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10
Aug

Samsung inexplicably opens up its Android browser


Samsung has announced that the new version of its browser, Samsung Internet, can be used on any relatively new Android phone, which is good news if you’re bored of existing mobile browsers that already do the job perfectly well.

The Korean tech giant made its software ambitions known in March when, in response to “many requests”, it released a beta version of Samsung Internet (5.4) compatible with Google devices such as the Pixel and Nexus series. Now, the v6 beta version is being released for any phone running Android 5.0, aka Lollipop, or later.

But on a landscape monopolized by the likes of Chrome, Firefox and Opera, why has Samsung decided to throw its hat in the ring? Especially since this isn’t the first time it’s released an app for which there’s no significant demand. The company’s Pandora-like offering, Milk, sank after two short years following its oddly-timed release in 2014.

Samsung Internet is based on Chromium, the open-source project behind Chrome, and offers everything you’d expect from a browser: sync it with multiple other (non-Samsung) devices and browse anonymously in Secret mode, for example. But it does bring with it a couple of perks not found elsewhere. High contrast mode makes reading more accessible (although this can be found on most devices, if not within individual browsers), and the ‘features behind flags’ options let you play with Bluetooth and WebVR directly from the browser. A niche audience will also appreciate CSS Grid.

Perhaps the biggest draw is the quick access to content blockers, with a list of extensions built right into the settings menu. Samsung’s done a lot of work in this area, empowering users to choose which ad units they see and rendering websites much faster in the process. But is it enough to lure Android users away from their existing browsers? Probably not, but the browser’s development could play a supporting role in mobile tech going forward. In a blog post, Samsung Internet developer advocate Peter O’Shaughnessy made it clear that Samsung doesn’t “just pull in features from Chromium but actively contributes into them and into web standards.”

Via: cnet

Source: Samsung

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10
Aug

IKEA smart lights now play nicely with Apple HomeKit


IKEA’s Tradfri smart lighting line is an impressive system at a relatively affordable price point, and it just got even better. Earlier this year, IKEA announced that it would be integrating Tradfri with Apple’s HomeKit. Today, the Swedish furniture company pushed an update to all existing hubs that does just that. What’s more, Ikea bulbs will now work with Philips devices, meaning you don’t have to buy an IKEA hub if you have a HueBridge compatible with HomeKit. Bulbs will come in multiple colors starting in October.

Apple’s been making an effort to push HomeKit into the mainstream; the company has actually built it into quite a few of its Apple stores. Customers at once of these 46 locations are able to play around with fans, lights and other Home Kit-integrated devices in order to see how they actually work. It’s an important step to making the system a serious competitor to already-entrenched smart home systems like Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices. It also suggests that there will be a lot more emphasis on HomeKit’s features in iOS 11.

This is a great move on IKEA’s part, for sure. It serves as further confirmation that, first of all, they are committed to their smart home lines. Second, they provided this update to existing users for free, cementing their status as a lower cost, full-featured provider for smart lighting. Competitor Philips, with its Hue Bridge line, also has integrated HomeKit, but the update doesn’t apply retroactively. Existing customers must purchase a second-generation Hue bridge if they want the integration. It’s hard to argue with a lower price and more features, that’s for sure.

Source: 9to5 Mac, IKEA

10
Aug

Fitbit’s overdue smartwatch probably won’t win any design awards


We’ve discussed Fitbit’s struggles to create a smartwatch, and we’ve even covered previously leaked photographs of the device. Now, Wareable has final pictures of the device it says are from a source inside Fitbit. It looks similar to what we reported back in May, so it’s pretty likely that this is indeed the final product.

It’s got three color combinations: silver case/navy strap, rose gold case/blue strap and a dark case (the specific color isn’t clear), also with a blue strap. It’s got three buttons, like the Blaze, and a heart rate sensor. While Fitbit has declined to comment on watch specifics to Wareable, the site reports that it will include GPS and be waterproof to 50 meters. The name of the watch still isn’t clear.

This project has been much discussed (and much delayed). Sure, it’s worth taking the time to get the product right, rather than launching a watch that’s buggy and doesn’t have everything it should (reports indicated that Fitbit was having trouble with the device’s waterproofing, a feature that is critical to ensuring it can compete with the Apple Watch). But this design doesn’t exactly inspire awe, considering how much chatter there’s been around it. Still, let’s hope that it’s packed with features that make this a win for the wearables company.

Via: The Verge

Source: Wareable

10
Aug

Twitch’s desktop streaming app is officially here


Twitch’s desktop app is ready for primetime after spending a few months in beta. The company has just launched the full version of the application, and it comes with the various features it added to the original communications platform it acquired last year. In addition to being able to do whatever Twitch on the web can, the desktop app has exclusive offerings, such as a Dark Mode that makes watching streams easier on the eyes at night.

The app also has text and voice rooms that stay online even when servers are down, so you can chat with your favorite communities anytime. Plus, you can do voice and video calls with friends if private messaging just isn’t enough — you can even enable in-game overlays to manage those calls without alt-tabbing. In the future, it will also have cloud storage that will give you a way to access your data from multiple machines.

Twitch clearly built it on top of Curse’s original app to serve power users who spend a lot of time on the platform, whether as a streamer or as a member of the audience. The great news is that the application works on both Windows and Mac — just download it from Twitch’s website and install it on your computer.

Source: Twitch

10
Aug

Consumer Reports pulls recommendation from Surface PCs


While Consumer Reports has previously given Microsoft Surface products good reviews for lab performance measures like battery life, speed and display quality, it’s now pulling its “recommended” rating from four Microsoft laptops due to reliability issues. Through surveys conducted on over 90,000 tablets and laptops that Consumer Reports subscribers purchased between 2014 and early 2017, the company estimates that 25 percent of Microsoft laptop and tablet owners will experience problems like freezing, unexpected shutdowns and unresponsive touch screens by the end of the second year of ownership.

The four laptops losing their ranking are the 128GB and 256GB versions of the Microsoft Surface Laptop and the 128GB and 512GB versions of the Microsoft Surface Book. Consumer Reports also said that it couldn’t recommend any other Microsoft laptops or tablets because of the predicted reliability problems. In its report, the company said, “Microsoft’s estimated breakage rate for its laptops and tablets was higher than most other brands’.” Consumer Reports editor Jerry Beilinson told Reuters, “If you are very concerned about how long your products are going to last, it might be better for you to go with a brand that has a higher predicted reliability.” He said that Apple products ranked highest on reliability.

Consumer Reports has pulled recommendations on other high-profile products in recent years. The Tesla Model S has had a roller coaster relationship with the publication jumping from top rankings to losing its recommended rating in short succession. Apple’s MacBook Pro also lost its Consumer Reports recommendation earlier this year due to irregularities in battery life across individual devices.

Microsoft responded to the report in a statement to Consumer Reports saying, “We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences or capture the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation.”

Via: Thurrott

Source: Consumer Reports, Reuters

10
Aug

Nanit the AI nanny tries to unravel the mysteries of a restless baby


When my wife and I became parents, the most important weapon in our childcare arsenal was an A5-size notebook. In this mighty tome we wrote out every single data point relating to our new baby, from the quantity of milk she drank and duration of sleep through to the volume of excreta. It was, after all, only with this information that we were able, in our sleep-deprived and confused state, to coordinate how to meet her needs.

Devices like Nanit’s artificially intelligent baby monitor are designed to outsource much of that brainwork. It’s a $349 night-vision camera that hangs over a cot, using computer vision and deep learning to monitor your little one’s sleep. The little gadget is relatively small, but it packs a microphone, speaker, camera, nightlight and temperature sensor inside its body.

The company describes itself as the “Tesla of baby monitors,” offering artificial intelligence and machine vision. In addition, the device is designed to resemble a particularly elegant-looking lamp and hide its geekiness in plain sight. The company’s pitch also encompasses some of the best security for a baby camera available on the market, should you be worried about hackers.

Nanit remains in position with the help of a five-ish-foot-tall floor stand that needs to be screwed into the wall behind with a neck brace. As with a self-assembly IKEA lamp, you screw in a pair of angled feet to help the pole balance. Word to the wise, however: The feet fixings aren’t the best, and their screw ends began to thread as soon as I began attaching them.

Due to federal regulations governing the position of cables near cots, Nanit’s USB cable is buried in plastic piping. These segments are 20 inches long and are designed to look unobtrusive when placed against your baseboard. Unfortunately, if your outlets are relatively close to the cot, you’re left with an unsightly pile of tubes that you’ll need to hide behind furniture. The company has, however, promised to work on a more elegant solution to this problem in the future.

Using your smartphone as a display, Nanit will work as a regular ol’ video baby monitor, piping sound and vision from the cot 24/7. In addition, a built-in night-light can be activated and deactivated from inside the app. Users can also see temperature and humidity readings for their nursery, as well as save snaps of the sleeping kid to the camera roll.

There is one surprising omission from Nanit’s feature list: the lack of a way to use the device as a walkie-talkie. Plenty of cheaper monitors (including my own) enable you to chat to your kid via the camera’s built-in speaker. On one hand, settling your child remotely almost never works, but it’s useful for asking your partner for their drink order from the other end of the house.

The other, more important half of Nanit’s pitch is that it’ll offer you insights above and beyond a garden-variety baby monitor. With machine learning and computer vision, the device tracks your child’s sleeping pattern and can interpret that data for your later perusal. Each morning, you can find out how much sleep your kid had and how long it took them to fall asleep.

You’ll also get a highlights reel, showing you an edited-down, sped-up video of all the notable incidents that took place during the night. These reels are never more than a minute or so long, but they’ll show you if your kid quietly woke up and fell asleep during the night. The nature of the clip, however, means that you’ll be mentally playing this tune as you watch the video.

The data’s not just for learning how sleep-fucked you are, but also for planning your kid’s day to suit their needs. If they’ve slept for 11 hours without waking, then you can take them to play gym and lay off the midday naps. If their night (and, by extension, yours) was terrible, then you can treat them with kid gloves during the day and put them to bed earlier the next evening.

Another thing that Nanit offers is a notification stream, which lists every documented event that takes place during a night. Should you need to examine a particular incident during a very rough night, you can scroll through every data point the device absorbed. There is the risk, however, that you can drown in so much data that you’ll never get the real benefit of it.

There’s also a general problem with computer vision (rather than Nanit specifically) that provided a couple of amusing errors. While these devices “see,” they don’t necessarily understand, which can cause a pretty big problem. One day during testing, the app’s dashboard (pictured) told me that my kid had spent six and a half hours asleep during the day. Which was interesting, because she’d been out at the play gym all day and had yet to return home. The camera had, unfortunately, registered her sleeping bag — laid out on the bed for that night — as her. Presumably, as the light shifted through the day, the system had thought it saw enough motion to believe she was there.

mistake.jpg

Daniel Cooper

Errors aside, Nanit does offer one truly helpful tool to help you improve your baby’s sleep: a weekly email of insights derived from the algorithms. It’s here that you’ll be given tips on how to get them off to sleep better in the future. For instance, I frequently put my rug rat to bed after she’s already fallen asleep on me, but research says that they’re easier to settle if they drift off in their cot. So I’ve started resolving to do that every night from now on, if only to make it more likely that she doesn’t wake up during the night.

The sheer volume of information that Nanit aggregates about your child should give you at least a moment of pause. The system collects images and video of your child in bed, as well as you in your nightclothes during comfort visits. In addition, Nanit is sucking down all of the deep learning data it can about your kid’s sleeping pattern.

The company’s representatives explained that the video is retained for as long as you subscribe to Nanit’s Insights program, plus a cooling-off period should you change your mind. But the actual data is retained to help improve the company’s machine learning program. Nanit says that the information is anonymized, but there’s no way for users to opt out of this system.

Nanit says that that’s fair, and common practice among other companies — like Nest — so you needn’t be concerned. But that may not comfort those folks who are concerned about privacy and the potential for data to be turned into a “fingerprint.” As we learned earlier this year, researchers believe that anonymous data can be reverse-engineered to identify individuals.

It’s a decision that you’ll need to make for yourself, although, to give Nanit credit, it is one of the most secure monitors on the market. As well as using TLS/SSL, the company employs AES 256-bit symmetric key encryption and is compliant with the HIPAA. Given how many Internet of Things devices — especially connected cameras — are shipped without even basic security, Nanit’s effort here is well worth celebrating.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the issue of whether you should buy Nanit as the ultimate addition to your own nursery. The simplest thing to say is that if you’ve got the better part of $400 to spend on a baby monitor, then this is the baby monitor you should buy. Nanit fits unobtrusively into your beautifully appointed nursery and may help you put your kid to sleep.

Everything Nanit does, it does pretty well, and there are certainly reasons to spend money on a device that’ll help your kid get to sleep. Hell, the alternative is not learning lessons about good sleep habits and having to get up at 3 a.m. each and every night. However, Nanit can only really cover what goes on in the crib, and kids are never that simple. It’s like with Tesla: There are other, cheaper EVs available, but if you can afford it, why wouldn’t you buy one?

10
Aug

A silent, 10-minute song is climbing the iTunes charts


If you’ve ever plugged your phone into your car stereo, only to have the same song start playing every single time, I have some good news for you. Yesterday, a true internet hero named Samir Rezhami released a song on iTunes that’s just 10 minutes of silence — and he named it “A a a a a Very Good Song.” Since the iPhone starts playing music alphabetically when you plug it in to many car stereos, that usually means there’s one song that you hear whether you want to or not. Many songs starting with the letter A have probably been ruined thanks to this quirk — but if you download Rezhami’s creation, you’ll instead have plenty of time to queue up the songs you want to hear.

hey I released a blank song that will play 1st so that *one* song won’t play every time u plug ur phone into ur car https://t.co/FL83YUOOcz

— #1 samir (@samir) August 9, 2017

In less than a day, it’s become clear that Rezhami’s trick is resonating with a lot of people — his tweet announcing the track has over 12,000 likes. More amazingly, his “song” is climbing rapidly up the iTunes charts. Right now it sits at #67, ahead of tunes by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kesha, Selena Gomez, The Chainsmokers and a number of other popular, well-established acts. (It’s worth noting that Rezhami’s silent song is hardly the first to gain notoriety, though I don’t think that John Cage’s composition ever made a run up the iTunes charts.)

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES https://t.co/93s4TDXG4c

— ellie✨ (@j_elliebean) August 9, 2017

The question now is whether or not Apple will remove the track from the iTunes Store. On the one hand, it’s clearly a joke, but on the other Apple benefits from every sale. Of course, Rezhami is also laughing his way to the bank, but you can’t blame a man for having a good idea. Many will surely point out that this hack could be done by manually making your own blank song and adding it to your phone, but the convenience of spending 99 cents on this to make the problem go away is a tradeoff that seems worth it.

If you’re an Apple Music user, we have even better news for you — you can just add the song to your library there as part of your subscription. But it might be more fun to pay the buck and see if the world can get a blank track of silence to the top of the iTunes charts.

Via: Twitter

Source: iTunes

10
Aug

Apple May Briefly Drop to World’s Third Largest Smartphone Maker For First Time Since 2011


Chinese company Huawei will likely become the world’s second largest smartphone maker in the third quarter, based on shipments from July through September, according to Taiwanese publication DigiTimes.

The report, citing sources from Taiwan’s handset supply chain, said sales of Huawei’s high-end smartphones like the P10 and Mate 9, as well as its more affordable Honor-branded models, have continued to gain momentum. Enough momentum, perhaps, to briefly overtake Apple’s iPhone.

Huawei shipped 38.4 million smartphones last quarter, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Buoyed by seasonal factors, the supply chain sources believe Huawei will continue to ramp up its shipments to over 40 million units this quarter, which could eclipse iPhone shipments over the same period.

Apple reported it sold 41 million iPhones last quarter, but that total could drop slightly this quarter due to frequent rumors about the highly-anticipated iPhone 8, which may lead some customers to delay purchasing a new iPhone.

“We do think that based on the amount of rumors, and the volume of them, that there’s some pause in our current numbers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, referring to iPhone sales. “Where that affects us in the short term, even though we had great results, it probably bodes well later on.”

Apple hasn’t reported lower iPhone sales in the September-ending quarter versus the June-ending quarter since 2011, however, so if customers truly are holding off, it’ll be the first decline over the summer in six years.

It would also be the first time that Apple drops out of the top two spots in smartphone shipments since 2011.

It’s quite possible, however, that Apple launches its new iPhone lineup in early September and, in line with the past five years, begins shipping the smartphones to customers by mid month. And given the current quarter doesn’t end until September 30, Apple could still outpace Huawei with a few weeks of strong sales.

Even if the launch is delayed, sales of the new iPhone lineup in the following quarter will almost certainly be well above Huawei’s.

For what it’s worth, Apple probably isn’t too concerned about where it ranks in smartphone shipments. First, shipments within distribution channels don’t necessarily reflect sales to end customers. Second, Apple cashes in the overwhelming majority of profits in the smartphone industry.

Huawei, on the other hand, will likely feel quite accomplished if it can surpass the iconic iPhone for even one quarter.

The company, based in Shenzhen, China, has set a lofty goal of becoming the world’s largest smartphone maker by 2021. It’s been making an aggressive push into Europe and Canada, and AT&T has reportedly tentatively agreed to sell at least one flagship Huawei smartphone in the first half of next year.

“Huawei is now closing in fast on Apple and Apple will be looking nervously over its shoulder in the next few quarters,” said Woody Oh, Director at Strategy Analytics. “Huawei is outperforming across Asia, Europe and Africa with popular Android models such as the P10 and Mate 9.”

Huawei held just 1 percent market share in the United States as of the first quarter, according to research firm IDC.

Tag: Huawei
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10
Aug

Consumer Reports Pulls Purchase Recommendation for Microsoft Surface Devices


After previously giving four Microsoft Surface devices a purchase “recommendation” status, Consumer Reports today has pulled that status from the Microsoft products. The publication said that because of “poor predicted reliability” in comparison with rival brands, it can no longer recommend any Surface laptops or tablets to consumers.

The decision specifically targets four Microsoft Surface devices, including the Surface Book (128GB and 512GB versions) and the Surface Laptop (128GB and 256GB versions). Although only four devices are losing their previously designated “recommended” status, Consumer Reports pointed out that its inability to recommend Microsoft Surface products extends across the company’s laptop and tablet devices, including the Surface Pro.

As usual, Consumer Reports based its decision on a survey conducted by its subscribers and the devices they own and use each day, this time focusing on over 90,000 Microsoft products purchased between 2014 and early 2017. The study found that an estimated 25 percent of Microsoft laptops and tablets will “present their owners with problems” as soon as the end of the second year of ownership.

In its findings, the publication said the differences between the breakage rates of Microsoft devices and other brands were “statistically significant.”

Microsoft’s estimated breakage rate for its laptops and tablets was higher than most other brands’. The differences were statistically significant, which is why Microsoft doesn’t meet CR’s standards for recommended products. The surveys are conducted annually. Microsoft defended the reliability of its laptops and tablets.

Originally, multiple Microsoft Surface products performed well in Consumer Reports’ lab testing, but as time has passed and as more data has been collected a reliability issue has come into question. Survey respondents mentioned device startup problems, unexpected freezes or shut downs, and unresponsive touch screens, all occurring well after the devices were purchased.

Microsoft gave the following statement in an email sent to Consumer Reports regarding the new findings:

“Microsoft’s real-world return and support rates for past models differ significantly from Consumer Reports’ breakage predictability,” Microsoft said in an emailed statement. “We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences or capture the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation.”

Late last year, Apple was also denied a purchase recommendation from Consumer Reports for its 2016 MacBook Pro, because battery life “varied dramatically” from one trial to another. After working together to find the source of the issue at hand — which Apple discovered to be a bug in a hidden Safari setting — Consumer Reports reversed its decision and gave the new MacBook Pro devices a recommended purchase status.

Tags: Microsoft, Consumer Reports, Microsoft Surface
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10
Aug

Apple Adds 2017 13-Inch MacBook Pro Models to Refurbished Store


Apple today updated its online store for refurbished products to add a selection of 13-inch 2017 MacBook Pro models equipped with a Touch Bar.

This is the first time the 2017 machines have been available through the refurbished store since their June 2017 release following the Worldwide Developers Conference.

Apple was offering approximately 15 models at the time this article was written, with each MacBook Pro approximately 15 to 16 percent off. A top-of-the-line 3.5GHz/16GB/1TB model that normally sells for $2,899, is available for $2,459 in the refurbished store, for example.

Apple has both Silver and Space Gray models in a range of configurations, with prices as low as $1,529 for the entry-level Touch Bar machine.

15-inch MacBook Pro machines released in June of 2017 are not yet available in the refurbished store, but could be added soon.

All of Apple’s refurbished products go through a rigorous refurbishment process before being offered for sale, which includes inspection, repairs, cleaning, and repackaging. Refurbished Macs come with a one-year warranty that can be extended with an AppleCare+ purchase. For more tips on purchasing a refurbished product, make sure to check out our guide.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)
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