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20
Jan

If tech addiction is screwing up our kids, what should tech giants be doing?


A strange thing happened when New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton interviewed Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2010. At the end of the conversation, Bilton asked Jobs what his kids thought of Apple’s new tablet, news of which was dominating websites, newspapers, and magazines. Jobs’ answer surprised him: it turned out Steve’s kids hadn’t tried the iPad yet. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs said.

Bilton, stunned, reached out to Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ hand-picked official biographer, to find out whether he believed this to be true. Isaacson said that it was. “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said. “No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

Teenagers who spend upwards of five hours a day are more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

It would be easy to write off Jobs’ behaviour as being unique to him, among tech executives. After all, wasn’t Apple’s iconic co-founder famous for “thinking different?” But he’s not alone. In 2007, the year that the modern smartphone emerged as its own distinct entity, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates put a screen time cap on his 10-year-old daughter when he feared she was getting addicted to a particular video game. He also barred his own kids from getting cell phones until they turned 14: at least four years later than the average age of a child’s first cell phone.

As people working on the cusp of technology, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would more than qualify for the tastemaker status of what marketing expert Geoffrey Moore would call “early adopters.” Ten years later, however, it seems that a large number of other people are starting to catch up with their concerns about what technology is doing to us — and particularly to our kids.

In her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious,More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, and What That Means for the Rest of Us, psychologist Jean Twenge lays out some of her concerns about the impact that tech addiction, particularly smartphones, are having on the so-called iGeneration. For those keeping track at home, that refers to the post-millennial generation (also sometimes called Generation Z), born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.

Exposure-response curve of hours of electronic device use and % with at least one suicide-related outcome, bivariate and with demographic controls, YRBSS survey of 9th to 12th graders in the U.S. (from Clinical Psychological Science article out today). pic.twitter.com/zjekXk6oyO

— Jean Twenge (@jean_twenge) November 14, 2017

“There are three primary concerns,” Twenge told Digital Trends, summarizing her arguments. “First, digital media use seems to be decreasing the time we spend socializing with people face-to-face. Second, screen time interferes with sleep. Third, there are the direct effects of digital media, such as the social comparison of social media where we all think other people’s lives are more glamorous than ours. All of these are linked to less happiness and more depression.”

The book is filled with statistics backing up these claims — such as the suggestion that teenagers who spend upwards of five hours a day are 71 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend under one hour a day. While correlation is not necessarily causation, iGen nonetheless paints an unsettling picture of a generation whose ever-connected world, and the lack of real world socialization that comes with it, is having a significant negative effect.

What role do tech companies play?

The question, therefore, is what should be done about it. Exactly what responsibility do tech giants have to us, and to society as a whole? Ironically, tech firms are far more likely to cast their work in these terms than just about any other industry. We don’t hear Wal-Mart talking or ExxonMobil talking about what they do in utopian terms, but Google has no issues putting its work in moral terms (“don’t be evil”), while Apple’s CEO Tim Cook happily waxes lyrical about making Apple “a force for good” in the world.

Recently, we got a glimpse of the kind of shareholder pressure that may force tech companies’ hands. Two investor groups with a total of $2 billion shares in Apple sent the company an open letter, voicing their concerns about this subject. Activist shareholders are not, as a rule, vocal about social change — which means that this represents something of a momentous occasion. They want Apple to do two things: to develop software that lets parents limit their kids’ phone use, and to carry out a study investigating the impact of smartphone overuse on mental health. Apple quickly responded to say that at least the first of these two goals is in the works.

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop […]  you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

Right now, it is still early days for this topic. Books like Twenge’s (and some notable others) have began to join the dots, but there are still accusations that examples are being cherry picked to suit an agenda. But people are speaking out. Recently, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, told the news website Axios that, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Expanding on the subject of social media addiction, Parker said that, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Should findings like Twenge’s be borne out in subsequent research, most notably with some form of attributed causation, tech giants could find themselves occupying a similar space to fast food giants or tobacco companies. True, both fast food and tobacco remain powerful industries, but they have also been subject to far more scrutiny. Tobacco advertising, for example, is now among the most heavily regulated forms of marketing. In the European Union, all tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television has been banned since 1991, and only Germany and Bulgaria allow it to be advertised on billboards. In the U.S., billboard and public transportation advertising of cigarettes is banned in 46 states, and there are stringent laws prohibiting advertising aimed at young people.

First co-founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The fast food industry isn’t so stringently governed, but it is easy to see many of the concerns — particularly the promotion of sedentary lifestyles among customers — could be extrapolated to the tech world. The responses of both are certainly similar. Companies like Pepsi and McDonald’s have both attempted to counteract accusations by sending representatives to schools to promote the benefits of regular exercise. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, launched a fitness campaign depicting two people sitting together, cuddled up, on a beach. “Are you sitting on a solution?” the ad read. An article published on Alternet scoffed: “The thing is, they’re drinking the problem: Coca-Cola.”

Possible solutions to the problem

If we sympathize with the fundamental disconnect of a fast food or sugary beverage company also telling us to live a healthy life, should we apply that same skepticism to tech giants? What is the difference between the actions of Coca-Cola and, say, the Apple Watch’s regular notifications that we should go outside or stand up? Part of the reason we are sitting around looking at screens, instead of going out, is because of companies like Apple, which first helped popularize the personal computer and, perhaps more fundamentally, the smartphone.

“Ideally, Apple could integrate the age of the user into the set-up process for the phone”

Twenge said that she is not pinning the blame on tech giants, whether those are the companies which make the phones or the ones that run the social media platforms used on many of them. The right answer, she suggests, is a combination of parenting and, perhaps, a bit more social awareness on the part of today’s tech leaders. “To be clear, it’s not that companies are responsible for this,” she said.  “It’s that companies should give parents better tools for limiting their kids’ screen time.”

“Ideally, Apple could integrate the age of the user into the set-up process for the phone,” she continued, giving an example of one possible solution. “If you say the phone is for a 12-year-old, for example, it could give you the option to restrict the apps used, shut down the phone at night, limit the number of hours it could be used, and/or allow communication only with a short list of phone numbers. Parents might be more willing to buy their children smartphones if they were easier to regulate.”

It will be fascinating to see what happens next. Will tech companies offer tokenistic gestures to placate concerned parents, or will this represent the beginning of a bigger change? If tech figures like Mark Zuckerberg plan on a possible career in politics, we’d hope it will be the latter.

As Twenge’s iGen book points out, one of the most notable characteristics of today’s young people — in addition to their love of technology — is their emphasis on the importance of safety and mental health. When these two areas clash, which is going to win out? The question of how much responsibility tech companies actually have when it comes to shaping the world is a battle that is still being fought. From whether Facebook has any responsibility for the news it helps disseminate to whether iPhones play a role in depression among young people, these are complex issues to be unpacked.

We’d certainly like to see tech giants live up their world-changing ideals by addressing them head-on, though.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Rest in pieces: The biggest tech demises of 2017
  • 5 tech trends you’ll be talking about in 2018
  • Swing and a miss: 6 ambitious tech ventures that failed miserably
  • Trends With Benefits podcast: Our favorite tech from CES 2018
  • Weekly Rewind: Tech trends in 2018, what to expect from CES, an Apple refund


20
Jan

If tech addiction is screwing up our kids, what should tech giants be doing?


A strange thing happened when New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton interviewed Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2010. At the end of the conversation, Bilton asked Jobs what his kids thought of Apple’s new tablet, news of which was dominating websites, newspapers, and magazines. Jobs’ answer surprised him: it turned out Steve’s kids hadn’t tried the iPad yet. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs said.

Bilton, stunned, reached out to Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ hand-picked official biographer, to find out whether he believed this to be true. Isaacson said that it was. “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said. “No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

Teenagers who spend upwards of five hours a day are more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

It would be easy to write off Jobs’ behaviour as being unique to him, among tech executives. After all, wasn’t Apple’s iconic co-founder famous for “thinking different?” But he’s not alone. In 2007, the year that the modern smartphone emerged as its own distinct entity, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates put a screen time cap on his 10-year-old daughter when he feared she was getting addicted to a particular video game. He also barred his own kids from getting cell phones until they turned 14: at least four years later than the average age of a child’s first cell phone.

As people working on the cusp of technology, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would more than qualify for the tastemaker status of what marketing expert Geoffrey Moore would call “early adopters.” Ten years later, however, it seems that a large number of other people are starting to catch up with their concerns about what technology is doing to us — and particularly to our kids.

In her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious,More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, and What That Means for the Rest of Us, psychologist Jean Twenge lays out some of her concerns about the impact that tech addiction, particularly smartphones, are having on the so-called iGeneration. For those keeping track at home, that refers to the post-millennial generation (also sometimes called Generation Z), born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.

Exposure-response curve of hours of electronic device use and % with at least one suicide-related outcome, bivariate and with demographic controls, YRBSS survey of 9th to 12th graders in the U.S. (from Clinical Psychological Science article out today). pic.twitter.com/zjekXk6oyO

— Jean Twenge (@jean_twenge) November 14, 2017

“There are three primary concerns,” Twenge told Digital Trends, summarizing her arguments. “First, digital media use seems to be decreasing the time we spend socializing with people face-to-face. Second, screen time interferes with sleep. Third, there are the direct effects of digital media, such as the social comparison of social media where we all think other people’s lives are more glamorous than ours. All of these are linked to less happiness and more depression.”

The book is filled with statistics backing up these claims — such as the suggestion that teenagers who spend upwards of five hours a day are 71 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend under one hour a day. While correlation is not necessarily causation, iGen nonetheless paints an unsettling picture of a generation whose ever-connected world, and the lack of real world socialization that comes with it, is having a significant negative effect.

What role do tech companies play?

The question, therefore, is what should be done about it. Exactly what responsibility do tech giants have to us, and to society as a whole? Ironically, tech firms are far more likely to cast their work in these terms than just about any other industry. We don’t hear Wal-Mart talking or ExxonMobil talking about what they do in utopian terms, but Google has no issues putting its work in moral terms (“don’t be evil”), while Apple’s CEO Tim Cook happily waxes lyrical about making Apple “a force for good” in the world.

Recently, we got a glimpse of the kind of shareholder pressure that may force tech companies’ hands. Two investor groups with a total of $2 billion shares in Apple sent the company an open letter, voicing their concerns about this subject. Activist shareholders are not, as a rule, vocal about social change — which means that this represents something of a momentous occasion. They want Apple to do two things: to develop software that lets parents limit their kids’ phone use, and to carry out a study investigating the impact of smartphone overuse on mental health. Apple quickly responded to say that at least the first of these two goals is in the works.

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop […]  you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

Right now, it is still early days for this topic. Books like Twenge’s (and some notable others) have began to join the dots, but there are still accusations that examples are being cherry picked to suit an agenda. But people are speaking out. Recently, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, told the news website Axios that, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Expanding on the subject of social media addiction, Parker said that, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Should findings like Twenge’s be borne out in subsequent research, most notably with some form of attributed causation, tech giants could find themselves occupying a similar space to fast food giants or tobacco companies. True, both fast food and tobacco remain powerful industries, but they have also been subject to far more scrutiny. Tobacco advertising, for example, is now among the most heavily regulated forms of marketing. In the European Union, all tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television has been banned since 1991, and only Germany and Bulgaria allow it to be advertised on billboards. In the U.S., billboard and public transportation advertising of cigarettes is banned in 46 states, and there are stringent laws prohibiting advertising aimed at young people.

First co-founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The fast food industry isn’t so stringently governed, but it is easy to see many of the concerns — particularly the promotion of sedentary lifestyles among customers — could be extrapolated to the tech world. The responses of both are certainly similar. Companies like Pepsi and McDonald’s have both attempted to counteract accusations by sending representatives to schools to promote the benefits of regular exercise. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, launched a fitness campaign depicting two people sitting together, cuddled up, on a beach. “Are you sitting on a solution?” the ad read. An article published on Alternet scoffed: “The thing is, they’re drinking the problem: Coca-Cola.”

Possible solutions to the problem

If we sympathize with the fundamental disconnect of a fast food or sugary beverage company also telling us to live a healthy life, should we apply that same skepticism to tech giants? What is the difference between the actions of Coca-Cola and, say, the Apple Watch’s regular notifications that we should go outside or stand up? Part of the reason we are sitting around looking at screens, instead of going out, is because of companies like Apple, which first helped popularize the personal computer and, perhaps more fundamentally, the smartphone.

“Ideally, Apple could integrate the age of the user into the set-up process for the phone”

Twenge said that she is not pinning the blame on tech giants, whether those are the companies which make the phones or the ones that run the social media platforms used on many of them. The right answer, she suggests, is a combination of parenting and, perhaps, a bit more social awareness on the part of today’s tech leaders. “To be clear, it’s not that companies are responsible for this,” she said.  “It’s that companies should give parents better tools for limiting their kids’ screen time.”

“Ideally, Apple could integrate the age of the user into the set-up process for the phone,” she continued, giving an example of one possible solution. “If you say the phone is for a 12-year-old, for example, it could give you the option to restrict the apps used, shut down the phone at night, limit the number of hours it could be used, and/or allow communication only with a short list of phone numbers. Parents might be more willing to buy their children smartphones if they were easier to regulate.”

It will be fascinating to see what happens next. Will tech companies offer tokenistic gestures to placate concerned parents, or will this represent the beginning of a bigger change? If tech figures like Mark Zuckerberg plan on a possible career in politics, we’d hope it will be the latter.

As Twenge’s iGen book points out, one of the most notable characteristics of today’s young people — in addition to their love of technology — is their emphasis on the importance of safety and mental health. When these two areas clash, which is going to win out? The question of how much responsibility tech companies actually have when it comes to shaping the world is a battle that is still being fought. From whether Facebook has any responsibility for the news it helps disseminate to whether iPhones play a role in depression among young people, these are complex issues to be unpacked.

We’d certainly like to see tech giants live up their world-changing ideals by addressing them head-on, though.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Rest in pieces: The biggest tech demises of 2017
  • 5 tech trends you’ll be talking about in 2018
  • Swing and a miss: 6 ambitious tech ventures that failed miserably
  • Trends With Benefits podcast: Our favorite tech from CES 2018
  • Weekly Rewind: Tech trends in 2018, what to expect from CES, an Apple refund


20
Jan

This home robot will clean your house, find your keys, then bring you a beer


Unveiled at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, the Aeolus Robot hopes to deliver the promise of Rosie the robotic maid popularized by The Jetsons. The prototype home robot showed off its skills at the show by mopping floors, moving furniture, and even retrieving drinks from the refrigerator on command.

Alexander Huang of Aeolus Robotics told the Washington Post that the household robot will learn its surroundings and the individual inhabitants of the home, adapting its behavior over time. “Right now it’s like a child, but we will continue to grow its capability so that it grows from a child to an adult,” he said. “The more people that use the robot, the stronger it becomes.”

The Chief Technology Officer of Aeolus was part of the team that brought IBM’s Jeopardy-winning AI program Watson to life.

One key feature of its machine learning is the ability to recognize thousands of different objects and return them to the appropriate place, so a child’s teddy bear won’t end up in the parents’ bedroom. The robotic arm allows it to pick up and manipulate objects with precision. It also connects to household IoT networks such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, and it’s continuously updated.

The robot could even help find lost objects by remembering where it saw them last.

“This is the first multi-functional robot that can act like a human being,” said Huang. “You can say, ‘Hey, my room is clean now robot, so please remember this next time you clean and put all my things back in these exact same spots.’”

The robot may also be an invaluable companion for the elderly or handicapped. Using “posture recognition,” it could identify when a person has fallen or is facing a medical emergency such as a seizure and call for assistance.

Aeolus is somewhat evasive on the price, claiming the robot will cost less than a family vacation overseas.

About the size and weight of a 12-year-old child, the robot doesn’t yet have a name, but the company says it will be available later this year. “It’s our mission to bring together the latest in robotics, AI, and machine learning in an affordable in-home robot,” said Huang.

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20
Jan

‘Destiny 2’ has another problem with diminishing rewards


Bungie previously promised to both tackle complaints about diminishing rewards in Destiny 2 and to be more transparent going forward, but it’s apparent the studio still has some work to do. Players have discovered that the game is throttling the number of tokens it hands out for Faction Rallies (where you pledge allegiance and collect tokens in hopes of scoring a rare weapon at a discount) when you loot Lost Sectors. The company had actually patched this in as of mid-December, but it wasn’t clear what had changed until the Rallies resumed weeks later, on January 16th.

The company has since acknowledged the throttling and updated the December patch notes to reflect the throttling that’s taking place. It had made the change after discovering that players were earning ridiculous token counts without having to fight anyone — up to 500 an hour. The throttling is “too disruptive,” however, and it’s now exploring changes that would properly reward players without opening the door to token farming.

This isn’t a make-or-break flaw for Destiny 2 (Faction Rallies are strictly optional, and there are other ways to get tokens). However, it’s another case of Bungie making a decision that affects dedicated players without telling them what’s going on until after there’s an uproar. Why didn’t the December patch notes mention this from the start? While the fate of the game isn’t in jeopardy after an incident like this, Bungie may have to be more explicit about changes going forward if it’s going to maintain (or regain) gamers’ trust.

Via: Reddit, Kotaku

Source: Bungie (1), (2)

20
Jan

Recommended Reading: Please bring back ‘NBA Jam’


How the silver anniversary of ‘NBA Jam’ could resurrect the franchise
Law Murray,
ESPN

Will the iconic basketball game NBA Jam be revived for its 25th anniversary? EA already rebooted the franchise once, but the original voice of the game wants to bring it back once more. ESPN caught up with Tim Kitzrow, the man behind the legendary “BOOMSHAKALAKA!” catch phrase, to get the latest details — complete with additional backstory from creator Mark Turmell.

The Line 6 DL4 is quietly the most important guitar pedal of the last 20 years
Dale W. Eisinger, Pitchfork

Music nerds will dig this one. Pitchfork breaks down why a single piece of guitar gear was so instrumental (sorry, had to) in so much music in the last two decades.

HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky doesn’t want you to cheat
Megan Graham, AdAge

By now, you’ve likely heard about the live trivia app that’s all the rage these days. AdAge caught up with the host for a day-in-the-life of the popular game show.

Why Microsoft resurrected a 15-year-old mouse
Harry McCracken, Wired

Microsoft knows it’s audience, that’s for sure.

Inside the Nickelodeon Entertainment Lab, the network’s geeky R&D unit
Janko Roettgers, Variety

12-year-old me is geeking over this inside look at Nickelodeon. 33-year-old me is also pretty excited about it.

20
Jan

Here are the best flight-tracking apps for travelers and airplane enthusiasts


Air travel can be stressful, but you can take some of the pain out of it with one of the best flight-tracking apps for Android or iOS. For plane enthusiasts keen on identifying what’s passing by overhead, travelers on trips, and loved ones at home waiting to meet incoming relatives and friends, these apps can prove invaluable.

Most airlines offer their own apps, which can be used to check in, get boarding passes, and track flights up to a point, but the apps below take things further with real-time tracking of planes in the air and a host of additional features you may find useful.

You may also be interested in the best travel tech and tips, and, just in case you run into trouble with a flight, you should read up on what to do when your flight is canceled.

Flightradar24 (Free)

Our top pick is absolutely packed with flight-tracking features. The free version enables you to watch aircraft in the skies in real time, check on estimated departure and arrival times, and search by flight number, airport, or airline. For enthusiasts, the app includes photos, historical flight data, and even a 3D pilot view. If you need a greater depth of data, then you can spring for the Silver ($1.50 per month or $10 annually) and Gold ($4 per month or $35 annually) versions, which give you more flight history, live weather overlays, aeronautical charts, and more. There’s also support for the Apple Watch and Android Wear.

Download now from:

iTunes Google Play

FlightStats (Free)

If you want something more straightforward, then this app offers real-time flight tracking and the ability to search by flight number, airport, or route. There’s a simple status page that shows scheduled and actual times of departure and arrival, a map view with the position of the plane in question, and additional information on weather, gates, and possible delays. This flight-tracking app is completely free, but you will have to put up with some ads and, sadly, there’s no option to pay for an ad-free version.

Download now from:

iTunes  Google Play

ADSB Flight Tracker (Free)

Plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts are the intended audience for this flight-tracking app. ADSB stands for automatic dependent surveillance broadcast, which picks up on aircrafts broadcasting their positions. This app has ADSB receiver functionality, so if you plug the right hardware into your phone, you can get live data from the skies. It shows the positions of planes with flight numbers on a 2D top-down map, or you can opt for a 3D view. This one is just for Android devices.

Download now from:

Google Play

Plane Finder – Flight Tracker ($5)

If you’re an iPhone owner and a plane spotter, then this app could be what you’re looking for. It employs ADSB and MLAT (multilateration) to pinpoint real-time plane positions. It also sports a nifty augmented reality mode, so you can hold your iPhone up to the sky and identify the planes overhead. You can search by flight number, location, airport, airline, and aircraft,  as well as create and save your own search filters, and even set up custom alerts so you’ll know when a particular plane is nearby. With a simple status page and real-time updates, it’s also capable of simple flight tracking. You can get versions of this app for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and iMessage.

Download now from:

iTunes

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20
Jan

Don’t buy an Amazon Echo Dot — get the Zolo Halo instead*


*But only if you’re OK missing out on a few of the Echo’s cooler features.

The is the Zolo Halo. It’s mostly like an Amazon Echo Dot. It’s a connected speaker. It’s got a microphone. It has Amazon Alexa built into it. So it can answer questions and control things and do most everything the Echo can do.

And at $391, it’s priced about the same as the Echo Dot (which officially is $49 but had been on sale for $39 for a while; your mileage may vary) — but it sounds a lot better. So much so that I’ll say this: If you’re considering an Amazon Echo Dot, give this a long, hard look first.

It’s not that the Zolo Halo sounds great. It’s a small, OK speaker for the price. You’re not going to be blow away by sound quality by anything this small, and certainly not this small and this inexpensive. But for $40, it sounds just fine, and it sounds that much better than the Echo Dot.

zolo-halo-amazon-echo-alexa-7.jpg?itok=bI’m admittedly tired of the Echo Dot’s tired design. So the Halo (much like the similar Eufy Genie, a third competitor) is a small breath of fresh air. OK, maybe it’s got a bit of a pencil sharpener thing going on (now there’d be a cool trick), but it’s definitely a step up from the oversized hockey puck Amazon’s been selling for a few years now.

I’m digging the mute button on the front. There’s no mistaking what you need to do if you don’t want this thing listening in on you all day, every day. Hit the button, and it goes dumb. No more listening for you to say “Alexa.”

I’m digging the rubberized buttons up top, done in sort of an inner ring/outer ring thing. Each is under a single sheet or rubber — a small but welcome detail. Looking down on the Halo, North is a button for Bluetooth control. South is play/pause. East and West are volume buttons. The inner ring is separated by the telltale blue LED light. There are a couple pinhole microphones up here, too.

Round back is an LED power light, 3.5mm aux-out port, and the power port. (Proprietary, at that. No Micro-USB nonsense going on here.)

So it’s a better-looking, better-sounding Alexa device. What’s the catch?

It’s not an Echo. That means you’ll not be able to do any of the Alexa Calling stuff that Alexa can do now. It also means that you can’t do multi-room audio with other Alexa devices. You can, however, do multi-room audio with other Halo speakers.

So the decision is easy and obvious. If you just want an Alexa device that does the basics, get the Zolo Halo. If you have to have Alexa Calling, get an Echo Dot.

See at Amazon

The $39 price point is listed as a sale price, with the retail price a ridiculous $109 — even more than the actual Amazon Echo. Do not pay $109 for this speaker. It’s worth $39, not $109. I might go to $59, but that’d be it.) ↩

20
Jan

How to turn off ‘add icons to home screen’ in Android Oreo


add-icon-home-screen-oreo.jpg?itok=1FPUf

Oreo introduces a new way to disable app icons from being automatically added to the home screen.

Android gives you a lot of options to restore apps and settings when you’re switching from an older phone, but if you’re looking to set up your phone as new, you’ll have to go to the Play Store and download apps individually. And that means turning off the option to add app icons to your home screen as you download them unless you want your device looking like an iPhone.

The setting to disable icons from being added to the home screen was in the Play Store settings, but Google switched things up with the Oreo update and moved it to the home screen settings. So if you’ve moved to a phone running Oreo and wanted to turn off the option to add icons to your home screen every time you download an app from the Play Store, read on.

How to turn off ‘add icons to home screen’ in Android Oreo

Use the zoom-in gesture to reveal the home screen settings.
Select Home settings.

Toggle Add icon to Home screen to off.

disable-add-icon-home-screen-android-ore

That’s it! By default, the Google pane is located to the left of the home screen, but with Google Now making way for the feed, the information you see isn’t as relevant anymore. If you’d like to disable that, you can do so from the home screen settings.

What’s the first thing you do when you set up a new phone?

Android Oreo

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  • Join the Discussion

20
Jan

What we’re buying: Dyson’s Supersonic hair dryer


This month, Associate Editor Swapna Krishna is singing the praises of Dyson’s advanced but pricey hair dryer. Compared with her old model, it’s like night and day.

Swapna Krishna
Contributing Editor

I have hair problems. Specifically, I have thick, curly, long hair (layered, but to my waist at its longest) that is incredibly dry all the time. It’s so bad, the only way to ensure that my hair is manageable is if I don’t wash the conditioner out. If you know anything about curly hair, I have type 3a curls.

Frizz is a major issue for me, which is why blow-drying isn’t much of an option, even with a fancy diffuser. The second a hair dryer even approaches my hair, it begins to frizz. Even just quickly running a dryer through it to take some of the moisture out on a chilly day is a recipe for disaster. My hair immediately becomes sharp and spiky, which means I end up throwing it into a bun so I won’t have to deal with it jabbing me all day. It’s not fun, which is why I let my hair air-dry and just try not to schedule anything important before 4 PM.

All of this is why I’ve been so curious about the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer. Everyone I’ve talked to who has used it speaks about it evangelically, even people with curly hair. Most of the reviews online seem pretty great. With a price in the US of $399, it seemed pretty ridiculous to pay so much for a device I can buy for $20 at the drugstore, but if it had the ability to literally change my life and allow me to leave the house before noon with dry hair, it might be worth it. So I took the plunge.

Let’s start with aesthetics. It’s a weird-looking device, for sure, but if you’ve seen one of the Dyson heaters or fans, the design will seem pretty familiar. The packaging is really nice, which may seem trivial, but it helps explain that price tag, at least a little. It comes with multiple tools: a smoothing nozzle, a concentrator and a diffuser. The body is a nice combination of gray and pink. All in all, it’s an attractive package.

The dryer itself is lightweight, and the cord is very long. I was especially struck by the dryer’s diminutive size. It’s relatively compact and would easily fit in a small suitcase or an overnight bag for travel. It has small buttons for both heat level and airflow, as well as an on/off switch and a button to press for a burst of cool air. It all feels high-quality and minimalist.

The real value of the Dyson hair dryer for many people is the sheer amount of airflow it can generate, which was actually a concern for me. Given that I have extremely frizz-prone curly hair, I didn’t need a vortex whipping my hair around at incredibly high speeds. What I needed was a low volume of air and consistent, even, high heat.

The Dyson gets very hot (I was warned to be careful with it near my scalp, something I quickly learned to pay attention to), but it has onboard tech to make sure it doesn’t fry your hair. The supersonic air also makes it work incredibly fast, so you don’t have to subject your hair to the heat for long. I started with my normal post-shower wet-hair routine (mainly DevaCurl products) and then applied a heat styling spray and creme for protection.

To dry my hair, I attached the diffuser (all the tools for this hair dryer are magnetic, which is incredibly convenient) and got to work. I gathered bunches of my hair in the diffuser and dried them at the highest heat setting but lowest air setting. Thanks to the supersonic air, my hair was about 75 percent dry in five minutes, with no more frizz than usual.

dyson2.jpg

Dyson

Let me say that again: My long, thick hair, which takes about eight hours to air-dry, was almost fully dry in five minutes, with no additional frizz, thanks to the Dyson hair dryer. It feels and looks exactly the same as it would have with air drying — soft, smooth and shiny. I can’t even compare the results to my $80 BaByliss Tourmaline hair dryer, because it’s like night and day. The fact is, I couldn’t use a hair dryer before. Now I can.

Yes, $400 is pricey for a hair dryer. No one, least of all me, will dispute that. But sometimes it’s worth spending money one time on something that works well, improves your quality of life, and will last a long time. My only complaint at this point is that it isn’t dual-voltage; for the price I paid, I would like to be able to take it everywhere I travel so I never have to wait around with sopping wet hair for hours and hours ever again.

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.

20
Jan

Portrait Camera App ‘Focos’ Gains Real Lens Optical Effects and Improved Shooting Mode


Portrait Mode photo editor Focos received an update today that should pique the interest of dual-lens camera iPhone owners. The app recently made our end-of-year best iOS app list for its impressive granular aperture and bokeh adjustment tools, but version 1.2 builds on the existing feature set by adding the ability to apply real lens optical effects to depth images.

The update introduces a redesigned interface layout to accommodate the new preset lenses, which include Olympus Zuiko, Helios 44, CarlZeiss Jena, CarlZeiss Otus, Leica Noctilux, Minolta STF, Minolta RF250, A1, A2, A3, and A4.

In addition to the above lenses, users can create custom presets for images with depth information by combining multiple lens settings and saving them under a recognizable name. Fotos’ library of presets can also be re-organized for easy access from the editing menu.

Elsewhere in this update, a tilt-shift effect has been added to the app’s range of filters, offering users another level of control over the plane of focus when widening aperture, while a new ratio of 2.25:1 can be found in the cropping menu.

A torchlight has also been added to Focus’ built-in camera mode, which should help when taking Portrait Mode photos in low light, and the app now supports Bluetooth for taking photos remotely.

Lastly, a look at the general settings screen reveals an added ability to choose between JPEG, HEIC, and TIFF export formats, as well as a simple language selector, which now includes Persian.

Focos supports iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, and is a free download from the App Store, although many pro features are behind a paywall. It costs $0.99 per month or $5.99 per year to unlock them, but there’s also a $9.99 lifetime access purchase option. [Direct Link]

Tags: photography, Focos
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