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 136

Dell launches a 2-in-1 XPS 13, French workers win the right to ignore email after hours, Twitter’s China head leaves the company, and more

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

Dell launches XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop

dell-xps-13-2-in-1

Dell has officially introduced a new 2-in-1 version of its highly regarded XPS 13 laptop ahead of CES.

The machine features a 7th generation Kaby Lake Intle Core i5/i7 chip, Intel HD Graphics 615 integrated GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 128GB-1TB SSD, a 720p webcam on the bottom of the display with Windows Hello support, a fingerprint scanner, a 46 watt-hour battery, and a 13.3-inch QHD+ or FHD touchscreen.

Keeping with the XPS style, that display is framed by a thin bezel. The fanless PC offers an SD card slot and two USB-C ports, along with a USB-A to USB-C adapter.

The laptop is thinner than Dell’s 2016 XPS, measuring up at 0.54 inch at its thickest point. The keyboard hasn’t been squished down however with just 0.1mm more keyboard travel on the prior XPS laptop in its 2.7-pound body.

The convertible is available starting at $1000 on Jan. 5.

French workers win right to ignore work emails after hours

French workers have been granted the “right to disconnect” thanks to a new law passed Sunday.

According to Agence France-Presse, the right demands that all business with more than 50 employees negotiate new rules of online engagement with their workers.

Twitter’s China head leaves company

Twitter HQ

Kathy Chen, Twitter’s managing director in Greater China, has left the company after eight months.

Facebook, Google dominate 2016’s top apps

apps

Apps from Facebook and Google dominated a list of 2016’s top apps released by Nielsen.

Facebook grabbed the number one spot on the list with over 146 million unique users per month and 14 percent growth compared to last year. Facebook’s Messenger (#2) and Instagram (#8) also placed within the top 10. The photocentric social app showed some of the highest year-over-year growth, up 36 percent from 2015.

Messenger had over 129 million average unique monthly users.

However, Google grabbed the most spots on the year-end chart with YouTube (#3), Google Maps (#4), Google Search (#5), Google Play (#6), and Gmail (#7) also ranked within the top 10.

Notably Amazon surged in 2016. According to Nielsen, Amazon’s mobile app saw a 43 percent increase in monthly average uniques compared to 2015.

 

TechSummit Lead #006

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Lead, a daily recap of the technology stories that go beyond the headlines.

  • Hulu is starting a commercial-free tier on its streaming service for $12/month.
  • Qualcomm’s core Kryo CPU in the Snapdragon 820 processor will reach up to 2.2GHz, and the SoC will be manufacturing on Samsung’s 14nm FinFET process.
  • Alibaba has rolled out its Netflix-style TBO subscription video service with a mix of Chinese and foreign movies and U.S. TV shows for $6.10/month ($57.30/year).
  • Google Drive has been updated with changes across Docs, Sheets, Forms and Mountain View’s Classroom products with teachers. Among the highlight features are dictation for 40 languages in Docs, integrated search in the app’s “Research” tool, the ability to see all new changes to a document since the last time you’re opened it; new templates for Docs, Sheets, and Slides; a refreshed Forms user interface; a new “explore” feature in Sheets to create useful charts automatically out of spreadsheet data; and a Chrome extension that lets teachers share webpages to every student with a few clicks.
  • The Google Maps API has introduced a new pay-as-you-go-model.
  • Acer has announced their R 11 Chromebook, which launches next month for $299, with an 11-inch 1366×768 display, aluminum frame, and an Intel Celeron processor.
  • Acer also introduced the Revo Build Series, which starts as a small core block and then be built upon by adding new bricks on top of it.
  • Google is adding more content, filters, and personalization to the “Explore” feature in Google Maps for Android in the US and UK.
  • YouTube MCN Machinima has settled charges from the Federal Trade Commission that alleged the network “deceived consumers” by not disclosing paid “influencers” to post videos endorsing Microsoft’s Xbox One around the time of the console’s late 2013 launch.
  • Google is now rolling out a new Gmail ad format that sits at the top of a user’s inbox to all advertisers.
  • Rapid7 researchers have found a slew of new vulnerabilities in nine modern and widely available baby monitors.

Google won’t face Gmail privacy class action suit

SAN JOSE — Google won a significant legal victory on Tuesday as a U.S. judge decided not to combine several lawsuits that accused the Internet search company of violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of email users into a single class action.

In a decision presented on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said the claims, including those on behalf of users of Google’s Gmail service, were too dissimilar to be grouped together. She also said the plaintiffs cannot pursue their broad-based class action again.

A class action could have exposed Google to billions of dollars of potential damages and added pressure on the Mountain View, California-based company to settle.

Instead, Gmail users might not be forced to sue individually or in small groups, lowering recoveries and boosting costs.

The case has been closely watched for guidance on how technology companies that provide email services might collect data used to target advertising, and perhaps boost revenue and profitability.

Sean Rommel and Jerome Tapley, lawyers that are representing the plaintiffs, did not respond Wednesday to the decision.

Gmail users accused Google of violating federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws by scanning their messages so it could compile secret account profiles and target advertising.

Claims were also raised on behalf of students at schools that use Gmail, and people who do not use Gmail but communicate by email with people who use the service.

The lawsuit sought damages of $100 per day for each email user whose privacy was violated.

Google has said that the service simply looks for keywords that can lead to the tailored advertisements.

Matt Kallman, a Google spokesperson:

“We’re glad the court agreed that we have been upfront about Gmail’s automated processing.”

Source: Reuters

 

Weekly App Review #5: Todoist

Todoist is an  to-do app that I use on a daily basis to plan out and schedule posts for publication on the sites that I write for. Before I continue with this review, here’s some background on me when it comes to to-do apps. I’ve used everything from Any.do to Wunderlist to Trello but they all lack something that I just can’t put a finger on it. That’s when I found Todoist.

Todoist is a clean, minimal application that has apps for twelve different platforms. Whether it’s my web browser (Chrome, Firefox, todoist.com), mobile device (Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8) desktop (Windows, Mac) or email client (Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird); I have access to my to-dos.

Creating tasks is as easy as typing the name of the task and when it’s due in plain English. For example, if I wanted to create a task in Todoist, I could say “walk the dog today at 8am” and it’ll create the task.

Of course, you’re not productive without some motivation. Todoist makes completing tasks into a game with its ‘Karma’ feature. Basically, Todoist Karma tracks and visualizes your productivity by monitoring it and calculating your karma points. As you earn more points, you reach higher karma levels.

Your karma will increase by adding and completing tasks regularly, completing tasks before they become overdue, using advanced features (more on those in a second) and using Todoist’s Support and Vote sections.  Your karma decreases by postponing tasks and having tasks that are more than four days overdue.

Now, on to those advanced features I mentioned earlier. Labels are used in Todoist to indicate contexts for your tasks, which enables sorting and list generation. Back to that dog-walking example I used before, I could add a label saying that it’s for my family. Recurring deadlines are for entries that you want to occur at a certain time over a certain length of time. An example would be to say to “walk the dog every day at 8am”. Then, once I complete the task for today, it’ll automatically roll over to tomorrow.

Overall, Todoist is an amazing app and I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone that’s looking for a way to manage their to-dos.

Google adding quick action buttons, real-time flight status to Gmail

Responding to an invitation or checking in for a flight soon won’t require any typing at all, assuming you’re using Gmail to manage your inbox. When the situation calls for it, new quick action buttons will pop up in an email, letting you accomplish simple tasks without reaching for the keyboard. For event RSVPs, you can even mark your attendance from the main inbox view — a preview with all the key details will pop up, letting you respond with a simple Yes, Maybe or No. On the air travel front, flight confirmation emails will now display your flight status in real time, along with a check-in box, which will boot you directly over to the carrier’s site. As you’ve probably guessed, Google will be rolling out these new features gradually, so if they haven’t already appeared in your browser, you’re certainly not alone.

[Source: Engadget]

Google Wallet will soon let you send payments as a Gmail attachment

Sending money with Google Wallet wasn’t a tremendously difficult affair before today, but Mountain View’s now discovered a clever new way to part you from your cash. “Over the coming months,” the company will roll out a new payments feature within Gmail, letting you attach money just as you would an image or document. After clicking the new “$” symbol within the composer, you’ll type in an amount and select the source of your funds. Then hit Attach, click send, and say goodbye to your Greenbacks. It’s that simple. You can probably get a solid feel for how this works just from looking at the image above, but given the onslaught of announcements from Google I/O, we’ll forgive you for needing a more comprehensive explanation. Goog’s got your back, too — there’s a demo video waiting below.

[Source: Engadget]

Google shows off Auto Enhance and Highlights photo-editing tools for Google+ (video)

Hot on the heels of folding photo storage in with Gmail and Google+, Google is showing off two photo-editing tools for G+ called Auto Enhance and Highlights. Starting with Auto Enhance, this is clearly the fruit of Google’s eight-month-old Snapseed acquisition: with this feature you can do things like adjust for exposure, soften skin, minimize wrinkles, remove red-eye and reduce noise in low-light shots. Additionally, there’s a bunch in low-noise shots. Additionally, there’s a bunch of so-called auto-awesome tools: collage, HDR, panorama and smile. A fifth auto-awesome feature, ‘Motion,’ creates GIFs when it detects a series of shots taken at the same place and time. And don’t worry: you can easily switch back to the untouched original, so there’s no need to worry about giving Google too much control.

Highlights, meanwhile, takes the sting out of album creation by automatically selecting your best photos and setting aside your not-so-good ones. This means pruning for duplicates and blurry shots, while favoring ones with smiling faces and accurate exposure. Both features are rolling out to Google+ now, so fire up your browser if you feel like giving them a try. Oh, and while you can upload up to 15GB of full-size photos (per that new storage policy), downsized pics don’t count toward that storage limit, so long as they’re smaller than 2,048 pixels.

Google’s posted a video overview of the new photo features, which we’ve embedded below.

[Source: Engadget]