take over.

While that’s an improvement from last week, which was about 114 miles between critical interventions, that progress hasn’t been steady.

At the end of January, drivers only needed to take over after an average of 125 miles driven, but that dropped to about once per 50 miles during the first week on February. Those numbers then increased over the following two weeks but dropped again in the first week of March.

Part of that can be blamed on the cars being introduced to new routes (parts of Arizona) or having to navigate around objects or road markings they don’t recognize.

The cars also had more “bad experiences” during the week ending on Mar. 8 than in January. The miles driven between things like auto-detected hard decelerations or abrupt car jerks and movement has been cut in half from over four miles in January to less than two miles last week.

Per Uber’s self-driving team, the rider experience dropped significantly along Arizona’s Scottsdale Road. Cars were only able to drive 0.67 miles between interventions and two miles between bad events.

Google Home plays Beauty and the Beast audio ads

google-home-fd

Some Google Home owners have reported hearing an advertisement for the opening of Beauty and the Beast alongside a summary of the day ahead.

Some Android users also reporting hearing the ad through Google Assistant.

The ad was delivered with the usual Google Assistant voice, so it blended in seamlessly with the usual daily briefing of news, weather, calendar appointments, etc.

The company has since stopped serving that content to users.

“This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.”

-Google, in a statement

Qualcomm Snapdragon brand changing to reflect ‘platform’ capabilities

qualcomm_snapdragon_802

Most of the mobile devices we know and love run on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors that often get mistaken as just CPUs.

For that reason, Qualcomm is subtly changing its branding and messaging to now call the processors the “Qualcomm Snapdragon platform.” This helps Qualcomm explain that it’s more than just a processor inside – instead, it’s a system-on-a-chip with a cellular modem, GPU, and more.

“We can now articulate the value that we provide to a device manufacturer – from developing algorithms for great pictures and videos, to making sure that the battery is long lasting. More importantly, the word “platform” will be used to explain the combined key user experiences – camera, connectivity, battery life, security, immersion – that these essential technologies are designed to deliver.”

-Qualcomm, in a statement

This signals the chipmaker’s movement into selling its wares to more than just phone makers – think automotive, IoT, and laptop – with a broader branding paintbrush.

As part of this change, the Snapdragon name is being removed entirely from its low-end chips. The current Snapdragon 200 range will now be known as “Qualcomm Mobile.”

iMessage App Store growth slows

iMessage App Store

The excitement is fading for the iMessage App Store along with its growth. During its first few months of existence, the store saw growth of over 100 percent month-over-month. Between January and February, that’s dropped down to just nine percent.

Per a new report from app intelligence firm Sen.sor Tower, there are nearly 5,000 iMessage-enabled apps (the same number of iOS apps released in year one of its App Store).

Games continue to be the most popular iMessage app category, ahead of entertainment, utilities, social networking, and photo & video apps. However, even within these categories, many of the apps are stickers – for example, those that use existing IP from a popular gaming franchise.

Gmail can now stream video attachments on desktop

Gmail-com

Desktop Gmail users can now stream video attachments on the page, rather than being forced to download it first.

Attachments can still be downloaded, but clicking on a file will now pull up a YouTube-like video player that’ll let you play the clip back, adjust quality and volume levels, and even stream it to a Chromecast.

Per Google, the feature will roll out to everyone over the next 15 days.

Swatch launching smartwatch OS

A Swatch Scuba Playero wrist watch is displayed in a shop in Zurich

Swatch is developing an alternative to watchOS and Android Wear.

The company’s Tissot brand will launch a smartwatch towards the end of next year with the OS built in, per Swatch CEO Nick Hayek. Hayek claims that the system will need less power and will better protect data.

“There’s a possibility for wearables to develop as a consumer product, but you have to miniaturize and have an independent operating system.”

-Nick Hayek, Swatch CEO

Swatch is willing to give third parties access to the operating system co-developed with the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, per Hayek. The company has received about 100 requests for more information, with half coming from smaller Silicon Valley companies.

Amazon puts Alexa inside main iPhone app

amazon-ios-app-100713869-large

Available to all iPhone users next week, Amazon iOS app users will be able to talk to the company’s Alexa assistant.

Naturally, the assistant can shop and track packages, but she can also do other quirky things like tell jokes, give weather updates, and predict items like Best Picture at the Academy Awards or the winner of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It also plays music, controls Internet of Things devices, and grants Amazon app users access to over 10,000 skills.

At launch, Alexa won’t support the Door Lock API that lets users lock (and eventually unlock) doors with smart locks.

Settings changes still require use of the separate iOS Alexa app.

Nvidia partners with PACCAR on self-driving truck tech

Paccar

Nvidia has launched a new autonomous vehicle partnership with PACCAR, one of the largest makers of transport trucks.

The arrangement has already given us one proof-of-concept vehicle, a Level 4 autonomous truck that uses Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 platform with neural network training fed by data of humans driving tractor-trailers. The partnership’s announcement included a showcase of this initial vehicle managing a closed road course, with no one behind the wheel.

 

TechSummit Rewind 160

Intel buying Mobileye for $15.3B, Yahoo CEO Mayer to get $23M in severance, & Pandora Premium prepares for launch

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

Intel buying Mobileye for $15.3B

mobileye

Intel is buying Israeli computer vision company Mobileye for $15.3 billion, per Mobileye.

Intel is offering $63.54/share in cash for the company.

“This acquisition is a great step forward for our shareholders, the automotive industry, and consumers. Intel provides critical foundational technologies for autonomous driving, including plotting the car’s path and making real-time driving decisions. Mobileye brings the industry’s best automotive-grade computer vision and strong momentum with automakers and suppliers. Together, we can accelerate the future of autonomous driving with improved performance in a cloud-to-car solution at a lower cost for automakers.”

-Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO

The new unit will include Mobileye and Intel’s Automated Driving Group and will be headed by Mobileye co-founder and CTO Amnon Shashua from Israel. The transaction is expected to close within the next nine months.

“By pooling together our infrastructure and resources, we can enhance and accelerate our combined know-how in the areas of mapping, virtual driving, simulators, development tool chains, hardware, data centers and high-performance computing platforms. Together, we will provide an attractive value proposition for the automotive industry.”

-Ziv Aviram, Mobileye co-founder and CEO

Yahoo CEO Mayer to get $23M severance package after Verizon deal closes

marissa-mayer_29

Marissa Mayer, who is set to lose her job as Yahoo’s CEO after the closing of Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo’s operating businesses, will get a golden parachute package worth around $23 million, per a Yahoo regulatory filing.

Per the company, former IAC CFO Thomas McInerney will take over as CEO of the company after the Verizon deal closing, which is expected sometime in Q2. At that point, the company will change its name to Altaba Inc., with its major assets including its shares of Alibaba.

In addition, CFO Ken Goldman will be replaced by Yahoo VP and global controller Alexi Wellman.

When she’s terminated as CEO, Mayer will receive $3 million in cash, $20 million in equity, and $25,000 in medical-coverage benefits, per a Yahoo SEC filing.

Under their severance agreements, chief revenue officer Lisa Utzschneider would receive $16.5 million (including $14.7 million in equity) and Goldman would receive $9.5 million (including $7.8 million in equity).

Pandora Premium’s ready for prime time

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Just three months after announcing its plans, Pandora is ready to launch its full-fledged Premium on-demand music service.

For the most part, it’s everything you’d expect it to be: a $10/month subscription with millions of songs that you can listen to and save offline whenever you want. There are workout and driving mixes and – naturally – a  radio feature. However, Pandora has added a slew of personalization features and a simple experience that can be more approachable than Apple Music and Spotify.

“Today it’s just 30 million songs in a search box, essentially. I think that can be appealing to a small segment of the population, but for most people that’s just overwhelming; it’s hard work.”

-Tim Westergren, Pandora CEO

The first thing you’ll notice in Pandora Premium is that it takes less clicks to start playing music compared to Apple Music and Spotify. The app launches into My Music, which features a carousel of recently played albums and stations that can be played with one tap (that command requires multiple taps on Apple Music and Spotify).

Below the carousel is a list of all your saved music, sorted in reverse chronological order. You can also sort between album, artist, and song lists if you want, but the option’s hidden in a drop-down menu.

Simplicity is a key focus on Premium, with huge influence coming from Rdio, whose assets were purchased by Pandora just over 15 months ago. There’s big album artwork and a minimalistic look with clean, white lines that combine to form an intuitive design that will make it easy for new and current Pandora users to pick up quickly.

Pandora is also handling its catalog differently than other streaming services. While it has access to the same over 40 million song catalog as Apple Music and Spotify, it is curating the catalog to get rid of karaoke, tributes, and duplicate tracks to help improve search.

However, there are also a few quirks to get used to. Pandora Premium doesn’t have pre-generated playlists, instead relying heavily on its radio stations without restrictions.

To fix the inevitable issue of creating playlists from radio stations with four or fly songs, Premium introduces an “add similar songs” feature that will add three to seven songs to your playlist at the click of a button. The algorithm will determine a handful of songs you’d enjoy based on the current content of your playlist.

Pandora has taken the musical analysis and data science that powers its radio stations and used it to cluster songs that work well together and combine with your musical taste to offer a small collection of songs every time you tap the magic wand.

“Sequencing is such an important part. It’s not just grabbing the right music to put into a playlist for you, it’s also organizing it and sequencing it so it flows. Those are really important qualities when you want to have a listening experience that just works. Just grabbing a bunch of recommendations of songs and throwing it in front of you still requires you as the user to do work. Our whole aim was to do it for you.”

-Chris Phillips, Pandora chief product officer

The best part is that it learns your preferences as you keep or remove the songs it adds.

“If you delete all four [recommendations] but leave one in there, that’s a pretty strong signal that you like that one song. There’s a lot of really delicate constant learning going on around how you feel about those recommendations. If you delete it, we will learn right away.”

-Chris Phillips

Other features aimed at novices include a toggle to hide explicit music on radio stations and in search, a New Music section tailored to your tastes, Ticketfly integration for buying tickets to your favorite acts, and a My Thumbs Up playlist that includes every song you’ve ever liked.

However, gaps remain. There’s no way to edit the “up next” queue. There won’t be a desktop or iPad app at launch (a web app is in the pipeline). Echo support is coming, but it’s not there yet.

“We’re really going to be just maniacally focused on what really enhances the experience for everything. There will be power user capabilities. Will video appear on Pandora? That’s been on our list for a long time. But it’s more about what are the right things to do next and in what order, to make the product better and keep it simple. That’s our guiding philosophy.”

-Tim Westergren

The company hopes to become the very best – like no one ever was – with around 6-9 million Premium subscribers by the end of the year.

“We have very grand ambitions for what this can be. If we look around at the space right now, we just don’t think that there’s a product that’s done it right. No one has solved the ease of use and personalization part of the on-demand world. I don’t think there’s really a true premium product out there yet… we think we’re bringing something really different here.”

-Tim Westergren

Pandora has opted for a staggered rollout plan for Premium on iOS and Android. Existing Pandora free can test out Premium free for two months, with invites to the trial beginning to roll out tomorrow (Mar. 15). Pandora Plus users can try out Premium free for six months. Non-Pandora users can have access to the two-month free trial by signing up here, with invitations rolling out in mid-April.

Facebook tells developers not to use data for surveillance

Facebook_Logo

In response to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice, Facebook announced that it will clarify its developer policy to explicitly prohibit the use of Facebook or Instagram data in surveillance tools.

The ACLU has revealed several instances of developers using information gleaned from Facebook’s APIs to create surveillance tools for law enforcement, and each time, Facebook has decided to revoke access to its data.

Facebook has contended that this kind of surveillance is already against its policies, but its policy was revamped today to state that developers can’t “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.”

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit. Over the past several months we have taken enforcement action against developers who created and marketed tools meant for surveillance, in violation of our existing policies; we want to be sure everyone understands the underlying policy and how to comply.”

-Rob Sherman, Facebook deputy chief privacy officer

Facebook has cut ties with a few developers that make surveillance tools, and has worked with several others to bring their apps into compliance with the policy.

“We commend Facebook and Instagram for this step and call on all companies who claim to value diversity and justice to also stand up and do what’s needed to limit invasive social media surveillance from being used to target black and brown people in low-income communities.”

-Brandi Collins, Color of Change campaign director

However, just because Facebook says surveillance is banned doesn’t mean that developers will listen.

According to the ACLU, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice, the next step is for Facebook to proactively enforce the policy, something Facebook argues it is already doing.

“Facebook and Instagram should institute both human and technical auditing mechanisms designed to effectively identify potential violations of company policies, both by developers and their end users, and take swift action for violations.”

-The coalition, in a letter to Facebook

Google’s Area 120 startup incubator reveals Uptime video sharing app

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Google’s Area 120 startup incubator has released Uptime, a group video messaging app that lets you watch and share videos with your friend.

As of now, Uptime is only available for iPhone as an invite-only app. Once you log in with your Google account, you’re greeted with an introductory video explaining how everything works. You watch a video, and your profile picture travels along a progress bar that wraps around the screen. If there are other people watching, their icons will also travel along. You can also react to what you’re seeing on screen by typing comments or touching the screen in real time.

However, there are some limits. There’s no way to record video or to stream live: you can only share YouTube clips. The app is also best oriented for portrait-recorded videos, rather than landscape. You can watch and comment on something like a movie trailer, but if you rotate your phone 90 degrees, it won’t let you type text or add reactions.

There’s also no readily apparent way to search for specific people, and the Find Friends button only lets you invite new people to the platform.

Vertu sells for $61M to exiled Turkish businessman

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British luxury phone maker Vertu has been bought for the first time since Nokia spun it off in 2012. According to the Telegraph, the company’s been purchase for $61 million by an investment vehicle funded by Turkish exile Hakan Uzan.

“Vertu is a powerful brand with an acknowledged market niche. I look forward to working with the team and providing the investment to enable Vertu to realize its full potential.”

-Hakan Uzan, Vertu owner

 

Two new Dave Chappelle comedy specials coming to Netflix Mar. 21

The specials come from Chappelle’s personal vault

Comedian Dave Chappelle is returning to his comedic craft with two new specials that will come to Netflix on Mar. 21.

The specials come from Chappelle’s personal vault: Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin filmed in Los Angeles’ The Palladium in March 2016 and Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas filmed at Austin City Limits Live at Austin’s Moody Theater. Both specials will premiere on the aforementioned day exclusively on Netflix.

“Within each of the two hour-long specials, self-financed by Chappelle and directed by Stan Lathan, the Emmy-nominated comedian brings his unflinching comedic style, tackling race, class, politics, pop culture, and more.”

-Netflix, in an email

Source: TechnoBuffalo

TechSummit Rewind 159: Sony at MWC 2017

Sony hopes to shake off a lackluster 2016 with three new smartphones

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focusing on Sony at MWC 2017.

Xperia XZ Premium

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Sony hopes to bounce back from a lackluster 2016 with the introduction of the 5.5-inch Xperia XZ Premium with a number of world firsts.

The XZ Premium has the world’s first 4K HDR (2160×3840) display in a smartphone.

Besides the display, the phone also has the new Motion Eye camera system. Sony has embedded fast memory right into the camera stack, allowing it to produce super-slow motion of 960fps at 720p resolution. The rapid burst only lasts for 0.18 seconds however, so you’re technically only capturing something closer to 180 frames.

The addition of the extra memory also helps Sony start buffering shots as soon as the camera detects motion in the frame – so that there’s absolutely no lag when you press the shutter button, the camera just pulls the image it was already taking at that moment. This is the sort of system that’ll rely on good autofocus, and Sony is bringing back the triple-sensor system from the Xperia XZ: there’s laser AF, an RGBC infrared sensor for adjusting white balance on the fly, and an updated ExmorRS image sensor. The latter now has 19 percent larger pixels, stepping its resolution down to 19 megapixels. Sony’s Bionz image processing engine has also been updated with better motion detection and noise reduction.

Both colors (luminous chrome or deepsea black) are fingerprint magnets with Gorilla Glass 5 layered around the front and back, with metal antennas at the top and bottom of the device.

In terms of specs, Sony touts the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and won’t launch until the late spring or early summer because of it.

Other notable features include IP65 and IP68 water resistance, a thinner 7.9mm profile, and microSD card support. The phone’s battery is reasonable at 3,230mAh, and there’s the usual fingerprint sensor baked into the side-mounted power button.

Mid-range Xperias

Sony also unveiled three mid-range phones. The first and most interesting is the Xperia XZs, which features the exact same Motion Eye camera system as the XZ Premium.

However, the screen is bumped down to a 5.2-inch 1080p screen (with 2.5D curved glass running over the top). Instead of glass on both sides, the XZs has a metal back that saves you from the fingerprints and smudges on the XZ Premium.

It’s outfitted with a Snapdragon 820, and other Sony signatures like water resistance. The XZs will launch beginning in April.

Rounding out the lineup are the Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra. Both are powered by Mediatek Helio P20 processors and feature edge-to-edge displays (with sizable top and bottom bezels). The XA1 has a five-inch 720p screen, while the Ultra has a six-inch 1080p display. Both devices have a 23-megapixel f/2 rear camera lens, with differing selfie cameras. The XA1 has an 8-megapixel front camera, while the Ultra increases that to 16 megapixels and adds optical image stabilization for vloggers.

Both phones include Xperia Actions, a new software feature that Sony claims can learn user habits and automatically manage apps accordingly.

“When you go to bed, your Xperia can learn your bedtime routine and automatically adjust the screen brightness and call volume.”

-Sony, in a press release

The XA1 and XA1 Ultra will launch this spring in white, black, pink, and gold.

TechSummit Rewind 158: Samsung at MWC 2017

Samsung shows off productivity-minded tablets, a Gear VR update, and teases its next flagship smartphone

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focusing on Samsung at MWC 2017.

Galaxy Book

Samsung Galaxy Book

Samsung has launched two new tablets that feature more improvements on the productivity tablet genre.

The new Galaxy Book 10 and Galaxy Book 12 both run Windows 10 and come with a S Pen and keyboard case. They both have slim, aluminum designs and will be available in both WiFi and LTE models. The Book 10 has a 10.6-inch 1920×1080 LCD display and an Intel Core m3 processor, while the higher-end Book 12 is equipped with a 12-inch Super AMOLED HDR display and Intel’s fanless Core i5 processor.

Both tablets have two USB Type-C ports, up to 10 hours of battery life, and fast charging features.

The keyboard case has been improved from last year’s Galaxy TabPro S with improved key travel, island-style keycaps, and backlighting. The trackpad is also 50 percent larger than the one included with the TabPro S.

The S Pen supports over 4,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, has a rubber 0.7mm tip, and never needs to be charged. It can be used to take notes, draw, or capture screen shots. Unfortunately, there isn’t a place to put the S Pen when it’s not in use so it can be easily lost.

Galaxy Tab S3

samsung galaxy tab s3

The most mainstream of these productivity-minded tables is the Android-toting Galaxy Tab S3. The 9.7-inch model is a direct substitute for 2015’s Tab S2 and features a similar design with an all-glass back and updated specs.

The 9.7-inch 2048×1536 Super AMOLED display now supports HDR video, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. A microSD card slot also supports memory expansion up to 256GB. The tablet now has four AKG-tuned speakers and measures 6mm in thickness. Android 7.0 Nougat with Samsung tweaks provides the software experience.

Included in the box is Samsung’s signature S Pen, which is larger and thicker than the S Pens on prior iterations. It has a new 0.7mm tip and over 4,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, and supports all the features you’d expect: taking notes, capturing screen shots, and even recording GIFs from video.

However, there’s no place to actually put the S Pen like the Note line. Fortunately, the S Pen is flat on two sides, so it won’t easily roll away.

Further bolstering the productivity-minded approach ie s the optional keyboard case that attaches to the bottom of the tablet with a pogo pin. Because of this, it doesn’t need to pair to the tablet or be charged. The keyboard is made of plastic and doesn’t provide backlighting.

Gear VR controller

samsung-gear-vr-with-controller

Samsung’s Gear VR virtual reality headset has been refreshed with a physical controller accessory that provides “quicker selection and interaction,” according to Samsung. It still has a 101-degree field of view, but it’s emphasized by the Oculus-designed controller made for one-handed use, and features a touchpad for in-app gestures and a trigger that lets you “select, grab, take aim, and fire.”

According to Oculus, over 70 titles optimized for the new Gear VR controller are in development, and all existing content should also work fine since the accessory is essentially a souped-up version of the touchpad built into the headset. The one hardware difference for the headset is a strap that can hold the controller when you’re not using VR.

Galaxy S8 event

Usually, I’d be leading this recap with the Galaxy S8. However, the Galaxy Note 7 debacle has forced Samsung to rethink its approach and regain consumers’ trust. However, Samsung did close out its keynote by announcing its next one that’ll announce the Galaxy S8 on Mar. 29 in New York.

We’ll have full coverage of that event when it comes.

TechSummit Rewind 157: Huawei at MWC 2017

Huawei iterates with P10 smartphones, Watch 2 smartwatches

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focused on Huawei’s MWC 2017 press conference.

P10, P10 Plus smartphones

huawei-p10-full-color-range-768x256

Huawei iterated on last year’s P9 with the P10 with a couple of extra tricks.

Like last year, the P10 comes with either a 5.1-inch 1080p display or the Plus model with a 5.5-inch WQHD display. Huawei’s Kirin 960 processor powers both with its EMUI 5.1 software on top of Android. However, the larger model has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage compared to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on the regular P10. Both phones support microSD cards and have large batteries: 3,200mAh on the P10 and 3,750mAh on the P10 Plus.

The Leica-branded dual camera system returns, with the P10 Plus benefitting from better lenses that give it a wider f/1.8 aperture than the P10’s f/2.2. There’s a 20- megapixel monochrome sensor for capturing sharper detail and more light and a 12-megapixel colored one for filling in the colors. There’s also a Portrait Mode that pretty much is a carbon copy of the iPhone 7 Plus’ feature of the same name.

Leica branding is migrating to the front camera as well this year with double the brightness and extended dynamic range. There’s also an “adaptive selfie” feature built in that directs whether you’re taking a selfie with one or many people and will automatically adjust the angle to match.

The P10 has the same curved discreet antenna lines as the iPhone with a similar look and feel. However, Huawei has a smorgasbord of colors (blue, graphite black, dazzling gold, rose gold, green, white, silver, and prestige gold) and a “hyper diamond cut” textured finish at its disposal to differentiate from the fruit-flavored phone. The latter is only available in blue and gold.

The new home button on the P10 shifts the fingerprint reader up front that takes in swipes and taps as an alternative for the Android control keys: One tap is back, a long press is home, and a swipe brings up your recent apps.

On the software front, Huawei has custom themes to match all eight exterior colors for the P10 and P10 Plus. However, the machine learning being used to accelerate apps is more intriguing. The company’s “behavior-based compression mechanism” will intelligently compress apps you don’t use very often, and the kernel has been modified to let the operating system recycle the phone’s memory faster.

The touch controller driver on the P10 is also faster, using predictive fingerprint tracking to convey a sense of snappier response to swipes around the screens.

The P10 and P10 Plus will begin shipping in March across Europe, Malaysia, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. The P10 will be priced at €649 ($685), with the Pro starting at €699 ($738).

Huawei Watch 2

huawei-watch-2

Huawei was a significant partner for the launch of Android Wear, and it’s shaping up to do the same for Android Wear 2.0 with two new, sportier models.

The Huawei Watch 2 and the Huawei Watch 2 Classic are loaded with connectivity and new features, including LTE (on the Watch 2), GPS, heart rate sensors, and NFC for Android Pay. Their designs are much chunkier compared to the first Huawei Watch, and are significantly thicker and bulkier, despite having a slightly smaller 1.2-inch screen compared to the predecessor’s 1.4-inch screen. They measure about 12.6mm thick, which is about two millimeters thicker than the prior version.

Both versions have two buttons and include microphones and speakers. According to Huawei, the 420mAh batteries inside both devices provide up to two days of battery life (double the first generation’s lifespan), and a new, low-power “watch mode” allows the watches to last up to 25 days with functionality reduced to just telling the time and counting steps.

The Watch 2 is made of plastic to support LTE (a WiFi-only model will also be offered), while the Watch 2 Classic has a metal chassis. Both versions have interchangeable straps, and the Classic model has a unique “hybrid strap” that has a leather top and rubber underneath to protect against sweat damage. Both watches are rated for IP68 water resistance.

The new heart rate sensor will continuously track heart rates, and both watches come loaded with Huawei’s Fit program that personalizes a training program based on goals and prior performance.

Both watches are distinctly masculine, but Huawei will keep its female-focused Watch Elegant and Watch Jewel from last year available for now.

A Porsche-designed version of the Watch 2 is also coming with a Porsche Design logo and special watch face.

According to the company, the Watch 2 will launch in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, and China in March. In April, it’ll come to the U.S., U.K., Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, the Nordics, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, South Africa, Poland, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and UAE and Malaysia will see it starting in May. Pricing will begin at €329 ($347) depending on features and model.

 

LG goes “back to basics” with G6

LG has launched the G6 flagship highlighted by its display and wide angle cameras.

LG has launched the G6 flagship highlighted by its display and wide angle cameras. In essence, it’s a “back to basics approach to premium smartphones,” according to the company, after the missteps taken by the G5.

“LG will continue to lead smartphone innovation with a focus on convenience and reliability in order to exceed consumer expectations.”

-Juno Cho, LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company president

There’s a 5.7-inch QHD+ FullVision display (2880×1440) that features an 18:9 aspect ratio.

Sculpted from aluminum and glass, the smartphone features a minimalist design that comes in black, platinum, and white. The metal has a soft matte finish, rounded corners, and a flat back with no camera bump.

The G6 is the first smartphone to support the Dolby Vision and HDR 10 High Dynamic Range standards for a “wider range of color,” according to LG.

The company is offering the G6 Game Collection that provides up to $200 of in-game content for Temple Run 2, Spider-Man Unlimited, Crossy Road, SimCity BuildIt, Cookie Jam, and Genies & Gems on Google Play.

The smartphone has dual 13MP rear cameras, including a 125-degree wide angle lens and a 100-degree field of view on the 5MP front camera.

There’s a new Square Camera mode that shows recent photos in one window in film mode so users can review photos without having to resort to the gallery, and a Square Camera feature that divides the screen into two identical squares. The G6 can also take perfectly square photos in 1:1 aspect ratio, ideal for social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Users can also choose other ratios like 4:3, 16:9, and 18:9. You can also take pictures in 1:1 ratio in one window and then review, edit, and upload in another window immediately after shooting. GIFs can also be created by combining up to 100 images from the gallery.

The smartphone is rated for IP68 water and dust resistance that makes it safe to be immersed in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

Here’s the rest of the spec sheet:

  • Memory: 4GB RAM, 32/64GB of storage, microSD
  • 3,300mAh battery
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • Dimensions: 9 x 71.9 x 7.9mm, 163g

Source: LG

BlackBerry KeyOne brings back the physical keyboard

The enterprise-friendly smartphone has a physical QWERTY keyboard and dumps BlackBerry’s DTEK software on top of Android 7.1 Nougat.

TCL, the new manufacturer of BlackBerry’s hardware, has launched the KEYone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The enterprise-friendly smartphone has a physical QWERTY keyboard and dumps BlackBerry’s DTEK software on top of Android 7.1 Nougat. This adds access to features like BlackBerry Hub, BBM, and other apps aimed at the enterprise.

The keyboard serves as a touch-sensitive control pad for adjusting the cursor in long emails and text documents. All 52 letter keys can also be programmed to launch specific apps when you tap or long-press them (F for Facebook, U for Uber, I for Instagram, etc.). Above those keys is a 4.5-inch 1080p display powered by a 3505mAh battery and a Snapdragon 625 processor, which can be topped up with the “Boost” fast charging feature.

The KEYone will launch in April for $549 (£499/€599) through various retailers worldwide and carriers in a business-friendly black.

Here’s some other specs:

  • 8MP front camera
  • 12MP auto-focus “large pixel” rear camera

Source: BlackBerry