Technology

T-Mobile puts 5GB cap on high-speed data in Canada and Mexico

T-Mobile has been a tempting option for travelers, and for good reason: if you’ve traveled to Canada or Mexico, you’ve had as much LTE data as you wanted without fear of returning to a giant phone bill. Unfortunately, the party’s over. T-Mobile has revealed that, as of November 12th, it will cap the no-extra-charge LTE data to a maximum of 5GB per month while you’re visiting the US’ neighbors. You won’t run into overages (this is T-Mobile), but you’ll have to make do with speeds as low as 128Kbps if you go over your high-speed allotment. One subscribers can tack on unlimited LTE by adding One Plus International, but that’s another $25 per month on top of the base plan.

Also, you may have less data to play with if you aren’t subscribed to an unlimited plan. A customer with a 6GB limit will only have 4GB to use abroad if they’ve already burned through 2GB, for instance. Also, those with capped plans can no longer use their Data Stash while in Canada or Mexico (though any unused data will carry over).

It’s not shocking that T-Mobile would do this. The network still has to pay roaming costs, and it’s probably dreading the bill from your Netflix marathon in Vancouver. All the same, this does limit T-Mobile’s appeal to jetsetters. While 5GB is a healthy amount for a short trip, it’s still going to change your behavior — you may end up using hotel WiFi when you can instead of relying solely on cellular data.

Advertisements

Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

When it comes down to it, the Pixel 2 XL is good. It really is, and really does look like an evolutionary step compared to last year’s model. One of the most notable design changes with the new Pixel 2 XL is that Google has opted for a bezel-less display. Arguably this is not quite as bezel-less as some devices from other manufacturers, but is still enough and certainly when compared to the rather thick top and bottom potions included with last year’s model. Adding to that is the inclusion of an 18:9 aspect ratio which has quickly become one of the go-to features for smartphone manufacturers this year and it is good to see Google keeping up with its contemporaries on design – something the company has been criticized on when it comes to the Pixel and Nexus lines in general.

Speaking of which, another good point with the Pixel 2 line is that they now come with some OTT features. Most manufacturers are now looking for ways in which they can distinguish their smartphones from the rest of the pack and up until now, whether it be Pixel or Nexus, Google-affiliated phones have been a little lacking when it comes to additional features and functionality. Yes, you get the latest version of Android and everything that comes with it (although that also rolls out to most other flagships in due course), but in general, Pixel and Nexus phones have been a little too stock when it comes to additional features. That has now changed however as in addition to the already mentioned 18:9 aspect ratio on offer with the 2 XL, both models also feature Active Edge. While this is not exactly a new new feature (HTC U11), it is still one that you won’t find on (most) other phones and one that not only adds to the software experience on offer, but also the value associated with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.

Continuing with the experience, and the original Pixel and Pixel XL phones were all about the camera and while it may be a little early to return a verdict on the cameras on these latest models, the early indications is that the camera experience is second to none. This is something that already seems evident based on the announced DxOMark scoring as the Pixel 2 has seemingly crushed the competition, and by a wide margin. Something which is even more impressive when you consider the Pixel 2 and 2 XL only makes use of one rear camera – compared to the likes of the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (the nearest rivals on DxOMark) who employ the help of dual rear cameras – offering consumers a dual camera experience without actually providing the dual rear cameras. So it is clear that Google has placed a good deal of focus this year on the software experience and this is without even taking into consideration the likes of Google Lens (debuting on the two Pixel 2s), the advancements of Google Assistant, the various other Pixel-specific launcher tweaks, free full quality photo back ups, and of course, three year’s worth of OS updates. All selling points in their own right, and all ones which further highlight the user experience.

Last but not least, another very good thing is that even though there are two models available, beneath the surface they are almost identical. This was the case last year and it is good to see Google continuing that approach this year. As regardless of which model you opt for (and barring the likes of screen size, resolution, and battery capacity), the experience on offer should be very much the same. Meaning the only real decision is which device size is better suited to your needs. Are you more of a 5-inch or a 6-inch person?

The Bad

One of the good points already noted is that there are two models with one of them adopting a premium stance, however, this is also one of the bad aspects. As while Google is offering consumers a choice of size, they are also by default forcing that choice to be about the quality of the display in general. One of the best aspects of the two new Pixels is that underneath they offer a same experience, however the same cannot be said for the exterior. Not only is the Pixel 2 XL better on paper, but it looks better – and again, by some margin.

While the Pixel 2 XL comes with all the 2017 trending display features, the standard Pixel 2 looks like it uses the exact same shell as the original Pixel smartphone. Yes, the sides of the device now include Active Edge functionality and the back of the device looks the same as the 2 XL, but the front of the device not only looks like the original model, but looks far too dated. This means that those who prefer a smaller phone are forced to compensate by having a dated looking phone. If anything, it could be argued that of the two new devices, if only one of them was going to feature a larger display within a smaller body, then it should have been the smaller phone. As not only are Pixel 2 buyers getting a smaller 5-inch display, but they are having to make use of that display within a body that does not differ in size as much as you might expect. For example, the 6-inch display on the Pixel 2 XL results in a device that is 6.2-inches tall and 3-inches wide. By comparison, the significantly smaller 5-inch display on the Pixel 2 is housed within a body that is 5.7-inches tall and 2.7-inches wide. So the sizes of these two phones are far more similar than the display sizes would lead you to believe. And this is before getting into the benefits of the 18:9 aspect ratio, or the fact that the Pixel 2 XL’s display uses a QHD-quality resolution compared to the FHD resolution on offer with the smaller display, but not so smaller body, standard Pixel 2.

So to sum up, while it is not bad that Google is offering two variants of the the new Pixel 2, it is bad that those variants differ more than Google suggested during the Pixel 2 announcement. Yes, underneath they are the same and should offer a similar experience but that is only half of the selling battle. The aesthetics of a smartphone has become a big deal in the last couple of years and phones are now quickly becoming very dated (sometimes in a matter of months) in terms of their looks. Unfortunately for the standard Pixel 2, this one was dated before it even arrived.

The Ugly

What is ugly is the price and certainly if you want the more appealing Pixel 2 XL model. The original Pixel(s) were not exactly cheap when they were released (for example, the original Pixel launched for exactly the same price the Pixel 2 has), but that is not a good thing. The market has changed a lot over the last couple of years (and exponentially over the past 12 months) and now trying to get someone to pay $650 or $850 (as a minimum) for a new smartphone is a hard sell. Yes, some will be happy to pay that for a new device but when you compare what you can now get for half that price (and even a third of the $850) it starts to put the value of the Pixel 2 phones into perspective. With two models on the go it may have been nicer to see Google more aggressively challenge the mid-range price spectrum as well as the high-end, instead of asking an entry-level high-end price and a premium-level high-end price for the two phones. Something which is even more apparent when you consider Google has once again partnered up with Verizon as the ‘exclusive Pixel carrier.’ While in real terms this might not mean that much – as you can buy a Pixel 2 and use it on any network – it does matter if you are not looking to shell out the full cost of the smartphone in one go, and without having to go through Verizon. This is quite likely why Google this year started up a trade-in program while also affording buyers the option to finance the new Pixels. Although even with these additional payment measures and subsidies it is still not great to see such exclusivity at the price point, and especially when companies seem to be turning away from exclusives in general.

While it may be a little too early to say this, another ugly looks likely to be stock. The original Pixel and Pixel XL became notorious for being out of stock last year and while the expectation is that Google has learned from those mistakes, the reality is Google might not have. The two phones have yet to become generally available and signs are already showing up that stock is going to be an issue again this year. At least, with some models. As of right now, the standard Pixel 2 is available to buy in three color options although the ‘Kinda Blue’ version is already listed as out of stock. More worryingly is the Pixel 2 XL, as this model is only available in two color options and at present the ‘Black and White’ model is also out of stock. Adding to that, the 64GB version of the ‘Just Black’ model of the Pixel 2 XL also seems to be continually popping in and out of stock. So in spite of the phone having yet made it to a general sale status (and when keeping in mind that Google is not expected to be selling in the kinda numbers that Apple and Samsung sell in), at present the Pixel 2 XL is only definitely available in Just Black and as a 128GB model – which coincidentally pushes the price up another $100, to $949 before tax – ugly.

Wrap up

The Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL do have a lot going for them, and arguably are two of the best phones you can currently buy. Well, one of them is for sure. However, as is the case with Google in general, where the Pixel 2 and 2 XL may come undone is in their ability to actually end up in the hands of buyers. It is one thing to try and sell a high priced smartphone in 2017, but it is quite another to try and sell a high priced smartphone in 2017 when there is recurring stock issues. And let’s face it, the Pixel phone brand is no longer the debut brand that it was last year – it is now time for Google to start selling in real numbers.

Google’s Home Mini needed a software patch to stop some of them from recording everything

Categorize this under “one of the worst possible PR nightmares for a Google smart speaker.” According to Artem Russakovskii at Android Police, the Google Home Mini he was reviewing was randomly and near-constantly recording sounds in his home and transmitting them to Google. The company acknowledged the problem and is issuing a software update to resolve the issue, which appears to boil down to a failure of the touch sensor on the top.

Smart speakers like the Google Home Mini are designed to only listen for a specific wake word — in this case it’s “Hey Google” or “Ok Google.” Only then do their microphones record what you’re saying it, transmit it to the cloud, and try to answer your question. But there is usually a way to just hit a button and ask the embedded assistant a question. On the Mini, it’s holding your finger down on the top of it.

That seems to be the rub (pardon the pun) with Russakovskii’s Mini: it thought that somebody was holding its finger down on the top and so was randomly activating and recording. The good news is that the lights turned on to indicate it was listening, but the bad news is that it didn’t make an audible tone, so it took a trip through the Home’s search history to discover the error.

To Google’s credit, it seems to have scrambled the engineering jets to figure out the issue and create a fix. The fix, though, is removing a feature from the Mini. Google has altered the software so a simple touch won’t activate the Assistant, you have to say the wake word instead. Here’s Google’s statement about the issue.

“We learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly. We rolled out an update on October 7 to mitigate the issue. If you’re still having issues, please feel free to contact Google Support at 1-855-971-9121 to get a replacement Google Home Mini.”

Google has also posted a help article about the issue, characterizing the affected units as “early release Google Home Mini device at recent Made by Google events” and noting that it won’t affect preordered units sold at retail.

I suppose the “small number” piece is good to hear, assuming it actually is a small number. Even so, it’s a very bad look for Google. People are already leery of speakers listening to them and transmitting info without permission, so the last thing you want is to reenforce that worry. Also, deserved or not, people are doubly worried about the amount of information Google is collecting about them.

Finally, Google apparently wasn’t able to figure out something as seemingly simple as a touchable button under fabric, which doesn’t instill much confidence in its hardware prowess. At least it was fixed before the official release date for the Mini, October 19th.

Windows Phone is now officially dead: A sad tale of what might have been

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/10/windows-phone-is-now-officially-dead-a-sad-tale-of-what-might-have-been/

 

During the weekend, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore tweeted confirmation of something that has been suspected for many months: Microsoft is no longer developing new features or new hardware for Windows Mobile. Existing supported phones will receive bug fixes and security updates, but the platform is essentially now in maintenance mode.

Microsoft’s difficulties in the mobile market are no secret, but for a time the company looked as if it was keeping Windows Mobile as a going concern regardless. Through 2016, Microsoft produced new builds for the Windows Insider program and added new features to Windows Mobile. At around the time of release of the Windows 10 Creators Update in April this year, that development largely ground to a halt. Windows Mobile, which already lacked certain features that were delivered to Windows on the PC, had its development forked. PC Windows development continued on the “Redstone 3” branch (which will culminate in the release of the Fall Creators Update later this month); Windows Mobile languished on a branch named “feature2.”

But in spite of this, until Belfiore’s tweets at the weekend, Microsoft never actually said what its plans for Windows Mobile were or how it would be developed going forward.

We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest. ☹️ https://twitter.com/Jadsonx/status/917070391293693952 

Answering another question on Twitter, Belfiore explained that Microsoft never got over the app incentive hurdle, with a user volume too low to justify the investment from app developers. In late 2017, with the platform all but extinct, that’s not tremendously surprising. Over the last year, sales of Windows Mobile devices collapsed. Two to three years ago, annual sales of Windows Phones numbered in the tens of millions; now, they’re close to zero.

For fans of the platform—and I’m one—the statement… the admission… is just confirmation of what we’ve long suspected but hoped to avoid. The Windows Phone design, with its bold Live Tiles, white-on-black theme, and crisp design, is still the mobile platform that I find most pleasant to use. It’s clean and attractive and thoughtful in a way that the competition just isn’t. We wanted it to succeed because we liked the product.

An inauspicious start

What makes Microsoft’s position particularly disappointing, at least for this writer, is a continued sense that it didn’t have to be this way. In developing Windows Phone and Windows Mobile, Microsoft made a number of fumbles.

The company was too slow to grasp the importance of capacitive screens and finger-first user interfaces. Instead of seeing the iPhone and immediately starting development on Windows Phone, the company first tried to graft some basic finger-friendly interface features to the (old) Windows Mobile—an operating system that remained fundamentally stylus-oriented—with miniature replicas of mouse interfaces.

When Windows Phone 7 hit the market in 2010, it was clear that Redmond did, in fact, know how to put together a high-quality, finger-based user interface and build an operating system around that interface. This initial release held promise, but it was feature poor—it didn’t even have copy and paste at first, in a strange mirroring of the iPhone’s early feature deficits—and perhaps more fundamentally, Microsoft was sticking to its traditional business model of charging hardware companies for software licenses.

On one level, this decision was understandable, because it’s a model that had proven hugely successful for Windows and modestly successful for Windows Mobile in the pre-iPhone era. But on another level, it was clearly a mistake: the head-to-head competition in this market wasn’t iOS (because Apple doesn’t license iOS to third parties) but Google’s Android. And while there were (and are) licensing complexities around the Google Apps and Google Play Store, the core Android operating system was and is zero cost for hardware companies. Anyone can throw some parts into a phone-shaped box and slap Android onto it without paying Google a penny.

Microsoft then subjected users of this nascent platform to a painful transition. Windows Phone 7 was derived from the old Windows Mobile software. Windows Phone 8, released in late 2012, was not; it was a sibling to the desktop Windows operating system using the Windows NT kernel. Strategically, this was the right thing to do. Microsoft unified its Windows development using a common operating system kernel and, increasingly, developer APIs across phones, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, servers, and even the Xbox and HoloLens.

But the move was not without pain. Windows Phone 7 devices couldn’t be upgraded to Windows Phone 8, leaving early adopters with phones that were prematurely end-of-lifed and a bad taste in their mouths. Moreover, the mere work of moving to the common kernel and APIs was such a huge undertaking that it didn’t give Microsoft much time to actually work on features and capabilities. Windows Phone 7 had a feature deficit relative to Android and iOS, and Windows Phone 8, rather than closing this feature deficit, was instead focused on updating and replacing the operating system’s core.

A company that had more immediately recognized both the threat and the opportunity the iPhone represented, as well as the business transformation that Android made inevitable, might well have avoided these problems. Quicker adoption of true touch interfaces, a decision to use a common NT kernel platform from the outset, a move to a store-based revenue model rather than operating system licensing; in hindsight, Microsoft could have made better decisions and made them sooner. Doing so might well have made Windows Phone a more successful platform.

Green shoots of success

In spite of all of this, there was some cause for optimism. The first generation of Windows Phone 8 handsets from Nokia were well received. Nokia had a good selection of phones from the flagship Lumia 920 down to the cheap and cheerful Lumia 520. Strong cameras became something of a Lumia trademark, and Windows Phone-specific design elements—such as a dedicated camera button with half-press autofocus—provided thoughtful differentiation. The enormous Windows Phone 8.1 update added a range of useful features, including a best-in-class swipe-based keyboard.

Nokia Lumia 920
Enlarge / Nokia Lumia 920
Casey Johnston

As much as the platform had struggled since its 2010 launch, the wave of 2012 and 2013 hardware and software releases appeared to put it on a surer footing. At the low end, devices like the Lumia 520 offered a true smartphone experience that Android struggled to match. Comparably priced Android hardware wasn’t as good: the software felt slower; the hardware felt less carefully constructed. And at the high end, the attractive software and high-end cameras were enough to pique interest. Per Kantar Worldpanel, Windows Phone hit a 12-percent market share in the UK in August 2013; 12.9 percent in France in November 2013; 17.1 percent in Italy in December 2013; 10.5 percent in Germany even as late as August 2015. The domestic story was never as good; Windows Phone barely cracked 5 percent in the US, which for an American company was always awkward.

These numbers still left Windows Phone in third place (or, occasionally, second place in markets with particularly weak iPhone penetration). But the trajectory was upwards, with a platform and product mix that was suitable for a wide range of audiences. In September 2013, Microsoft announced plans to buy Nokia’s phone business in a deal that cost $7.1 billion and wouldn’t close until April 2014. The future felt promising: keep the same product mix, keep making the platform better, and Windows Phone looked well positioned to, at the very least, stake out a solid third place and perhaps make a challenge for second place.

Stumble after stumble

But then things faltered. That product mix fell apart. Instead of annual updates to its phones offering incremental improvement—the model proven by, among others, Apple and Samsung—Nokia’s replacements for the Lumia 520 were worse in virtually every regard, and its high-end successor never even made it to market at all. Nokia’s product pipeline was deeply flawed, and the momentum of 2012 and 2013 was squandered.

Compounding this, Microsoft was making a second platform transition. Windows Phone 8 moved to the NT kernel and some shared APIs between phone and desktop; Windows Mobile 10 greatly increased the compatibility between phone and desktop, with Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) representing a common set of APIs for application that spanned both form factors. As before, this was a strategically important move to make, but, as before, it came at a high price: many Windows Phone 8 devices did not receive an official upgrade to Windows Mobile 10, and Windows Mobile 10 did relatively little to improve the actual end-user appeal of the operating system. Instead of a series of Windows Phone 8.1 and 8.2 updates to strengthen gaps and build a better platform for end-users, there was a period of stagnation.

Indeed, some aspects, such as the swipe keyboard, were widely regarded as being worse in Mobile 10 than in Phone 8. Windows Mobile 10 also had strange feature regressions: it didn’t support CDMA networks, so when few flagships were finally released in late 2015, they wouldn’t work on the Verizon or Sprint networks in the US.

Lumia 950
Enlarge / Lumia 950
Peter Bright

As if the hardware and software missteps were not enough, public displays of “no confidence” were the final nail in the coffin of the platform. In July 2015, Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, announced that 7,800 employees, primarily from the company’s hardware division, were to be laid off, while the near-$8 billion value of the Nokia business was to be written down. Sources close to the matter tell us that these layoffs are the reason, for example, for the lack of CDMA support in Windows Mobile 10: the people with the relevant technical expertise were simply let go.

We’ve also heard of consequences beyond that; people within the company have told us that Microsoft’s tardiness at updating the Surface Pro, for example, was fallout of these hardware layoffs. Microsoft didn’t (and perhaps still doesn’t) have enough personnel to develop the Xbox One S, Xbox One X, and Surface Studio and revise the Surface Pro and Surface Book at the same time.

In its stronger markets, Windows Phone just about held steady over 2014 before declining sharply in 2015 and 2016. The lack of desirable hardware, the lack of progress in the software, and the lack of management support meant that, instead of building on the successes of 2012 and 2013, Windows on phones was allowed to die.

We’ve heard from people within the company that a choice had to be made; developing a decent hardware pipeline would have required further investment in the Nokia phone business, perhaps of the order of a billion dollars. The alternative was to not make that investment and scale things back. That’s the decision that was taken, and Belfiore’s tweets over the weekend are the ultimate consequence of that decision.

We might well wonder why Microsoft didn’t say so sooner and instead strung along not only the platform’s fans but even OEM partners; it’s hard to imagine that HP would have built its Elite x3 phone had Microsoft been clearer about mobile.

Even with this announcement, there’s still speculation that Microsoft is going to bring out a new device—something phone-like but not a phone—that’ll compete, somehow, in the mobile space. For all the rumors about a “Surface Phone,” though, it’s unclear precisely what this device would do that is meaningfully different from anything else on the market or if it will be compelling enough to reverse the company’s mobile fortunes. For now, all we can do is mourn: the best mobile platform isn’t under active development any more, and the prospects of new hardware to run it on are slim to non-existent.

As for me, I switched to an iPhone more than a year ago. Every day, I’m struck at how the main user interface is basically that of Windows 3.1’s Program Manager, and iOS 11 has been fantastically unstable for me. I don’t enjoy iOS in the way I enjoyed Windows Phone. But it’s actively developed, and third-party developers love it, and, ultimately, those factors both win out over Windows Mobile’s good looks and comfortable developer platform.

Apple is ‘looking into’ why some iPhone 8 batteries are swelling

https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/6/16437790/iphone-8-swollen-battery-issue-apple-investigating

 

 

Apple seems to have an iPhone 8 battery problem on its hands, and it’s not clear yet whether it’s occurring in just a handful of edge cases or in a larger batch of phones.

Over the past week, reports have been coming out about iPhone 8s that have split apart either on arrival or after several days of use. What appears to be happening is that the battery inside the phone is swelling, bending the front of the phone and separating it from the body of the device. So far, there haven’t been any fires — just ruined phones.

Apple has a short statement on the matter: “We are aware and looking into it.”

The first report came out of Taiwan, where a woman is said to have found her iPhone swollen apart after plugging it in to charge. Someone in Japan then posted photos of a split-apart phone on Twitter. And in the days since, there’ve been cases in China, Canada, and Greece.

There appear to be only six or so reports so far — certainly less than a dozen that have been publicly identified — so the issue seems to be quite small in comparison to the millions of phones that Apple has likely already sold. In any manufacturing run that big, there are going to be occasional issues, so on some level seeing a few broken iPhones is expected.

But after Samsung’s Note 7 fiasco, there’s reason to be concerned about what’s happening here — especially since it’s a battery issue. Batteries shouldn’t be swelling in any number, and it’s not clear what the half-dozen iPhones that are having this problem have in common. While it seems to be rare, there’s obviously good reason to want to know what’s going on.

“[Swelling is] very unusual for a brand-new battery and leads toward the direction of there’s something fundamentally wrong with this battery,” says Sam Jaffe, managing director of Cairn Energy Research Advisors, in a phone call with The Verge. Jaffe, a battery industry analyst, says manufacturers have reached a limit with lithium-ion battery capacity and could end up producing designs with a bigger risk of short circuiting in an attempt to store more power.

For now, he says, it’s too early to know what’s happening with Apple’s phones. “It could be just a random distribution,” he says. “Just a random event, and it’s only a few.”

Jaffe suspects Apple’s executives are “in crisis mode” over the potential damage that battery issues could lead to. But while we’ve seen a few swollen batteries already, he says, it doesn’t mean the problem will necessarily elevate into a Note 7-style crisis with phones starting to produce smoke.

“Swelling is always a precursor when there is a battery fire, but the percentage of actual fires are pretty rare,” Jaffe says. “In the Galaxy Note case, there were probably a couple hundred battery failures of one sort or another, but there were only a handful of fires — so that gives you a sense of the proportion of actual fires.”

5 Reasons To Buy Google’s Pixel 2 XL Over Apple’s iPhone X

Whilst there were few surprises at yesterday’s Pixel 2 launch, thanks to incessant leaks over the last few months, the Search giant did manage to pull one or two rabbits out of its hat.

But are those goodies enough to entice new customers and dismiss the lure of Apple’s new iPhone X? Let’s break down the top-five consumer friendly features you won’t get on an iPhone.

Don’t forget to look out my breakdown for why the iPhone X is the better choice tomorrow. 

Unlimited Google Drive storage for pictures and videos

Earlier this week I opined about how Google needs to extend its free Drive storage for Pixel owners to more than just pictures and videos. That, frustratingly, didn’t happen.

But the continuation of free, unlimited storage for all pictures and videos taken by Pixel owners is obviously welcome. Especially since Apple’s iCould, well, isn’t free (beyond 5GB).

In the field, the very knowledge of having that unlimited space has been freeing, in a sense. Battling with how much storage is left on your phone is a constant, nagging worry that doesn’t need to exist. And sifting through thousands of terrible photos – to see which should be binned – is never something I’m going to do, although I probably will have to at some point. But, for now, I’m happy to kick that can down the road with unlimited free storage and leave that problem to Future Me.

Assistant

During yesterday’s Google presentation I couldn’t help drifting off into a nightmarish daydream (the real kind, not the VR headset) about an AI event horizon. This daydream, backed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, was because we were being taken through Google Assistant’s new ‘features’.

Real-time language translation and object recognition that provides immediate contextual information are almost certainly the harbingers of humanity’s end. But, in the meantime, they’re also quite useful.

Aside from the gimmicks like squeezing the Pixel 2 to launch Assistant, it’s clear there are some genuinely useful everyday functionality built into Assistant. Google showed a good example of this in action: a commuter, getting into their car, and asking Google one question.

Assistant then lists out the best route to take, where they let off on the podcast they were listening to, and lists any unread messages they’ve received. You know, like an actual assistant.

Price

It’s cheaper. $150 cheaper.

Google Lens

This is more of that AI stuff that’s going to kill us all, but hopefully not until after Christmas.

Google Lens will spot a picture and give you search results based on the object it’s pointed at. For example, taking a picture of a dog will tell you what kind of dog it is – and also not to take pictures of other people’s dogs. Landmarks, food and drink, art – you name it and Lens will tell you.

Well, that’s the theory. When I tried this out last night, Lens couldn’t figure out what I’d just taken a picture of (take a look below, apologies for the dodgy camera work). It was the original Pixel phone. Humans 1, AI 0.

Pixel Buds and translation

Google’s new earphones, the Pixel Buds,combined with Assistant’s translation, are an interesting proposition.

The idea is simple: real-time language translation aided by speaking to your earphones. It’s a problem tech people have been trying to solve for yonks and Microsoft was arguably one of the first to the finish line with a similar Skype feature.

But Google’s headphones make use of a feature in the only scenario that anyone would use it: travelling. Speaking to a person face to face.

But there’s one obvious downside, both parties need to have a Pixel and Pixel Buds to use the feature, which means you’ll probably never use it in any practical sense.

Things to consider

For Assistant to work in the best way possible, you need to give it access to everything you do. It needs your information, it needs your commands it needs to understand you. Google builds a profile on you and, at some point along the chain, that profile allows Google to serve targeted adverts to you, which are huge aspect of its business.

So there are obvious privacy concerns here. Google, of course, isn’t the only company to do this. Silicone Valley relies on its ‘free’ products in order to profit from your activity (hint: you’re the product). The futuristic lifestyle these companies seemingly offer with their products come with a dark small print that you should read carefully.

There’s also a good chance that Google will struggle with stock, which could mean a lengthy wait for your pre-order to arrive. If you’re a long-time Pixel or Nexus user, this will not be news to you.

The Pixel’s missing headphone jack proves Apple was right

https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/5/16428570/google-pixel-2-no-headphone-jack-apple-wireless-future

 

When it launched the iPhone 7 a year ago, Apple confidently declared the headphone jack obsolete technology that we could learn to live without. I disagreed with the necessity of its removal then, and I disagree with it now, but with Google joining the ranks of jack-less phone makers, I think it’s time to accept the inevitability of the 3.5mm port’s demise. According to the two towering US giants of mobile tech, the future is wireless (or, in emergencies, dongle-shaped) and even though that will make our lives less convenient and our tech less compatible, we should all just come along for the ride.

I’m not okay with this, but it isn’t my choice to make.

Perhaps this is the resignation stage of grief that I’m going through. I just can’t summon the passion to be enraged by Google omitting what I consider to be one of my favorite things in the world. Plugging in a new pair of headphones is, to me, part of the ceremony of discovering great new sound. It’s a tactile and auditory preamble to the enjoyment of music. But the truth of headphone jacks on phones is that not all of them were made equal. A lot of them have actually served as portals to hellishly bland, flat music reproduction that let the user down. The original Pixel was among the number of phones with really underwhelming headphone audio.

Google Pixel sound output is so bad that removing the headphone jack would be an act of mercy. Go wireless or just don’t listen to anything.

Apple’s bet in removing the headphone jack was that we could stomach some short-term inconvenience for the longer-term benefits of freeing up valuable real estate inside the phone. It was a calculated risk, intended in part to also force the development of better wireless and digital gear by headphone makers. Audeze, Bowers & Wilkins, and Shure have all responded by developing their own Lightning cables, which ensure their headphones sound their best when playing stuff from an iPhone. Everyone else in the consumer audio space now considers wireless as the default area of focus, and Apple’s influence in this respect should not be underestimated.

Looking at how other mobile makers like HTC, Motorola, Xiaomi, and Google — and soon probably Huawei too, given that CEO Richard Yu told me in January that the company was planning a 2017 flagship phone without a 3.5mm jack, which is shaping up to be the upcoming Mate 10 Pro — are following suit, things are panning out exactly as Apple anticipated. A whole bunch of people are carrying stupid, annoying, easy-to-misplace dongles for their “legacy” wired headphones, nobody is especially overjoyed about the change, but we’re all adapting.

The end of the headphone jack has not been the end of the world for iPhone users.

Google initially mocked Apple’s decision, poking fun at it with marketing materials that described the 2016 Pixel’s headphone jack as “satisfyingly not new.” But companies take cheap shots at one another all the time, and that was then, this is now, and now Google thinks it has higher priorities than audio. The Mountain View company’s own justification for why it’s removing the analog port was given to TechCrunch after the Pixel 2 launch event:

“The primary reason [for dropping the jack] is establishing a mechanical design path for the future,” Google product chief Mario Queiroz told TechCrunch after the event. “We want the display to go closer and closer to the edge. Our team said, ‘if we’re going to make the shift, let’s make it sooner, rather than later.’ Last year may have been too early. Now there are more phones on the market.”

At first blush, this seems like a flimsy excuse when you look at the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG V30, both gorgeous, almost bezel-less phones with headphone jacks present. But extend the timeline beyond this year or the next, think about it in the context of a world where even more internal phone components are integrated or obviated. As phones have been shrinking, the proportion of internal space that the headphone jack commands inside them (and not just the jack itself, there’s also the audio amplifier and digital-to-analog converter circuitry to consider) has been growing. If we’re just talking about the near term, I’m unconvinced by Apple and Google’s arguments that the jack had to go to make room for better, more integrated design. However, over the long run, these companies are probably right.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

If Google were removing truly awesome sound, such as you’d get from the quad-DAC LG G6 or LG V30, I might have been more upset. If Google were one of the top two smartphone makers in the world, as Apple is, I might also feel like it’s rushing in too quickly with a change it could probably make and justify better in future models. But the fact is that LG will still be out there offering high-end integrated audio in its phones for audiophiles like me, and Google’s Pixel ventures remain on an almost experimental scale relative to the broader phone market. That being said, we shouldn’t mistake the small beginnings of Google’s time as a hardware maker and its comparatively puny Pixel phone sales for a lack of influence.

In the wake of the Pixel 2 event, I got word from Libratone and AIAIAI, a couple of Danish consumer audio brands, both annoucing that they’ve developed “Made for Google” models of their headphones and cables. These are tailored to work well with Google’s Pixel lineup of phones and Chromebook and include new “fast pairing” functions. Libratone and AIAIAI are just two of 25 partners that Google has already signed up as it seeks to emulate Apple and its famous “Made for iPhone” label.

The difference between Google’s currently small-scale efforts and those of previous mobile contenders like BlackBerry and Microsoft is the direction of travel. Others have had control over their operating system and hardware before, but they weren’t in the position to capitalize on that in the same way that Google, purveyor of the world’s most popular mobile OS, is. Google has openly declared that its hardware business is no longer a hobby, and its future is only going to be more influential and impactful. Accessory companies are falling in line and cooperating early with a company they’d be foolish to doubt.

Before the Pixel, Google’s Nexus line served as the prototypical best Android device that Google could envision. It was supposed to guide Android hardware partners in the development of their devices to best match Google’s intended direction for the software. That Nexus streak still remains in the Pixel smartphones of today, and what they signal is that Android is headed down the same path as iOS, leaving the headphone jack behind.

Can cyber technology solve the Anne Frank and Raoul Wallenberg mysteries?

JTA — After 70 years of studying the Holocaust, historians still don’t know the exact circumstances of the tragic fate that befell two of the best-known victims of the Holocaust era: Anne Frank and Raoul Wallenberg.

Frank, the teenager whose journal of her days in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam has sensitized millions to the suffering of 6 million victims, died in 1945 in Bergen-Belsen after the Nazis caught her. But nobody knows who, if anyone, betrayed her and her family to the Nazis.

Meanwhile, Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved countless Hungarian Jews by issuing them visas to Sweden, disappeared without a trace in the 1940s. Subsequent evidence emerged proving that the Soviet Union lied when it said he had died in 1947 in one of its prisons.

These mysteries separately have caught the eye of two American experts who both believe they can use the power of computation to make progress in the cold cases.

On the Frank case is a retired FBI agent, Vince Pankoke, who last week told the Volkskrant daily in the Netherlands that he has assembled a team of more than a dozen forensics and computer experts. They will use their expertise to scan archives with greater efficiency and speed than ever possible using orthodox methods of historical research.

And on Wallenberg’s trail is a mathematician from Baltimore, Ari Kaplan, whose specialty is to quantify baseball players’ performances to identify patterns over time, which can then be translated into effective strategies.

In both cases, any success will beat the odds.

Dutch police have launched two rather thorough investigations to discover whether Frank was betrayed and if so by whom. The first probe in 1948 was unsuccessful; one mounted in 1963 was to no avail.

Since then, writers and historians have offered various theories, none of which were proven, including one centered on the sister of a typist working for Otto Frank, Anne’s father.

But Pankoke, 59, says that’s not where the case needs to end.

“There is so much information available these days, from archives, old studies,” he told the Volkskrant. “For individual people it is impossible to overview in its entirety, but with the right software it’s achievable. That way you can connect the dots through analysis.”

Analysis is also the name of the game for Kaplan, the baseball fan and math whiz looking into the Wallenberg case.

His algorithms helped pinpoint Wallenberg’s exact cell in Lubyanka prison, according to Marvin Makinen, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Chicago who says he heard from inmates who saw Wallenberg alive long after the bogus death announcement. Makinen, Kaplan and several others are part of an unofficial task force to find out what really happened to Wallenberg.

The algorithm helped Kaplan and Makinen put together a complex database analysis of the cell occupancy at the prison from 1947 to 1972 based on partial Russian prison records.

In the analysis, Kaplan and Makinen show that some rooms in the overpopulated prison had remained empty — on paper, at least — for more than nine consecutive months at a time. To Makinen, this suggested a prisoner or prisoners had been kept there but were not listed on the registry. He and Kaplan believe Wallenberg was kept in the cell listed as empty.

Moscow denied their request for more prison records, Makinen said.

Last year, Makinen and Kaplan visited Moscow to present officials with a 57-page report requesting specific documents, ranging from the Soviets’ wartime intelligence files on Wallenberg to papers dealing with the return in 1999 of Wallenberg’s personal items, Tablet reported this week in an interview with Kaplan.

The research suggests that receiving “just a handful” of the documents from the Russian state archives “would have solved the case or at least shed light,” Kaplan told Tablet.

He insists that Wallenberg’s fate eventually “will be revealed.”

“It is just a matter of when, and I want it to happen soon — for the closure of his family and those he rescued,” Kaplan said. “That is what keeps me upbeat.”

Despite the impasse they have reached, Kaplan and Makinen may be on firmer ground than Pankoke. After all, they know the Russians took Wallenberg, whereas Pankoke may be barking up the wrong tree altogether, according to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Last year that institution, which runs the Anne Frank museum at the Amsterdam address where she hid before her capture and murder, published a report suggesting that Anne Frank and her family were never betrayed, but were caught by chance in a German raid aimed at suspected counterfeiters of food stamps.

The issue is controversial in the Netherlands. For decades, the absence of a traitor in Anne Frank’s story has helped it become a tale celebrating the heroism of resistance activists who helped the family hide from the Nazis. But the discovery of a traitor could change the story dramatically, giving a face and a name to the massive collaboration that went on in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation — a key reason for the murder of 75 percent of Dutch Jewry, which is the highest per capita death rate in occupied Western Europe.

Thijs Bayens and Pieter Van Twisk, respectively a filmmaker and journalist from the Netherlands, recruited Pankoke and initiated his investigation. (Last month they published in the media and online an appeal for information from anyone with knowledge of Anne Frank’s arrest).

They are working with Xomnia, an Amsterdam-based company specializing in processing and analyzing large amounts of information, to bring closure to her story, they said. The group, which has more than a dozen investigators, is documenting its efforts on a website called coldcasediary.com.

“The amount of data is overwhelming,” Bayens told The Guardian. “It is at least 20 to 25 kilometers of files at this moment and we have just started. To try and make all this data relevant is quite complex, so we started to work on artificial intelligence algorithms to rule the data, as they say.”

Bayens said that most of the people who were around the Frank family and were still alive after the war “are in the police files of the previous investigations.”

“They were brought in for questioning,” he said, “so we have detailed reports on that.”

Google is using its biggest advantage as a weapon to totally embarrass Apple

Hardware, as they say, is hard. Building something complex like a smartphone is tough enough as it is; selling enough of them to overcome the lousy profit margins and high costs of manufacturing only makes it harder.

Major companies like Google are not immune to these realities. So when Google launched the first Pixel smartphone last year, it was met with a lot of skepticism: It wasn’t clear how, or if, even Google could compete with the likes of Apple or its partner Samsung, which had essentially squeezed the air out of the high-end market.

And in terms of sales, we still don’t know how that’s going. At its big Google Pixel 2 launch event on Wednesday morning, Google didn’t disclose any sales number, saying only that the original Pixel was a critical hit. Recently, we had unreliable indicators that the original Pixel sold only about 1 million units, a mere fraction of the tens of millions of iPhone 7 phones believed to have been sold in just the first quarter.

And yet, if you take nothing else away from Google’s big hardware blitz this week, it should be this: Google is taking its big advantage in artificial intelligence, and turning it into a hardware advantage that should completely embarrass Apple with how far ahead some of this stuff is.

You can see it everywhere — Google Photos, the company’s photo-storage service, is way better than Apple’s iCloud, and it’s built in to every Pixel phone. Google Assistant, the smart voice assistant at the heart of the Pixel and the Google Home smart speakers, is lightyears ahead of Siri.

The best example so far, though, can be found in the Google Pixel Buds, a set of wireless airbuds designed to work with the Google Pixel 2 phone. They’re direct competitors to Apple’s pioneering AirPods.

Best buds

While Google definitely doesn’t win any points for originality, Pixel Buds definitely win on innovation.

Right out of the proverbial box, the Google Pixel Buds will sport a nifty integration with the Google Translate app so you can use it as something like a universal translator: Your speech gets translated into, say, French, and the other person’s French gets translated to English right in your ears. It’s nifty, and in my own brief test, seems to work decently well.

google pixel budsGoogle Pixel Buds, the company’s answer to Apple’s AirPods.Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

This is something that is here, right now, in a device that’s shipping in October. Meanwhile, Apple has a world of possibilities in front of it for the AirPods, with the power to turn them into “hearable computers,” or at least a killer set of hearing aids. So far, however, this is something Apple has shown little to no interest in, almost a year later.

In other words, Google is putting its considerable edge in artificial intelligence to work by showing all the places where Apple is weak. Beyond the Pixel Buds, Google also showed off features in the Pixel 2 phone like a refreshed Google Lens, which can search your photos for relevant information. If your photo has a picture of the Taj Mahal, it’ll tell you.

So, no, Google’s new Pixel 2 phones won’t win any awards for originality. Compared to new phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone X, or even Android cofounder Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone, the specs and the design of the Pixel 2 are decidedly unexceptional (although it packs a pretty great camera). Who knows what Pixel 2 sales will look like.

And yet, if you view Wednesday’s product announcements as Google showing Apple just how far behind it is in artificial intelligence, well, it all makes perfect sense. Google’s new hardware doesn’t make the iPhone look any worse, by direct comparison, but it sure does make Apple itself look like it’s behind the curve.

Microchipping Humans: A Message from the 19th Director of DARPA & Ex Google Exec Who Just Joined Facebook

http://www.renegadetribune.com/microchipping-humans-message-19th-director-darpa-ex-google-exec-just-joined-facebook/
By Arjun Walia

With the recent revelations by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden, it’s no secret that we live on a planet characterized by mass surveillance and virtually zero privacy. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we face threats, that a high level of national security is needed in order to keep us safe. Think about it, the United States pumps a large majority of their money into the Department of Defense. A state of fear, war and terror is needed to keep those funds flowing in that direction. Many people are starting to wake up and realize a lot of the so called threats we face and have been facing are largely manufactured and fabricated in order to justify a specific agenda, agendas that deal with the black budget world.

It is ironic that the U.S. would begin a devastating war, allegedly in search of weapons of mass destruction when the most worrisome developments in this field are occurring in your own backyard.  It is ironic that the U.S. should be fighting monstrously expensive wars  allegedly to bring democracy to those countries, when it itself can no longer claim to be called a democracy when trillions, and I mean thousands of billions of dollars have been spent on projects which both congress and the commander in chief know nothing about” – Paul Hellyer, Former Canadian Defense Minister (source)

It doesn’t stop there, remember when credit and debit cards changed into one with a chip? That could be you in a few years as multiple corporations are pushing to microchip the human race. In fact, microchip implants in humans are already on the market. For example, an American company called Applied Digital Solutions (ADS) has developed one approximately the size of a grain of rice, and has already had it approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for distribution and implementation. (1)

Below is a video of Ex DARPA director, Google Executive and now Facebook employee, Regina Dugan promoting the idea of microchipping humans. At facebook, her new role will be building new hardware products to connect the world in a better way, whatever that means.

Ask yourself, what if this becomes a requirement for authentication and identification? To withdraw money or go to the grocery store? Would you do it?

These microchips would be implanted under the skin, and allow the wearer’s movements to be tracked and store personal information about them. This kind of reminds us of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” police state doesn’t it?

According to a report drawn up by a team of academics for (then) Britain’s Information Commissioner Richard Thomas in 2006, within the next couple of years our almost every movement, purchase and communication could be monitored by a complex network of interlinking surveillance technologies (if it isn’t already). (2)

This isn’t about safety and national security, it’s about controlling the human population even more so than it is today. We live in the illusion of freedom where our potential as a human race to create something better is not wanted. We spend our entire lives working and acquiring little pieces of paper to gather the necessities we need, and in doing so we become blind to what is really happening on, to, and around our planet.

Money should never come in the way of necessity, and we have the potential to create a world where everybody’s needs are provided for. From that place of freedom, just imagine what we can do. We have the potential, and we have the power to do it, we just have to open our eyes and realize it’s possible. Those who monitor us so closely don’t really want to see us thrive, and it seems that they don’t really care about us.

The power does not lie with them, it lies with us. At any time we can choose to wake up and change the way we do things here on the planet. Not many people are resonating with the state of our world today and more people are starting to realize that we can do something about it.

Sources:

(1) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/microchip-implants-in-humans-on-the-market-1.314623

(2)http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-413345/Britons-microchipped-like-dogs-decade.html


This article originally appeared on Collective Evolution.

%d bloggers like this: