Joe Biden will give daily news briefings on Echo and Google Home
One of the most useful features across both Google Home and the Amazon Echo series is getting a daily news briefing. Asking both devices to tell you what’s going on for your day can include a customized look at news that matters to you from a variety of sources. As of today, there’s a new option for getting a news update from your smart speaker, and it comes from a somewhat surprising source: former vice president Joe Biden. “Biden’s Briefing” is essentially a short daily podcast featuring news and info curated by Biden — the content itself is sourced from a wide variety of news publications, including Axios, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, MSNBC, New York Review of Books, Politico, Slate, Vice and Wired.
How exactly the format will work isn’t quite clear — it sounds like Biden will be “curating” the content, but what’s unclear is if the program will just replay stories from its sources or if Biden will be offering his own take. Judging from a few pictures the Biden’s Briefing team shared, it looks like he’ll be recording at least a bit of audio though. Either way, having a former VP dishing news he cares about from a bunch of big media sources is worth paying attention to. Sure, Biden could just share things on Twitter, but this will likely be a much less cluttered look at what Biden’s interested in each day. Of course, that’s provided you’re interested in what he has to say — time will tell just how partisan this feed is. If you’re not a Google Home or Echo user, Biden’s Briefing will also be available as a podcast on iTunes, Spotify and TuneIn as well.
Update: Ground Control, a company working in conjunction with Biden’s team to produce this new show, gave us some additional details on how this will all work. Biden will be introducing each article, and it’ll then be read by Ground Control’s team of voice-over actors, who read articles “in the spirit” of the publication that produced it. Biden will also be able to interject his thoughts during the read-through of the article, though it sounds like he won’t be doing that for every single piece.
Trump’s campaign manager reportedly tried planting a mole at Facebook
Former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had designs to infiltrate Facebook’s hiring practices leading up to last year’s election, according to BuzzFeed News. The aim was to “flood the zone with candidates of all stripes who will report back to you/Milo [Yiannopolous]” about the job application process, emails from former congressional staffer Chris Gacek to Bannon, obtained by BuzzFeed, read. The idea was to discover if there was political bias in the hiring process.
Gacek now works for the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank and lobbyist group. “Can u get on this” Bannon reportedly asked a staffer. The exchanges apparently happened on August 1st last year, months after president Obama warned Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg that Russia was attempting to interfere with the election process, and weeks before the former Breitbart publisher took the role of chief campaign strategist for Donald Trump’s presidential run.
The position was for a Public Policy Manager based out of Washington DC who would work for WhatsApp to “develop and execute WhatsApp’s global policy strategy,” and duties would include meeting with government officials and “elected members.” A researcher on the email chain commented that carrying out the plan might be difficult without Facebook becoming aware of the plan.
The job ultimately went to a former member of president Obama’s National Security Council, according to BuzzFeed. What’s concerning is that someone who would become associated with the campaign and have such an influential role in the White House would attempt to plant a mole inside one of the largest tech companies on the planet. We’ve reached out to Facebook and the White House for more information and will update this post should it arrive.
Source: BuzzFeed News
Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch arrives October 1st for $300
Fitbit Ionic, the company’s first smartwatch, will be available for purchase on October 1st. The watch sports a reported five-day battery life, sleep tracking, guided workouts and music playback via Pandora or Fitbit’s Music app. Fitbit Ionic is priced at $300/£300 and comes in three color combinations — silver gray with a blue gray band, smoke gray with a charcoal band and burnt orange with a slate blue band. You’ll also be able to pick up Classic and Sport accessory bands for $30/£25 apiece or leather bands for $60/£50 each. At the same time, Fitbit is also launching its first wireless headphone set — the Flyer — for $130/£110. You can snag them in lunar gray or nightfall blue.
The launch of Fitbit Ionic marks the company’s entry into the smartwatch field, one which companies like Apple and Fossil are already performing quite well in. Fitbit has been falling behind Apple and Xiaomi in the wearables market recently, so it could use a bump from the Ionic.
Fitbit is also releasing its Coach personal training app in October, which features over 90 video and audio workouts, though you’ll have to shell out $8/£8 per month to use it in full. You can pick up the Fitbit Ionic through Amazon, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Macy’s, REI, Target and Verizon. The Fitbit Flyer will be available from Amazon, Best Buy, Brookstone, Nordstrom and Target. You can read out our thoughts on the Fitbit Ionic here.
Microsoft’s all-in-one 365 subscription is available for schools
Microsoft just launched its latest bid to bring its services into every aspect of schools and the workforce. To begin with, it’s offering its all-encompassing Microsoft 365 subscription to education. Schools can pay a single per-person rate to get Windows 10, Office 365, the Enterprise Mobility and Security Suite and even Minecraft: Education Edition. Office 365 for Education is already free, but Microsoft is betting that all the other perks will be worth it for faculty that wants a one-stop shop for the software they need. It’ll be available on October 1st — too late for the return to school, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see this used in earnest until the winter semester or next fall.
The company is also bending over backwards to court “firstline workers,” or the people you actually meet when you interact with a company (such as sales reps and clerks). There’s a version of Microsoft 365 for them (no Minecraft, sadly), but they’re also getting a slew of Windows 10 S laptops that take advantage of the platform’s Windows Store-only app access to boost security. More than anything, the focus here is on cost: the Acer Aspire 1 and Swift 1, HP Stream 14 Pro and Lenovo V330 range in price from $275 to $349, and they’re more notable for their no-frills “ultraslim” designs than any clever tricks. You aren’t going to crave one the way you might a Surface Laptop, but that’s not the point — this is about proving that Windows 10 S isn’t just for schools nervous about malware.
There’s also an important update about software that’s going away. Microsoft has announced that it’s focusing on Teams as its main communications tool for business, and it’ll gradually phase out Skype for Business as a consequence. This isn’t a huge shock, especially since Teams and Skype share enough architecture that they can coexist, but it reflects the effect apps like Slack have had on the working world. If Microsoft didn’t offer a direct alternative, there was a risk that it could lose an important part of the market to a startup. Teams won’t necessarily upset Slack’s early lead, but it’s now getting the kind of attention it might need to thrive at your workplace.
Source: Microsoft Education Blog, Windows Business Blog, TechCrunch
Twitch wants to make sure you register to vote
Twitch’s latest move to expand beyond its game broadcasting bread and butter is to get you to the polls. Amazon’s $970 million baby announced a partnership with TurboVote, a web app designed to make voter registration simpler; National Voter Registration Day is tomorrow, September 26th. To celebrate, a handful of Partnered streamers who will encourage viewers to register to vote, via a TurboVote (not to be confused with Twitch’s own Turbo subscription) link. Those streams will be from 6pm to 8:30pm Eastern.
While it might seem odd — especially during an off-year for voting — Twitch has hosted both the Republican and Democrat National Conventions in addition to carrying former FBI chief James Comey’s hearings and launching its News channel. There are plenty of local elections happening this year, and midterm national elections take place in 2018, though, so at least Twitch is getting out in front of this.
Post Malone sets Apple Music streaming record with song ‘Rockstar’
Post Malone’s song “Rockstar” has just surpassed DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One” as the record with the most Apple Music streams in one week. The Verge reports that the song snagged 25 million streams in a single week on the music service, which accounted for 56 percent of all first week streams of the song in the US. That’s pretty impressive for a service that hosts around a sixth of the users that Spotify does.
Apple also recently played a hand in Jay-Z’s 4:44 success, which wasn’t available on Spotify but topped the Billboard 200 chart nonetheless, largely through Apple Music streams and iTunes downloads after going platinum while still exclusive to Tidal. In March, Apple Music also hosted half of worldwide streams of Drake’s More Life during the album’s first week.
Malone’s previous accomplishments include over one billion streams of his first album Stoney, — released last December — which also featured four platinum singles. Apple Music definitely helped “Rockstar” take the top spot, putting it on three of its most popular hip-hop playlists — The A-List, It’s Lit and #OnRepeat — from the start. “A lot of times on those records where we outperform is because we’re ahead of the curve on them,” Carl Chery, Apple Music’s head of artist curation, told The Verge.
“Rockstar” is from Malone’s upcoming album Beerbongs and Bentleys, set to be released later this year, and Apple will aim to capitalize on the current success of Malone who Chery told The Verge “has quietly become a streaming monster.” He said, “We just have a long history of supporting Post Malone, even before he got signed. The process is pretty simple for us, if we like it, we support it.”
Source: The Verge
Kodi box piracy case comes to anticlimactic end
A man arrested for selling “fully-loaded” Kodi boxes has suddenly backed down from fighting his case. Brian “Tomo” Thompson plead guilty to two charges under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act earlier today. The charges are for advertising and selling devices — in this case, custom Kodi hardware — built for the purpose of streaming content illegally. It’s a sharp U-turn from January, when Thompson attended a hearing at Teeside Crown Court and plead not guilty to both offences.
Kodi, and boxes that run the media centre software, aren’t illegal. Many use the platform for piracy, however, watching TV, movies and sport without paying the appropriate rights holders. Some, such as Thompson, have made serious cash selling ready-to-go piracy machines. Police and media types have, unsurprisingly, caught on to this trend and starting cracking down on the people selling them to the public. Most suspects plead guilty, which is what made Thompson’s case so intriguing.
Speaking to the Northern Echo last September, he offered the following defence: “These boxes are available from all over the place, not just me, but it’s the downloading of software to watch channels that is apparently causing the problem.” The chances of him getting off Scott-free were slim, however people wanted to see how, exactly, his defence would be chewed out by the law. “If I am found guilty and the court rules that I am breaking the law selling these boxes, I want to know what that means for people buying and selling mobile phones or laptops because the software is available for all of them,” Thompson added.
After all, we’ve seen a Kodi case rise to the European Court of Justice. That particular legal bout, involving Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN and local online store Filmspeler.nl, ended with the ruling that selling pre-loaded Kodi boxes constituted copyright infringement. There was, notably, some discussion around the level of responsibility that should be assigned to different players in the Kodi chain. There are those that make the add-ons for accessing illegal streams, sellers of “fully-loaded” boxes that come with these add-ons preinstalled, and even customers who buy the hardware knowing they’re built for piracy.
The reason for Thompson’s reversal is unclear. According to Gazette Live, his defence barrister said there had been “an exchange of correspondence in the case.” Thompson will now be sentenced on October 20th, the same day as Julian Allen, who was arrested for selling similar Android boxes through his “GeekyKit” business in 2015. At this stage, it’s not clear what punishment either individual will face. “I don’t know what the sentence will be,” prosecutor Cameron Crowe said during Thompson’s hearing, “but all options will be open to the court when you’re dealt with.”
Comcast cable service goes box-free on LG TVs in early 2018
Comcast has already started offering access to Xfinity TV without a set-top box, but your choice of TVs has been limited — we hope you like Samsung. However, you’re about to have a wider selection. LG’s 2017 and 2018 televisions will have access to Xfinity TV directly through the set once a beta app arrives in early 2018. You’ll get the same X1 guide as well as access to live and on-demand programming (including your cloud DVR), just without the hassle and cost of extra equipment. Logically, it’ll start with 2017 4K sets before moving to the as yet unannounced 2018 hardware.
It’s no secret as to why Comcast is eager to get rid of the box requirement despite the profit it can make from leasing gear to customers. The reduced service costs could deter cord-cutters put off by all the extra fees that go into cable. Also, this helps lock customers in. If you know your set has built-in Xfinity TV support but would (usually) need extra gear to tune into a rival like DirecTV, which service would you prefer? Whatever Comcast loses in service fees it makes up for with more subscribers.
What we’re buying: BeatsX wireless buds, Roland JP-08, Paprika app
As summer turns to fall, Engadget editors are looking to indoor pursuits, whether that involves paying for smarter recipe apps, a new synth toy or some wireless headphones for that indoor treadmill.
I like to pretend I’m a stickler for sound quality. I might not drop thousands of dollars on a living-room stereo, but I’ll splurge on good audio equipment and will happily nitpick the quality of a new set of speakers. This means I haven’t remotely considered Bluetooth headphones. How could anyone willingly sacrifice fidelity just so they don’t have to spend a few seconds plugging in a cable? Based on descriptions, you’d think going wireless was the ultimate compromise.
Yet here I am, happily enjoying a pair of BeatsX in-ears. They’re not just Bluetooth headphones, they’re from Beats — you know, the brand synonymous with overwhelming bass, the brand that’s supposed to be about style over substance. By all accounts, I should have returned them and written a stern letter to Apple warning it to never do this again. What happened? Simply put, convenience happened. It’s not so much the freedom of going without cords, although that’s certainly been helpful for my workouts. Rather, it’s all the thoughtful touches that make it easier to justify grabbing the BeatsX earphones instead of my higher-quality wired set.
The easy pairing with Apple devices (it’s not so graceful for Android, unfortunately) is really just the start. For one, these earbuds just don’t… fall… out. I use the included wingtips to be on the safe side, but even without those, they hardly budge. I’ve used more than a few in-ear sets that needed constant adjustment to stay put during a run, so it’s nice to have a pair that lets me focus on, well, the run. Combine this with flat, anti-tangle cables and a big, easy-to-control remote and the BeatsX design almost fades into the background, letting the music have its moment. Also, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the magnets in the earbuds that keep them together when not in use. The wireless connection has also been extremely solid. That last part may not seem so impressive, but it’s a minor miracle given the horror stories I’ve heard of flaky Bluetooth headphones.
Don’t get me wrong, there are nits to pick. True to form, the BeatsX sound focuses heavily on low-end frequencies with highs and mids clearly playing second fiddle (although they’re still acceptable). Although that’s not such a problem for a dance-music fiend like me — genres like drum-and-bass and trance thrive on that rumble — I wouldn’t want to own these if I primarily listened to classical violin pieces or tender folk songs.
The eight-hour battery life is okay for commuting or trips to the gym, but it won’t pass muster for a full workday. And I still feel compelled to plug them in after most uses, too, as I don’t really want to test the fast-charge feature (which offers two hours of playback in five minutes). And while the behind-the-neck cord keeps things out of my way, it’s hard to escape looking slightly dorky with the cables jutting out from my head.
This isn’t audio nirvana, then. However, it feels like the Beats team has addressed so many of the practical problems that plague Bluetooth headphones, and indeed many wired headphones, that it’s worth the investment. I’m itching for wireless audio that mates this convenience with genuinely high-quality (that is, balanced) sound, but for the $150 asking price I’m willing to accept the tradeoffs.
Roberto Baldwin, Engadget
Roland has become a very dangerous company. I feel like every month a new musical instrument drops into that sweet impulse-buy spot. The Boutique collection is especially taxing on my wallet. For as low as $200, you can add a tiny synth based on a vintage instrument, another addition to the pile of instruments you swear you’re going to use to start a band or record that album. Someday.
One Roland Boutique synth in particular, the $300 JP-08, has been hanging out in my backpack and replaced my Arturia Microbrute synth at band practice. With digitally-modeled sounds using Roland’s Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology, all based on the Jupiter 8 synthesizer from the early 80s, its plethora of tones makes it a great little addition to my band.
It has two VCOs, an LFO, two envelope filters, a 16-step sequencer and supports four voices at once. That’s all controlled by the same 36 knobs and controllers found on the original Jupiter 8. The result is an impressive amount of sounds and sound manipulation from a gadget that’s approximately 12 inches by five inches.
I like it so much, I used it live at a recent show. Unfortunately, I forgot to swap out the batteries for new ones, and it turned off at roughly 80 percent into its part of a song. Yeah, that was my fault. If I was smart, I could have just plugged it into the same USB charger I use for my Android tablet. That’s fine, but it would have been nice if it accepted a standard power pack like the ones I use for my guitar pedals. Instead, I either have take a chance on batteries or use a different power supply.
Chalk it up to its low price tag, but the penny pinching has some other consequences. The JP-08 (in fact all of the Boutique brand synths) ships without a keyboard. That means some of the coolest things you can do with the synth ( like playing a sequence while simultaneously playing notes) is impossible right out of the box. Instead Roland sells its own K-25m keyboard that attaches to the unit for $100.
I’ve opted to use a random MIDI keyboard, which is more than adequate. Sadly, one of the features I wish was controlled by JP-08’s Musical Instrument Digital Interface was the ability to manipulate the tempo via button, knob or switch. The unit will time sync with other instruments, but when it’s by itself, the timing is controlled by a touch ribbon. In other words, there’s no real way to fine tune the tempo unless you’re connected to another MIDI device with that level of precision. It’s a huge pain when you’re trying to stay in time with other instruments.
Another issue is Roland’s use of mini-jack audio out instead of the standard quarter-inch audio port found on most instruments. I got around it running a mini-jack to quarter-inch cable to a pedal with true analog bypass, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but it can be irritating for musicians playing live shows.
And while I found the JP-08 a great little companion with a few issues on stage, it’s really meant for bedroom musicians. It has a tiny speaker that makes it great for sitting on the couch and noodling out parts without dragging your headphones out of your gig bag. The USB port supports 24 bit / 44.1 kHz to your digital audio workstation of choice. It’s approachable and can be nestled on a bookshelf when not in use. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up another Roland Boutique for my band, but it’s getting tougher for me to ignore the growing line of tiny synths and drum machines at pretty reasonable prices — mostly because they’re fun to play, and, really, that’s half the reason anyone buys a synth in the first place.
I’m a pretty frequent cook (I’d say avid, but I don’t actually love cooking). I have tried many, many, many different methods to organize recipes: everything from a physical binder of printouts to online organization with various hosts (Allrecipes, Pinterest, Evernote, you name it). Nothing was quite flexible or robust enough to accommodate what I needed.
Then I found Paprika (https://www.paprikaapp.com/), an app that’s widely available on most major platforms, including iOS, Mac, Windows, Kindle Fire and Android. And I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that it changed my life. It certainly changed how I cook and shop for groceries.
The trick with Paprika is that it seamlessly syncs between your devices using its own cloud service. I have it for iOS and Mac, and I’m glad that my (many) recipes aren’t taking up valuable space in iCloud. But the reason Paprika works so well is because I deal with my recipes on my computer, my phone and my tablet for different purposes. It works everywhere I need to use it.
On my computer, I find recipes across the internet that look interesting, and use Paprika’s recipe bookmarklet (https://paprikaapp.com/bookmarklet/) (which I keep handy in my Chrome browser bar) to save it. It is automatically downloaded to my Uncategorized folder within the Paprika app. The best part, though, is that unless the recipe is really weirdly formatted, the app is smart enough to do most of the work for me — it can recognize what the ingredients are and what the preparation steps are. That means all I usually have to do once I’m in the app is a quick proofread before categorizing it. You can also use the in-app browser to save recipes or find new ones.
I also use the Mac app to choose which recipes I want to cook each week. When I’m in Paprika, it’s just one click to add those ingredients to my grocery list. It even separates the groceries into categories for easier shopping — though its success rate is only about 50/50. If you’re really particular, the app also allows you to input what’s in your pantry to avoid duplicate purchases.
I use Paprika on my phone mainly for grocery shopping. The app is also the only thing installed on an iPad that lives in my kitchen. It’s got in-app cooking timers (and you can have multiple going at once), which are pretty great.
Paprika also has powerful meal and menu-planning features. I’m not a meal planner, but I have used the menus feature for holidays when I’m juggling a bunch of different recipes. It’s also got a powerful search function, tagging, a rating system and a simple, easy-to-read interface.
It’s not cheap; the Mac app set me back $20, plus $5 for iOS. But when I thought about all the time and effort I’d spent organizing my recipes in multiple places, $25 seemed like a steal.
“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.
macOS High Sierra is available to download
Apple’s last major operating system update of the year is here at last: as promised, you can now download the upgrade to macOS High Sierra through the Mac App Store. So long as you have a qualifying Mac (2009 or newer iMacs and MacBooks, as well as all 2010 or newer machines), you too can see what most of the hype is about. There are some conspicuous app and interface changes, but most of the big improvements are behind the scenes.
The most notable changes for many are the frameworks. High Sierra moves to the faster, more reliable Apple File System for storage (much as on your iOS devices), and the Metal 2 graphics interface offers both better performance as well as support for technologies like machine learning and virtual reality. You’ll also get support for HEVC (aka H.265) video if you have a Mac with a 6th-generation or newer Intel Core processor.
Apart from that, most of the changes are tweaks. The Photos app gets a big revamp with more editing tools, an expanded interface and support for iOS-like features such as Live Photos and Memories. Siri both has a more natural-sounding voice and the ability to learn your Apple Music preferences. Spotlight now includes flight details, and Safari is fighting back against web annoyances through enhanced anti-tracking protection and blocking for auto-playing videos. You’ll probably appreciate Apple’s OS nip-and-tuck upgrades, then, but you won’t be bowled over in the short term.