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From the Editor’s Desk: It’s Google hardware season


This is Google’s biggest release year in recent memory, but that comes with extra responsibility.

Most companies in the Android world like to front-load their announcements for the first quarter (or so) of the year, but Google has consistently stuck to a Fall release schedule for all of its biggest consumer-facing products. This year was perhaps its biggest yet, dropping the Pixels, Chromecast Ultra, Google Home, Daydream View and Google Wifi all at once. And even though we’re five weeks removed from the launch event, we’re just now hitting the point where these products are actually shipping out in real numbers.

I’ve had my Pixel and Pixel XL for about a month now (primarily using the Pixel, fwiw), but just received my Chromecast Ultra and Google Home this week. I’m still waiting for my free-with-purchase Daydream View, and though I haven’t made up my mind on buying a Google Wifi I don’t have a choice right now.

Unfortunately for Google fans, the company is still pretty bad about shipping products in a timely and consistent fashion, while keeping them in stock for new buyers. Though Google has made it over the hurdle of dead websites and two-month waitlists back in the Nexus 4 days, its products are still consistently out of stock or unavailable in certain SKUs. Over a month removed from launch, the Pixel XL is still tough to come by, and models that are “in stock” have 3-4 week ship times. Depending on the day Google Home, Chromecast Ultra and Daydream View may actually be in stock, but with a few days to a week of lead time before shipping. How about Google Wifi? ::crickets::

The physical products are now the main attraction, and Google has to deliver (figuratively and literally).

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by same-day (and two day at the most) delivery from Amazon, and forget how bad ordering from the Google Store used to be, but it’s still extremely frustrating to see a company the size of Google be incapable of keeping its brand new products in stock when enthusiasm is the highest. We’re definitely starting to get into the swing of the holiday shopping season, and Google has to have these products ready to ship.

The stock and shipping issues are really indicative of Google’s overall hardware shortcomings. It has shown serious ambition with this “Made by Google” initiative, but as our own Russell Holly astutely summarized this week, Google is a bit short on execution. The Pixels are perhaps the most complete thought of the bunch, with very few missing pieces. Chromecast Ultra is a new Chromecast — that wasn’t too difficult. Google Home is a great idea but clearly needs a lot of software tuning and server-side improvements to make it actually great (or, just above average). Daydream View is clearly a great product ready to take over from Cardboard, but is launching with effectively no VR content. Again, Google Wifi? ::more crickets::

When Google was just releasing products here and there, we cut it slack on the execution part of things because we always knew the true product was having you use the internet and its services as much as possible. Now with “Made by Google” the physical products are the main attraction, not a secondary piece of things — and it has to actually start delivering. No more half-baked ideas, no more “it’ll get better in the future” caveats — that won’t fly anymore.

A few closing thoughts on the week that was:

  • I know the HTC Bolt isn’t the next amazing drool-worthy phone, but you have to give HTC credit for doing a lot of neat stuff with what would otherwise be a boring carrier-branded handset.
  • Shame it has to be saddled with a Snapdragon 810 processor and being a Sprint exclusive — it’s putting a cloud over an otherwise solid phone.
  • Sprint is still going to use the Bolt as a centerpiece of its marketing the next few months, though, and that’s going to sell a considerable number of phones.
  • I’m excited to give the Samsung Gear S3 a try again after first seeing it over two months ago. I want to use the new software especially, but I’m not particularly enthused by how huge both models are (and I have larger-than-average wrists).
  • I always enjoy watching people guess which phone I took my Instagram photos with. Many times they’re right, sometimes they’re way off.

That’s it for this week. This is supposedly the “slow” part of the year in the Android world, but we’re certainly staying busy. See everyone next week.


Everything you need to know about PlayStation VR


What is PlayStation VR?

Basically, it’s a way to supercharge the gaming experience on your PlayStation 4 by using a headset that makes you feel like you are in the game. Just sit in front of your TV like usual, put on Sony’s futuristic-looking headset, and enjoy being able to look in every direction and see the whole game universe around you.

Read more at VR Heads!


After Math: The new normal

This week sure went sideways in a hurry. After Hillary Clinton’s stunning election night collapse, the American people are now faced with four years of well, whatever sorts of fresh hell the President-elect’s administration unleashes upon us. Gitmo is getting better Wi-Fi, Facebook denied all responsibility in spreading FUD throughout the election, the internet’s worst people are bolder than ever and the Navy can’t even afford bullets for its brand-new destroyer. Numbers, what are they good for? Not predicting presidential elections, apparently.


Mark Zuckerberg: over 99 percent of Facebook content is authentic

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is clearly riled by allegations that his social network skewed the election by allowing fake news to propagate, and he isn’t having any of it. The CEO has posted a defense of Facebook in which he argues that the low volume of bogus news made it “extremely unlikely” that it gave Trump his election win. According to Zuck, “more than 99%” of the Facebook content you see is authentic, and what fake news exists is neither limited to one side of the political spectrum nor always political. This isn’t to say that Facebook is unconcerned with hoaxes, the exec says, but it has to tread “very carefully” before it purges anything.

The biggest challenge is simply determining whether or not something is a hoax in the first place. In some cases, a story may get core ideas right but omit important details. In other cases, stories may simply reflect opinions that others don’t like, even though they’re technically accurate. Recently implemented tools to help report fake news should help, as will future efforts to fight it, but Facebook is leery of becoming an “arbiter of truth” in its own right.

Zuckerberg is naturally eager to defend Facebook’s positive roles in the election, such as sparking a surge in voter registration and promoting discussion. “A lot of that dialog may not have happened without Facebook,” he says.

The defense comes as word circulates of the company questioning its level of influence. New York Times sources understand that “several” executives asked each other whether or not Facebook played a pivotal role in the election, and there was enough concern that they agreed to tackle staff anxieties at a quarterly all-hands meeting. They also planned a separate chat with the company’s policy team. While it’s not clear how much uncertainty there is among top brass, rank-and-file staff are worried about the spread of racist memes and a “filter bubble” where you only see posts that agree with your ideology.

The Zuckerberg post has a point in that the company has to be careful, and that there’s a risk of overstating the volume of fake news. However, he sidesteps the question of the significance of the hoaxes that get through — a handful of lies can be very damaging if enough people believe them. University of North Carolina professor Zeynep Tufekci notes that a story falsely claiming that Pope Francis endorsed Trump was shared nearly a million times, for instance. While many of those who read such articles have already made up their minds, it’s difficult to believe that no one was swayed.

Source: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)


The biggest feature Google Play is missing: Gifting content


It’s time to start thinking of presents for the loved ones in your life. Google Play won’t be much help for it, though.

Google Play has been around for a few years, and while it’s caught up to iTunes and the App Store in several areas, there’s one feature that is noticeably, and sometimes painfully absent. Ever find an app you want to buy a friend? Want to send an album to a special someone? Welp, you’ll just have to send them Google Play credit and hope that’s what they use it on. While iTunes has had content gifting for well over a decade, Google Play still won’t let me buy someone a song.


We already have so much of the groundwork laid for gifting content, too. The Redeem function already accepts 16-digit codes for digital copies of films and for app codes that developers give out. Allowing the gifting of content on Google Play means that families can gift desired content to their kids rather than having a payment option enabled on the account — or shelling out for gift cards every few weeks/months, like I did as a kid. It allows for more personal gifting than a $10 gift card.

Allowing gifting of content could also help breathe life into a Google Play feature that’s all but forgotten in its current form: the Wishlist. You can’t share your Wishlist and no one can buy you anything off it, which basically relegates it to a ‘waiting for a sale/project’ list. Allowing people to see your Wishlist and buy you apps from it encourages users to make lists and buy off them.

Gift-giving is a mutli-billion business, and gift cards aren’t enough. I’d love to buy Nova Launcher Prime for a few non-believers, or buy The Little Mermaid for a friend that wasn’t lucky enough to see it as a kid. But I can’t. And that’s a shame for Google, too, because that’s money it’s missing out on.


Android Central 314: OK Google, Home is a good start

In this episode, Alex, Andrew, Jerry and Daniel talk about the post-Pixel releases of the year: Google Home, Chromecast Ultra, Daydream, and the new (and improved) Android Auto! There’s so much to like, but many of the feature feel like half-measures.

Also, Nougat is on the verge of getting released broadly, other than the Pixel and a couple recent phones you won’t find it beyond beta.

Finally, the Mate 9 is coming soon, but did Huawei do enough to make EMUI usable? Oh, and the HTC Bolt — a Sprint exclusive, but also a good indication of HTC’s carrier-focused future.

Podcast MP3 URL:


Donald Trump’s environmental plan and more in the week that was

The Hyperloop keeps getting realer by the day. This week, architects unveiled detailed plans for a next-gen transportation system that will travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in just 12 minutes. Meanwhile, Elon Musk announced big plans to build a second Gigafactory in Europe that will produce lithium-ion batteries and electric cars. Gogoro rolled out a faster, more powerful version of its battery-swapping electric Smartscooter, while Vespa delighted fans with plans to launch an all-electric model next year. And MIT teamed up with NASA to develop a new “morphing” airplane wing that could revolutionize aviation.

Donald Trump is preparing to move into the White House, and it’s terrible news for the environment. Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, scrap Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, and he’s already tapped a top climate denier to lead his EPA transition team. The company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline saw Trump’s election as an opportunity to push forward on the controversial project — in direct defiance of President Obama — and a Trump presidency could even revive the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Things are looking brighter on the UK’s energy front. The nation announced plans to shutter all coal plants by the year 2025, and it’s getting ready to build its first wave power plant, which will produce enough electricity for 6,000 homes. In other design and technology news, Las Vegas just installed the world’s first streetlights that can be powered by footsteps. Boeing developed the world’s lightest metal, which weighs 100 times less than Styrofoam. A new brain implant allowed a paralyzed monkey to walk again, and an MIT spinoff developed a solar-powered sign for the smart cities of the future.


Watch the largest supermoon in 68 years

You’re about to get one of the best views of the Moon in decades. When the celestial body reaches its closest point to the Earth in the early hours of November 14th (in the US, shortly after 6AM Eastern), it’ll be the largest supermoon observed in over 68 years — yes, it hasn’t been this near since 1948. And you won’t see a comparable supermoon again until 2034, so you might want to step outside if you at all can. Don’t despair if clouds, work or the time of day prevent you from getting a glimpse, though. There will be ways and times to watch where you’ll still have a grand view.

For a start, Slooh is livestreaming the supermoon. You can see what’s happening even if you’re on the other side of the planet at the time. And if you’d rather see our lunar neighbor first-hand, NASA stresses that you don’t have to be up exactly when the Moon is at its closest. The changes in distance over time will be slight, so you can head out on the nights of the 13th or 14th and still witness an impressive display. Either way, this may be your best opportunity at lunar observation without pulling out your telescope.


Source: NASA, Slooh


Vudu’s upgraded mobile app brings offline rental viewing

Unlike some big streaming video services, Vudu isn’t sitting on the fence when it comes to offline playback. The Walmart-owned provider has revamped its Android and iOS apps with several big features, most notably an option to download your rentals — you can watch that movie in mid-flight even when the in-air WiFi is lousy. You’ll also have access to movie extras for supporting titles, and iOS users now get both higher-quality 1080p HDX streaming as well as AirPlay. And if you’re still attached to hard copies, you can buy discs inside the app instead of heading to the web. So long as you live in the US and like Vudu’s à la carte approach to movies and TV, you can check out the upgrade right now.

Source: Vudu Blog, App Store, Google Play


Space mining gets a boost through Luxembourg’s new law

American asteroid mining companies are allowed to keep their hauls, but what about European outfits? They should be set from now on. Luxembourg (which already has its own space mining tech) has adopted a draft law that gives private operations the right to keep what they take from asteroids and other near Earth objects, so long as they get authorization for their mission and obey international law. This doesn’t let anyone lay claim to spaceborne entities, the country says — it just eliminates the uncertainty when that material arrives on the ground. The law should take effect sometime in early 2017.

Most European countries don’t offer a similar level of legal protection, but they might not have to. Many companies use Luxembourg as their European hub, and approval there could grease the wheels for space mining businesses across the continent.

As it stands, Luxembourg isn’t just counting on the law to lure the corporate crowd. It’s negotiating formal relationships with about 20 space companies and entrepreneurs, including bigger names like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. While the terms aren’t specific, the nation will be “one of the main shareholders” in Planetary Resources. In short, at least some companies will get an infusion of cash in return for operating in Luxembourg. They might not have much choice. Even the most aggressive space mining plans won’t swing into high gear until closer to 2020, and it could take years after that before they become profitable.

Via: DW


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