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The bottom line: Our quick verdict on the BlackBerry DTEK50

With a review headline that reads “cheap, secure and better than expected,” you might expect the device in question to have earned a high score. As it turns out, this is a BlackBerry we’re talking about, which is to say, “better than expected” doesn’t necessary mean you should actually buy one. The good news is that the new DTEK50 offers solid build quality at a reasonable price: just $299. For the money, you also get improved security over typical mid-range Android phones — a potential selling point for prospective business customers. While this is indeed a decent choice for IT departments, individual users can get more for their money at a similar or slightly higher price (read: faster performance, longer battery life and superior image quality). Basically, then, while the DTEK50 surpassed our admittedly modest expectations, you can still do better.


Moto Z’s Hasselblad camera add-on surfaces in fresh photos

When Motorola and Lenovo unveiled the Moto Z, they unveiled a host of MotoMods… except for one. Where was that camera add-on we’d seen in leaks? Apparently, it’s still coming — and it might be more than you were expecting. Moto G3 has come across community photos showing that the camera module is not only Hasselblad-branded as anticipated, but packs a 10X optical zoom lens. There aren’t any clues as to the sensor, alas, but we suspect that this is more likely to be a point-and-shoot quality (maybe mirrorless) sensor given the size, rather than Hasselblad’s signature medium format. You’ll be taking better photos than you would with the stock camera, then, but we wouldn’t count on magazine-quality Instagram shots.

If leaks are accurate, you won’t have to wait long for more details. The Hasselblad MotoMod may be announced at Germany’s IFA show, which officially starts on September 2nd. There aren’t any clues as to the price, but we can’t imagine that Hasselblad camera hardware will come cheap. We’d expect something in the ballpark of a previous photography add-on like Sony’s QX10, which cost about $230 when new.

Hasselblad MotoMod for Moto Z

Via: TechnoBuffalo, PetaPixel

Source: Moto G3


Dyson’s latest smart fan heats, cools and purifies the air

Dyson has expanded its lineup with The Pure Hot+Cool Link, a very expensive WiFi enabled fan that combines all the features of the Dyson Pure Hot+ Cool fan and Pure Cool Link. It can thermostatically cool, heat and purify the air, and connect with your home network. You can then control everything using the smartphone app introduced with the Pure Cool Link model.

The device sucks air in through the bottom and can either heat it with an element or cool you down using the so-called air multiplier technology. On the way, a HEPA glass filter scrubs 99.95 percent of harmful particles, including formaldehyde, dust, dead skin and pollen.

A built-in thermostat keeps the air temperature constant, Dyson says, though it’s not an air conditioner, so don’t expect it to save you on a super-hot day. The included app lets you tweak settings like fan speed and temperature, or set up a timer that it shuts off at night. It can also monitor air quality, and let you specify how often you want it to scrub the air. The app will notify you when it’s time to change the filter.

The Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Link fan will be available in the UK on September 5th for £500 and the US on September 6th for a (cool) $600. That’s $100 more than the Pure Cool Link model, but if you’re spending $600 on a fancy fan, that probably won’t phase you.


Why young-adult video games are thriving

In the recent hit game Inside, you play a child on the run through a mysterious and horrifying surveillance state straight out of 1984. Oxenfree stars a group of teenagers with a complicated history arriving at a spooky island for an ill-advised camping trip. Life Is Strange puts you in the shoes of a young girl at a boarding school with burgeoning time-warp powers and messed-up friends. The common thread among these three highly acclaimed indie games is obvious: They star youthful protagonists facing confusing coming-of-age moments in worlds tinted by magic and mystery. They’re what you might call “young adult” video games.

But these games — and popular “YA” works in other mediums, such as the Netflix series Stranger Things — tell us something about what YA has become. Over the past few years, “young adult fiction” has become less of a demographic for book readers, and more of a genre in its own right, like sci-fi or true crime. It used to be that young adult fiction was regarded strictly as books aimed at children aged 13 to 17, but many of those titles appeal to a much broader age range. In fact, young adult fiction is hugely popular among grown-ups too, with Nielsen reporting last year that over 80 percent of all YA book sales were made to adult readers.

With such broad appeal, it was inevitable the young adult genre would soon colonize film and television with massive multimillion-dollar franchises. Now YA has taken root in video games too — and it’s thriving.

What defines “young adult” as a genre? Settings span from high fantasy to science fiction to magical high schools, while a lot of stories are set in ordinary places with ordinary people. But there are two common elements. First, while any good story is about change, YA embraces a kind of all-consuming transformation as its core theme. It is, in essence, about leaving behind an old self and (sometimes reluctantly) embracing a (sometimes frightening) new one. You could call it growing up.

The second tenet of young adult is, of course, youthful protagonists. With young characters as its focus, the transformative moments — whether they’re about graduating high school, falling in love or leading a postapocalypse rebellion — are new to them as they enter a larger, more disorienting world. And the emotional stakes are therefore heightened: Sometimes falling in love or becoming unpopular really is the end of the world. The effect of these stories, when executed well, is that they stir emotions not just in young readers/viewers/gamers, but in adults as well, who might remember their own first encounters with this “young” kind of startling transformation.

Video games are in an ideal position to tap into the transformative power at the center of young-adult stories. This is partly thanks to the way video games demand that the player directly interact with and exert control over the characters. In Inside, you’re pushing your young child protagonist forever toward the right of the screen. He is pursued by dogs, murderous soldiers and plenty of other brutal obstacles, but the boy never stops pushing right. The child remains largely unknowable throughout his journey, but as you put together pieces of the story, you begin to see that this is — at the risk of spoilers — a journey of complete transformation from a young boy into … something else entirely.

The puzzle portions of Inside are more recognizably “video gamey,” but I think they detract from the experience. A far more subtle game mechanic is all Inside needs to invest the gamer with the story’s transformative core: pushing right on the control stick. In a side-scrolling video game, it’s inevitable that you push further and further right, even if you don’t understand why; even if you don’t want to. It’s like growing up. You have no choice. And Inside is fundamentally about the young boy’s lack of choice in becoming something else.

Oxenfree is blessedly lighter on puzzles. In the game, you control Alex, a young girl who stands on the precipice of major life changes with the recent passing of her brother and the introduction of her new stepfamily. Oxenfree is built around a unique gameplay mechanic: conversation. Usually, video game dialogue choices boil down to three Bioware-style choices: positive, negative or neutral. Instead, Oxenfree’s dialogue offers nuanced choices (a favorite line: “You think contemplating annihilation makes you special?”). Also, the conversation doesn’t wait for you; the other characters will move on with or without main character Alex’s participation. In this way, Oxenfree’s story is all about the navigation of complex, burgeoning relationships. Through your dialogue choices, you can steer Alex over the course of the game’s magical-realist events to become wiser and more mature by the end of the trip, or just more jaded.

Life Is Strange takes a more heavy-handed approach to conversation, with plenty of painfully awkward stabs at “hip” dialogue, but its earnestness has its own kind of endearing charm. More successful is its time-warp mechanic, which allows the main character, Max, to come to terms with choice and consequences. As the player, you steer Max as she travels back and forth through time, grappling with the realization that even seemingly simple choices can lead to major consequences for her and her friends. In the game, your actions shape the world that Max inhabits, and who she and her friends ultimately become.

A still from Life Is Strange.

These games strike markedly different tones: Life Is Strange is more earnest and didactic, like an after-school special, but is populated with several well-drawn characters, particularly Max’s troubled and rebellious best friend, Chloe. Oxenfree remains truer to the spirit of real-life teens, so much so that their web of relationships overshadows the light horror story that underpins it.

Inside, meanwhile, is a horror story that has more in common with Lars Von Trier than The Hunger Games, but nonetheless it crafts a unique young-adult story that’s effective only in the form of a video game. (This same story, I suspect, might be too much of a tough sell for even the most adventurous book publishers.)

In their marketing, these games were free from the baggage of demographic targets or any cynical big-budget Divergent-style franchise agenda. They have been exempt from any conversation about which bookshelf they would belong on, or what their MIAA rating would be. They were small, beautifully told stories marketed to all gamers, and warmly received by the press as fine examples of the medium. They are artistic creations that further establish “YA” as a genre, and not just a demographic.


US Judge absolves Fitbit of corporate espionage allegations

In the ongoing case between Jawbone and Fitbit, a US International Trade Commission judge ruled Tuesday that Fitbit did not steal trade secrets from its major fitness tracking competitor. Last year, Jawbone accused Fitbit of infringing on multiple patents and stealing away employees with key business knowledge, but according to Judge Dee Lord’s ruling, “no party has been shown to have misappropriated any trade secret.”

Jawbone’s end goal was to ban the import of Fitbit products to the US by proving their competitor infringed on their own patents, but as Reuters reports, two of the six patents Fitbit was accused of stealing were withdrawn and the other four were invalidated by a judge earlier this year. That meant the case was limited to questions of corporate espionage and poached employees when it went before the court in May.

In a statement provided to Reuters, Fitbit CEO James Park once again accused his competition of trying “to disrupt Fitbit’s momentum to compensate for their own lack of success in the market.” (In May, Jawbone denied it was getting out of the wearables business.) In a statement provided to Engadget Tuesday, Jawbone wrote that the company would continue to seek a review of the ruling before a larger ITC panel, as well as in a broader trade secret case against Fitbit which is set to go to jury trial in California. “The California court already has granted a preliminary injunction and rejected Fitbit’s efforts to dismiss the case,” the statement said. “Jawbone is confident it will prevail when the full scope of its claims is heard by the jury.”

Source: Reuters


Longest-ever aircraft takes damage in second flight

The future of air travel may have to wait a while. Airlander 10, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ cross between an airplane and airship, suffered damage at the end of its second test flight. The longest-ever aircraft wrecked its cockpit when it nosedived on landing. HAV reports that the crew is “safe and well,” thankfully, but it’s not clear how long this will delay the Airlander program. The company tells the BBC that it’s waiting on the results of a debriefing before it provides more details.

This isn’t likely to be a major setback for the oddly-shaped (okay, butt-like) aircraft, which promises to be useful for everything from long surveillance missions to eco-friendly passenger flights. However, it’s going to be expensive. The Airlander 10 costs about £25 million ($33.1 million), so even a comparatively modest accident will prove costly.

Via: BBC

Source: Hybrid Air Vehicles (Twitter)


Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard gets a Bing search upgrade

Microsoft’s Word Flow keyboard for iPhone just got a significant upgrade this week, adding a search engine for emoji, GIFs, and more from Bing.

The new search feature will copy GIFs to your clipboard so you can paste them into messages and can even choose GIFs from what you type for contextual searches. If you type something like “yaaaas!” or something inane like that, you can search for matching GIFs of that nature.

Microsoft is planning on adding in additional themes, support for iOS text replacement and cursor placement using 3D Touch.

The new built-in search is obviously meant to compete with Google, after Google previously released the Gboard keyboard for iPhone with built-in search.

There are several different keyboards available for iPhone to choose from, but now that giants like Microsoft and Google have made their own options available, the vanilla iPhone keyboard seems like an afterthought, especially considering Microsoft previously acquired SwiftKey.

It’ll all come down to personal preference, but Microsoft just shot ahead to Google’s level with its addition of these new features.

Via: The Verge


‘Halo 5: Forge’ reaches PCs on September 8th

It won’t take much longer before you can get a taste of Halo 5 on your PC. Microsoft and 343 Industries have revealed that Halo 5: Forge, the multiplayer level creation experience, will reach Windows 10 on September 8th. As mentioned earlier, it’s all about playing multiplayer matches on custom maps created either on the PC or the Xbox One. You won’t get either the single-player campaign (possibly a good thing) or the stock maps from the console release. You do get the perks of playing on more flexible hardware, though, such as support for 4K displays and a interface that takes advantage of finer-grained mouse and keyboard controls.

At the same time, Xbox One owners are getting a Halo 5: Guardians update (Anvil’s Legacy) that brings them in sync with the Windows release. You can play Forge maps from Windows creators, and you’ll get both two new maps (one for the Arena mode, one for Warzone) as well as new weapons, attachments and skins. No, it’s not the same as getting the exact same game on both platforms, but it’s clear between this, Forza and Gears of War that the days of Xbox-only flagship games are over.

Source: Xbox Wire


Apple’s Machine Learning Has Cut Siri’s Error Rate by a Factor of Two

Steven Levy has published an in-depth article about Apple’s artificial intelligence and machine learning efforts, after meeting with senior executives Craig Federighi, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, and two Siri scientists at the company’s headquarters.

Apple provided Levy with a closer look at how machine learning is deeply integrated into Apple software and services, led by Siri, which the article reveals has been powered by a neural-net based system since 2014. Apple said the backend change greatly improved the personal assistant’s accuracy.

“This was one of those things where the jump was so significant that you do the test again to make sure that somebody didn’t drop a decimal place,” says Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services.

Alex Acero, who leads the Siri speech team at Apple, said Siri’s error rate has been lowered by more than a factor of two in many cases.

“The error rate has been cut by a factor of two in all the languages, more than a factor of two in many cases,” says Acero. “That’s mostly due to deep learning and the way we have optimized it — not just the algorithm itself but in the context of the whole end-to-end product.”

Acero told Levy he was able to work directly with Apple’s silicon design team and the engineers who write the firmware for iOS devices to maximize performance of the neural network, and Federighi added that Apple building both hardware and software gives it an “incredible advantage” in the space.

“It’s not just the silicon,” adds Federighi. “It’s how many microphones we put on the device, where we place the microphones. How we tune the hardware and those mics and the software stack that does the audio processing. It’s all of those pieces in concert. It’s an incredible advantage versus those who have to build some software and then just see what happens.”

Apple’s machine learning efforts extend far beyond Siri, as evidenced by several examples shared by Levy:

You see it when the phone identifies a caller who isn’t in your contact list (but did email you recently). Or when you swipe on your screen to get a shortlist of the apps that you are most likely to open next. Or when you get a reminder of an appointment that you never got around to putting into your calendar. Or when a map location pops up for the hotel you’ve reserved, before you type it in. Or when the phone points you to where you parked your car, even though you never asked it to. These are all techniques either made possible or greatly enhanced by Apple’s adoption of deep learning and neural nets.

Another product born out of machine learning is the Apple Pencil, which can detect the difference between a swipe, a touch, and a pencil input:

In order for Apple to include its version of a high-tech stylus, it had to deal with the fact that when people wrote on the device, the bottom of their hand would invariably brush the touch screen, causing all sorts of digital havoc. Using a machine learning model for “palm rejection” enabled the screen sensor to detect the difference between a swipe, a touch, and a pencil input with a very high degree of accuracy. “If this doesn’t work rock solid, this is not a good piece of paper for me to write on anymore — and Pencil is not a good product,” says Federighi. If you love your Pencil, thank machine learning.

On the iPhone, machine learning is enabled by a localized dynamic cache or “knowledge base” that Apple says is around 200MB in size, depending on how much personal information is stored.

This includes information about app usage, interactions with other people, neural net processing, a speech modeler, and “natural language event modeling.” It also has data used for the neural nets that power object recognition, face recognition, and scene classification.

“It’s a compact, but quite thorough knowledge base, with hundreds of thousands of locations and entities. We localize it because we know where you are,” says Federighi. This knowledge base is tapped by all of Apple’s apps, including the Spotlight search app, Maps, and Safari. It helps on auto-correct. “And it’s working continuously in the background,” he says.

Apple, for example, uses its neural network to capture the words iPhone users type using the standard QuickType keyboard.

Other information Apple stores on devices includes probably the most personal data that Apple captures: the words people type using the standard iPhone QuickType keyboard. By using a neural network-trained system that watches while you type, Apple can detect key events and items like flight information, contacts, and appointments — but information itself stays on your phone.

Apple insists that much of the machine learning occurs entirely local to the device, without personal information being sent back to its servers.

“Some people perceive that we can’t do these things with AI because we don’t have the data,” says Cue. “But we have found ways to get that data we need while still maintaining privacy. That’s the bottom line.”

“We keep some of the most sensitive things where the ML is occurring entirely local to the device,” Federighi says. As an example, he cites app suggestions, the icons that appear when you swipe right.

The full-length article on Backchannel provides several more details about how machine learning and artificial intelligence work at Apple.

Tags: Siri, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, machine learning, artificial intelligence
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Apple Music’s Reliance on Exclusives Coming Under Fire From Labels and Critics

In the wake of the much-anticipated launch of Frank Ocean’s new album “Blonde,” Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge has sent out an email to UMG executives, saying that the company is prohibiting the practice of exclusive music streaming moving forward (via The Lefsetz Letter). The email officially ends “all future exclusives with Universal artists,” meaning popular artists like Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd could all be affected by the change since they each belong to labels owned by UMG.

The news was shared by Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst and critic, who penned a letter over the weekend in response to Blonde’s exclusive home on Apple Music for the first two weeks of its release. Lefsetz said that the heavy reliance of streaming services on exclusive content, and how the practice is becoming increasingly normal among consumers, will ultimately hurt the industry in the long run. Halfway through, he particularly sets his sights on Apple:

Because there’s a conspiracy between Apple Music and the industry to change the game, to get everybody to pay for a subscription by putting hit content behind a paywall.

Apple should be investigated by the government for antitrust. How do you compete with the world’s richest company that’s got endless cash on hand? You can’t. It’d be like expecting hillbillies to get into Harvard if slots went to the highest bidder. The rich get richer and the rest of us…we’re left out, just like in America at large, which is why Bernie and Trump got traction, the usual suspects doing it for themselves have rigged the game in their favor, and now the music industry is trying to do this too.

According to Lefsetz, Apple’s practices not only lock off entire albums to non-subscribers, but grant greater showcase to its exclusive artists — like the Frank Ocean-centered carousel currently in the app — consequently hurting the chances for indie musicians to break out. He calls Ocean “complicit” in Apple’s schemes, and shames “everybody else who takes money from Apple and screws fans.”

With exclusives popping up every few weeks over Apple Music’s short fourteen-month lifespan, Kanye West even voiced frustration with the model, hoping to end the fight between Apple Music and Tidal and “let the kids have the music.” Among recent artists with an exclusive Apple Music deal are Britney Spears, Frank Ocean, Katy Perry, and Drake.

You can read Lefsetz’s full letter here.

Tag: Apple Music
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