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20
Oct

Vodafone’s new PAYG plan will cap your bill at £1 each day


Pay-as-you-go smartphone plans haven’t changed much in the last few years. Calls, texts and megabytes are priced individually, putting the emphasis on you to manage your monthly spend. Some networks, such as O2, offer discounted “bundles,” but otherwise it’s the same old system. Soon, Vodafone will be trying a new concept called “PAYG1.” Every text, minute or 5MB of data will cost 20 pence, but if you reach a pound Vodafone will automatically cap your bill for the day. That means any further minutes and texts (and data, up to 500MB) is free until midnight.

Each additional 500MB will cost £1. Managing your data spend is, therefore, a little complicated, but the rest should be straightforward. In short, you’ll never spend more than £30 per month, provided you don’t go silly streaming music or downloading apps on the move. Thirty pounds, of course, is enough to get you a decent contract, but the thinking here is that you’ll regularly fall under that amount. There might be days when you don’t use your phone at all (if you have one just for emergencies, for instance), or limit your usage to just a text or two in the afternoon.

It’s about peace of mind. If there’s a day when you have no choice but to stay on the phone for an hour, it doesn’t matter — you won’t be charged more than a pound at the end of the day. But is PAYG1 good value? On Three, for instance, you can send a text for 2 pence, or make a call for three pence per minute. EE’s £10 “Data Pack” comes with 2GB of data, 100 minutes and unlimited texts for the month. It all depends, unsurprisingly, on your usage and the budget you want to stick to. If you’re interested, we’ve been told Vodafone will be launching PAYG1 in early November.

20
Oct

Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine completes first hot-fire test


Blue Origin was a bit of a mystery to the public for quite awhile. After all, unlike competitor SpaceX, the company haven’t always been welcoming to the scrutiny that comes with inviting the media in. But that changed in early 2016, when reporters were invited into the space tourism company’s headquarters for the first time. Since then, Jeff Bezos’ company has been more open with the public, and yesterday it tweeted about a new milestone. The company’s BE-4 engine successfully completed a hot-fire test. The engine was fired at 50 percent power for three seconds, according to Ars Technica.

First hotfire of our BE-4 engine is a success #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/xuotdzfDjF

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) October 19, 2017

People have derided Blue Origin for its focus on suborbital space tourism with the New Shepard launch vehicle, and that’s indeed been one of the company’s major pushes. But the space company has also been developing New Glenn, a two- and three-stage behemoth rocket that will be able to take people and cargo to orbit and possibly beyond. A configuration of seven BE-4 engines will power the first and second stages of New Glenn. With this test, Blue Origin has at once made a statement that it is to be taken seriously within the sphere of orbital spaceflight and also that it’s one step closer to producing these engines.

BE-4 is the the most powerful rocket engine developed since Rocketdyne’s RS-68 engine (even more than SpaceX’s Raptor engine), which is used in United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV rockets. However, these engines are incredibly expensive to produce, which is why ULA wants to retire the Delta IV line. As a replacement, the company is developing the Vulcan rocket, and it has made steps towards committing to using Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. Aerojet Rocketdyne is lobbying for the ULA to use its AR1 engine, but development is far behind the BE-4. The United Launch Alliance needs an engine as quickly as possible, so this successful test fire may just have cemented Blue Origin’s case.

Via: Popular Mechanics

Source: Twitter, Ars Technica

20
Oct

Billboard’s charts will give more weight to paid music streams in 2018


Starting in 2018, Billboard will change the way it counts streaming music for its charts. Right now, the way it works for the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart is that there are two tiers for streaming music: on demand (where you can select what you listen to) and programmed (think Pandora). On demand listening is given a greater weight than programmed. But next year, the company will add another tier. Paid subscription services (such as Apple Music and the paid tiers of services like Spotify) will have more weight than purely ad-supported listening and unpaid tiers of subscription streaming services.

Billboard says of the switch, “The shift to a multi-level streaming approach to Billboard’s chart methodology is a reflection of how music is now being consumed on streaming services, migrating from a pure on-demand experience to a more diverse selection of listening preferences (including playlists and radio), and the various options in which a consumer can access music based on their subscription commitment.” It’s admirable that the company is keeping its service responsive and reflexive, given how quickly the way we consume music has changed over the years.

The emphasis on paid streaming music, versus free or ad-supported streaming, is an interesting development. It gives music companies further incentive to pressure Spotify and other services that use this kind of tier system to convert more of their subscribers from ad-supported to paid. Spotify historically has shown reluctance to restrict content from its unpaid users, though tough negotiations with music labels have forced the streaming service to take action on that front. Now, it looks like the next round of negotiations might be even harder for services such as Spotify.

Via: The Verge

Source: Billboard

20
Oct

Vodafone’s introducing a zero-rating scheme too


Just as several of its carrier peers have done recently, Vodafone will soon be jumping on the zero-rating bandwagon. Vodafone Passes, as they’re called, are a selection of paid bolt-ons that’ll offer unlimited data towards several music and video streaming services, as well as some social media and messaging apps.

When these bolts-on launch in early November, the Video Pass will be available for £7 per month before increasing to £9 after an unspecified introductory period. Pick one of those up, and any data you use to stream Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vevo, My5 and TVPlayer won’t eat into your usual monthly allowance. The £5 per month Music Pass does the same for Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music, Soundcloud and Napster.

The £5 Social Pass zero-rates data for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, while the £3 Chat Pass ensures WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber don’t pilfer your monthly allowance. You’ll also be able to pick up the £15 per month Combi Pass, which includes all of the above and saves you a bit of money in the process.

Depending on your usage, it might end up being more sensible (if not a little more complicated) to pick up a basic plan to cover general browsing and snag a Combi Pass for everything else. The only catch is you need to be on a pay-monthly tariff — handset or SIM-only is fine, but pay-as-you-go customers are out of luck.

Zero-rating became the cool thing to be doing this summer, among mobile providers at least. Three was first with its special “Go Binge” tariffs, which include unlimited data for a handful of streaming services. Virgin Mobile introduced “data-free” Twitter shortly after, though the MVNO had actually been zero-rating Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp since last year.

EE followed suit by zero-rating all data gobbled up by Apple Music during the carrier’s six-month free trial of the streaming service. Vodafone also unveiled a new, youth-focused sub-brand Voxi in August, which zero-rates several social media apps as standard. While not available at launch, the plan was to offer “passes” through Voxi, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the bolt-ons become available across both brands early next month.

Vodafone might be a tad late to the party, but it certainly has many more big names on its scheme than any of its rivals currently do. That doesn’t necessarily mean Passes are more compatible with the concept of net neutrality, though. Zero-rating is a controversial practice, since it can encourage customers that might be frugal with their data to use some services over others. There’s no concrete rules in Europe, however. Schemes as assessed on a case-by-case basis, and are considered legal as long as they don’t stifle innovation.

20
Oct

Does social media threaten the illusion of news neutrality?


For journalists, social media can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to share their opinion on a wide range of matters, from sports to politics. But at the same time, they have to remember to exercise caution, because whatever they say can be taken out of context and have major implications on the publications they work for. If a reader who follows your tweets or Facebook posts doesn’t agree with you, that can motivate them to claim your entire newsroom is biased.

That’s why we’re now seeing publications having to change their digital strategy. Last week, The New York Times published an “updated and expanded” set of social media guidelines for its journalists. These new rules outline how every staff member (not just editors and reporters) is expected to behave online. In an article posted last week, the Times said that while social media “plays a vital role” in its journalism, since it can act as a tool to better engage with readers and help reach fresh audiences, it can also be a complicated medium. “If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media,” the Times said, “that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.”

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Put simply, the Times wants its journalists to “take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions” through social media on issues that it covers, even if the reporter or editor isn’t attached to a specific story’s byline. Dean Banquet, The New York Times’ executive editor, said in a memo that the guidelines are “rooted in the very experience of our journalists.” Several reporters who are prominent on Twitter, including Maggie Haberman and Max Fisher, were involved in the process, offering “very helpful” input and, ultimately, their endorsement.

Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times covering ISIS, suggested in the same memo that her colleagues block abusive people, rather than engage in an argument that may turn ugly. At the same time, however, the guidelines say that staffers should avoid muting or blocking people who are simply criticizing their work.

Meanwhile, chief White House correspondent Peter Baker warned reporters and editors that any tweet from them about President Trump could be taken as a statement from The New York Times. That’s why it’s probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself. “The White House,” he said, “doesn’t make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together.” Baker’s example is important because it signals that The New York Times doesn’t just want to protect itself from reader criticism, but also from President Trump and his staff. Don’t make yourself and your colleagues an easy target, Bakers seems to suggest.

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It’s clear that the idea is to avoid giving anyone reason to claim the paper isn’t fair or neutral. That’s understandable, but many journalism experts believe the move was driven by recent political events. The decision comes at a time when Trump is constantly bashing the publication, with “the failing New York Times” being his favorite epithet. And he often follows that by claiming that the Times and the rest of the “mainstream media” are “fake news.” That said, the paper may be doing this as a way to shield itself against growing scrutiny.

The thing is that, while other news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal, have similar guidelines in place, those don’t tend to be publicly available. The New York Times made the choice to share them with its readers, and by doing so, it’s opening itself up to critiques.

So why now?

Cynthia Collins, social media editor at The New York Times, told Engadget that these guidelines have been in the works for months. Though she didn’t elaborate on why this was the right time to share these rules publicly, Collins said that the Times felt it would be “interesting or useful for other newsrooms, journalism schools and, most importantly, to us, our readers.” As for what’s changed from the old rules, she said only that the new ones were shaped by incorporating reporters’ voices.

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If our Journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.

The New York Times

“Although stricter policies are in place for journalists who directly cover topics like sports or culture,” said Collins, “journalists who work outside of those departments can reasonably discuss their leisurely pursuits on social media.” She said that staffers should ask themselves a couple of key questions before posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media app: “If readers see your post and notice that you’re a Times journalist, would that affect their view of the Times’s news coverage as fair and impartial?” And “could your post hamper your colleagues’ ability to effectively do their jobs?”

If the answer to either of those is yes, she said, then it’s best for journalists to just bite their tongue. (We reached out to a couple of current and former Times staffers, but they declined to speak on the record.)

“I am very concerned that the Times’ dictum might come in response to pressure and criticism from the right,” said Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Naturally, the Times won’t say whether the new rules are, indeed, based on pressure from the right wing. But if that were the case, the paper would be making itself vulnerable. “In this age, it is more necessary than ever for journalists to connect with the publics they serve on a human level with direct communication, with empathy and with honesty. Journalists are not superhuman beings who have no opinions, no bias, no perspective, no worldview, no background.”

If readers mistake opinion for news, they’re confused. If critics use a reporter’s Twitter feed to trash the brand, time for new guidelines.

— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) October 20, 2017

When asked whether reporters should avoid sharing their personal opinions, be it on Trump or other matters, Jarvis said that this shouldn’t have to be the case. “I believe that we as journalists need to be transparent about our worldviews and experience,” he said. “Indeed, one of the reasons the conservative half of America does not trust news media is, I believe, because we were not honest about journalists being predominately liberal in our outlook. If they could not trust us to be open about that, then they came to believe they could not trust us about other things we report.”

Jarvis said he does understand the Times’ desire to be somewhat more prescriptive, particularly when it comes to reporters using social media to make consumer complaints. On Twitter, for instance, journalists are often verified. That means they can use their position to grab a company’s attention faster than someone without a blue checkmark on their profile. Still, Jarvis said, “I feel for them, as I find that public discussion can be the best way to find consumer justice.”

It will be interesting to see if more publications follow in The New York Times’ footsteps. Not just in demanding that staffers be less opinionated on social media but also by making any revised guidelines public. Given the current state of affairs, wherein readers who agree with something may shout “fake news,” it wouldn’t be surprising if we see more news organizations change or be more transparent about their social media rules for staff members.

20
Oct

The best plug-in smart outlet


By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending over 22 hours plugging in and unplugging lights and other small appliances and turning them on and off using various apps (and by barking orders at Siri and Alexa when we could), we found that the Belkin WeMo Mini is the best smart-switch outlet adapter for people who want to add smart control to their existing outlets. It packs most of the same features as our previous pick, the WeMo Insight, into a smaller size, and it’s less expensive. It also plays nicely with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and integrates easily with popular smart-home protocols and devices. All you need to do is plug the Belkin WeMo Mini into an existing outlet and install the app to get started with home automation.

Who should get this

If you’re the type of person who is constantly paranoid about if you left the iron on, smart plugs can ease your anxiety. These are small devices that plug into any outlet and allow you to control the connected appliance wirelessly via a smartphone app. Putting even just one smart switch into your home can ensure that you’ll never enter a dark house; add a few and you can control items such as household fans, speakers, slow cookers, air conditioners, and more.

How we picked and tested

Smart switches are an easy way to add remote control to any electronic device.
Photo: Rachel Cericola

We started compiling a list of smart switches by searching for reviews on sites like CNET, Pocket-lint, and MakeUseOf. We then cross-checked our list with customer reviewers from Amazon, and decided not to consider any models with bad reviews.

After that, we started considering criteria and features. First and foremost, a smart switch should be easy to operate and reliable. You should be able to plug it in, download the app, and start controlling the switch in minutes. We also favored apps that provide extras beyond the ability to turn the switch’s power on and off, such as dimming, scheduling, and the ability to group multiple switches.

To test each switch, I downloaded apps to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. Most of the switches connected to Wi-Fi easily and were simple to operate. I kept all of the plugs confined to the lower level of my house, but operated controls from across the house, out in the driveway, and across the street (up to 150 feet away). To keep things interesting, I plugged a variety of items into our test switches.

Our pick

Belkin’s WeMo Mini Switch turns any outlet into a smart outlet you can control with your iOS or Android device. Photo: Rachel Cericola

Belkin recently slimmed down its smart-plug offering with the WeMo Mini. The company’s newest smart plug is just as reliable as our previous top pick, the WeMo Insight, but is more compact and $15 cheaper. It connects to the same WeMo app, which can control several devices remotely, includes options for scheduling and rules, connects with both iOS and Android devices, and can be integrated with other smart-home devices. The WeMo Mini is small enough to fit into either socket in a duplex outlet without blocking the second one.

The switch easily connects to your Wi-Fi without needing a hub. It performed as advertised throughout our testing period, providing on-off control from inside and outside of the house whenever called upon. The WeMo Android and iOS apps are almost identical, offering on-off controls, rules, and timers. Unfortunately, the WeMo Mini does not offer energy-usage information; the only WeMo device with that feature is the Insight Switch.

Like its predecessor, the WeMo Mini stands out because of its compatibility. In addition to integrating with other WeMo devices, the switch also works with the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and IFTTT. However, the WeMo Mini does not support integration with Apple’s HomeKit.

Runner-up

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The iHome iSP8 is a solid runner-up. It performs all of the standard smart-switch features very well, but adds additional smart-home integration and energy monitoring so you can see how much energy your lava lamp is wasting via the companion app. It also comes with a separate remote control for controlling it without a smartphone (from up to 35 feet away). The drawback of these extra features is that they cost more than our top pick. If you don’t need it to work with HomeKit or a smart-home hub, you don’t need to spend the extra money.

The iSP8 has a few additional smart-home perks over our main pick. Besides Alexa and Nest integration, it offers support for SmartThings and Wink smart-home systems, so you can connect it to a hub and make it a part of a larger, whole-house system. It also features Apple HomeKit integration, so you can control the iSP8 or groups of HomeKit-enabled devices using iOS devices and the sound of your voice. It does not work with Google Home.

Budget pick

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Geeni Energi is a reliable performer and the least expensive Wi-Fi smart plug currently available. It provides all of the standard smart-switch features, allowing users to control devices both in and outside their home. It also includes scheduling and timers and can be controlled via Amazon Alexa devices. Geeni’s Android and iOS apps are identical, offering on-off controls, scheduling, timers, rules, the ability to group devices, and energy-usage information. However, It’s a bit bulkier than our other two picks, which will banish it to the bottom receptacle of your outlet.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

20
Oct

Spotify’s RISE program will try to find future music superstars


It’s hard to deny Spotify’s influence on the current music landscape. After all, the streaming service has over 50 million paid subscribers. Now, they’re using that influence to help up and coming artists. Today, Spotify introduced RISE, which it bills as “a program designed to identify and break the next wave of music superstars.” There will be a total of sixteen artists per year in the program, announced in groups of four every few months. It will launch in the US, Canada and the UK to start.

The company announced the first four artists in the RISE program are Kim Petras (pop), Lauv (pop/rock), Russell Dickerson (country) and Trippie Red (hip hop). Spotify is committed to promoting their RISE artists on and off the service, including RISE playlists and audio and video content that goes into each artist’s story. Delta Airlines will also be promoting RISE artists on aircraft seatbacks through the Delta Artist Spotlight program.

It appears as though these artists do have record deals — Russell Dickerson, for example, is signed with Triple Tigers/Sony, so it appears that Spotify isn’t interested in getting into the record label business. Instead, they appear to have identified up-and-coming artists — some of whom have already have some success on Spotify, with viral singles — with an aim to turn them into the next global superstars.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Spotify

20
Oct

Google compensates Pixel 2 buyers who overpaid at pop-up stores


If you rushed out to buy a Pixel 2 at one of Google’s pop-up stores on October 19th, you probably got a rude surprise: the Verizon reseller handling your purchase, Victra, was charging customers an extra $30 on top of the normal price. Unless you knew enough to haggle it back down, you paid a premium to walk out of the shop with a phone in hand. However, Google isn’t having any of it. The company informed The Verge that it’s reimbursing the difference for customers who overpaid for the device, and it’ll contact you if you haven’t already heard back. “This is an error, which is now fixed,” a spokesperson said.

Victra was willing to price match for shoppers who drew attention to the discrepancy, but that just underscores the arbitrary nature of the price hike — it had no connection to the actual price of the phone. This wasn’t meant to cover activation fees, taxes or the other usual charges, either.

The remedy is coming quickly, but the incident underscores the risks of tech giants running stores where they don’t have full control. Google may have given the impression that it was the one charging extra, which would undoubtedly have left a bad taste in your mouth. As it stands: if you’re ever worried about the possibility of price gouging, it’s usually wise to buy either online or from a carrier’s official stores.

Source: The Verge

20
Oct

Billboard Charts Will Put ‘Greater Emphasis’ on Paid Streaming Services Like Apple Music in 2018


Billboard has announced that its Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts — which measure singles and albums, respectively — will begin weighing plays made on paid subscription streaming services/tiers more than plays made on pure ad-supported services/tiers in 2018. This means services that only support paid subscriptions, like Apple Music, will receive a “greater emphasis” in Billboard chart calculations.

The Billboard calculations will include plays made on paid subscription tiers of hybrid services as well, related to Spotify and SoundCloud. For the Hot 100 list, Billboard said that there will now be “multiple weighted tiers” of streaming plays, with paid subscription at the top, then ad-supported streams, and programmed streams. Besides streaming, radio airplay and digital song sales are also still accounted for.

Currently, the Billboard Hot 100 chart weighs streaming music from services like Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon Music under one “on-demand” category, as well as having a “programmed” type for Pandora and other online radio services. In this setup, on-demand has a greater weight, but plays made through paid subscriptions aren’t specifically given more weight over free tiers.

Billboard explained that this shift to a “multi-level streaming approach” reflects how much music listening has changed over the years, particularly with how popular exclusive songs and albums have become for streaming services, which lock this content behind paid subscriptions. These changes not only affect the Hot 100, but also the Billboard 200 and “many other charts,” with the media company stating: “It is our goal at Billboard to accurately portray in an unbiased manner how music performs relative to other music.”

Beginning in 2018, plays occurring on paid subscription-based services (such as Amazon Music and Apple Music) or on the paid subscription tiers of hybrid paid/ad-supported platforms (such as SoundCloud and Spotify) will be given more weight in chart calculations than those plays on pure ad-supported services (such as YouTube) or on the non-paid tiers of hybrid paid/ad-supported services.

The shift to a multi-level streaming approach to Billboard’s chart methodology is a reflection of how music is now being consumed on streaming services, migrating from a pure on-demand experience to a more diverse selection of listening preferences (including playlists and radio), and the various options in which a consumer can access music based on their subscription commitment.

The Billboard 200 chart, which tracks albums, only began to count streaming numbers back in 2014, one year prior to Apple Music’s debut. Once the service launched, Apple Music plays were counted towards Billboard’s Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts beginning in August 2015. Other streaming providers that contribute to the charts include Spotify, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Medianet, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Tidal, and Groove Music Pass.

Tags: billboard.com, Apple Music
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20
Oct

Apple COO Jeff Williams and Foxconn Chief Will Reportedly Meet Amid iPhone X Production Issues


Apple’s operating chief Jeff Williams will reportedly meet Foxconn chairman Terry Gou later this month, following several reports about ongoing iPhone X production issues, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

While the report did not say which topics Gou and Williams will discuss, it said the two executives will presumably look at ways to deal with the manufacturing bottleneck for Apple’s new high-end smartphone.

Williams will be visiting Taiwan for the 30th anniversary of TSMC, the sole supplier of the A11 Bionic chip in the latest iPhone models, the report said. A ceremony marking the celebration is scheduled for Monday.

Apple’s suppliers are still struggling to perfect manufacturing of the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera and 3D facial recognition system, according to the report. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo highlighted the issues last month.

Multiple reports have claimed it has taken more time to assemble the TrueDepth system’s so-called “Romeo” module than the “Juliet” module.

The “Romeo” module reportedly includes the dot projector that beams more than 30,000 invisible dots to create a precise depth map of your face, while the “Juliet” module includes the infrared camera that analyzes the pattern. Together, they help power new iPhone X features such as Face ID and Animoji.

Foxconn is the sole assembler of the iPhone X, while its subsidiary Sharp and LG Innotek are reportedly responsible for assembling the 3D sensor modules.

Today’s report cited an industry executive who said that while the yield rate has improved, it has not yet reached a satisfactory level. The executive believes it’s unlikely the yield rate will reach a level that will enable Apple’s suppliers to churn out the iPhone X at their full capacity by the end of October.

Jeff Pu, an analyst with Taipei-based Yuanta Investment Consulting, recently cut his forecast of the number of iPhone X devices that will be produced this year from 40 million units to 36 million. It was the second time he has revised down his estimate, which originally totaled 45 million earlier this year.

iPhone X pre-orders begin one week from today in the United States and more than 55 other countries. The device launches November 3.

Related Roundup: iPhone XTags: Jeff Williams, Foxconn
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