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27
Jun

Apple’s Headphone Jack Adapter Remains a Top Seller at Best Buy


Back in September 2016, controversy erupted when Apple released the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus without a headphone jack. Now, users must plug wired headphones into the Lightning connector using an adapter, included in the box with each device, and sold separately for $9 in the United States.

The adapter is also available at resellers such as Best Buy, where nearly two years later, it remains a top seller. In fact, the adapter is Best Buy’s second-best selling Apple product in terms of unit sales, behind only AirPods, according to Joshua Fruhlinger, publisher of data-driven site Thinknum:

The above chart shows the Lightning-to-3.5mm Headphone Adapter’s sales rank at Best Buy for the past couple years. A lower sales rank, of course, is better. As you can see, the adapter has been a top-25 seller for the better part of the past year.

Apple is likely not making a ton off of the little dongles, but the fact remains that it’s the company’s second-best-selling product at America’s number-one electronics retailer, ahead of its EarPods and Apple Watch.

MacRumors reached out to Fruhlinger to verify the data, obtained using Best Buy’s developer APIs, and we did see that the headphone jack adapter has consistently ranked as the best selling Apple product behind AirPods, with a few days here and there as exceptions, for well over a year.


In fact, since the adapter was released a few years ago, its sales ranking among all products sold by Best Buy has generally increased:

  • Dec 15, 2016: 261st
  • Mar 15, 2017: 77th
  • Jun 15, 2017: 33rd
  • Sep 15, 2017: 30th
  • Dec 15, 2017: 53rd
  • Mar 15, 2018: 18th
  • Jun 15, 2018: 19th

The data is particularly interesting given that Apple already includes its headphone jack adapter in the box with its latest iPhones, so every customer that needs one should already have one. So, what is driving all of the sales?

Fruhlinger offered up a pretty reasonable explanation: people keep losing the adapter, thereby having to buy a new one:

I almost died of laughter at the gym last year. I was plodding away on a treadmill listening to Bill Burr complain about his new iPhone. To be more precise, he was ranting about his new iPhone’s lack of a headphone jack and how he kept losing those Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone adapters…

The story cut too close to home. As a wired headphone holdout (I refuse to charge my headphones, and I love my Klipsches), I’ve gone through several headphones adapters myself.

Of course, some customers may simply want more than one headphone jack adapter for use in the car, at work, and so forth.

Overall, the data suggests wired headphones remain popular, but remember that AirPods are the one Apple product outselling the adapter at Best Buy, so many customers are also embracing wireless.

Apple has said it is pushing towards a “truly wireless future,” as evidenced by the removal of the headphone jack, and its other products and technologies, ranging from AirPods and AirPower to its W1 and W2 wireless chips. The headphone jack adapter has always been a stopgap amid that transition.

In fact, earlier this year, analysts at Barclays predicted that Apple won’t include the adapter in the box with the trio of iPhones rumored to launch this September. Even if that turns out to be false, the adapter certainly won’t be around forever. But, for now, it clearly remains quite popular.

Tag: headphone jack
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27
Jun

Snapchat Planning to Launch ‘Internal App Store’ for Games This Fall


Snapchat is looking to build its own “internal app store” of gaming titles, according to a new report out today from The Information.

The platform is set for a tentative launch sometime this fall, and will allow outside developers to build games that Snapchat then distributes for users to play within the Snapchat app.

People familiar with the company’s plans claim that Snapchat has already lined up one gaming publisher to make a new game for Snapchat’s app store.

Unless every game is completely free, it’s unclear how the company plans to succeed when Apple has strict App Store guidelines that prevent companies from selling apps, games, and other content in their apps that aren’t designated in-app purchases.

The company is preparing to launch a platform this fall that will let outside developers create games to be played through the Snapchat app, according to two people familiar with the matter.

It is relying on outside developers to build the games that could be downloaded in an internal app-store of titles. The gaming platform has been in the works for at least a year as the company has worked on the platform’s technology, according to a person familiar with the effort.

Recently, Valve had trouble with Apple’s policies in this regard, after trying to get its Steam Link app on the App Store, which would have let users purchase games within the app. After Apple rejected the app, Valve removed game purchasing as an option from Steam Link and has resubmitted it for approval to Apple. Now, when users see a game in the app Valve points them toward a Mac or PC as places to make their purchases.

For Snapchat, the deeper foray into gaming is believed to be an attempt to further distance itself from rival Instagram, which has copied a few of its features over the years and eventually became more successful than Snapchat in regards to the 24-hour “stories” feature. However, one source reportedly suggested that the gaming platform is still “more experimental” at this point than a central business effort by the company.

Earlier this year, the company expressed interest in gaming on a small scale with the launch of “Snappables,” Snapchat Lenses that are interactive and let users play AR games with friends. Many social-focused apps have tried out gaming experiences in the past, including Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Apple’s own iMessage through the launch of the Messages App Store in iOS 10.

Tag: Snapchat
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27
Jun

Disney’s Acquisition of Fox Approved, but Must Sell Off 22 Regional Fox Sports Networks


After months of scrutiny in an ongoing antitrust case, the United States Department of Justice today granted The Walt Disney Company approval to acquire 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets for $71.3 billion, on one new condition: Disney must divest 22 regional sports networks owned by Fox to an “acceptable” buyer. Removing these networks from the acquisition “would resolve the competitive harm” that has been previously raised in the antitrust lawsuit, the Department said.

If Disney did acquire Fox and the 22 regional sports networks, the original complaint argued that the proposed acquisition would “likely result” in multichannel video programming distributors paying higher prices for cable sports programming in the designated markets. This would also inflate television subscription prices in the process, the Department pointed out.

Now, Disney has agreed to sell the 22 networks to a buyer that the Justice Department deems “acceptable,” rather than continue the ongoing merger investigation. After the acquisition closes, Disney will have 90 days in which to sell all of the designated networks to the buyer, otherwise the court will appoint a trustee to force the sale.

This will ensure a competitive market remains in place in each region, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim explained.

“American consumers have benefitted from head-to-head competition between Disney and Fox’s cable sports programming that ultimately has prevented cable television subscription prices from rising even higher,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Today’s settlement will ensure that sports programming competition is preserved in the local markets where Disney and Fox compete for cable and satellite distribution.”

The specific regional sports networks in question include the following:

(i) Fox Sports Arizona, (ii) Fox Sports Carolinas, (iii) Fox Sports Detroit, (iv) Fox Sports Florida, (v) Fox Sports Indiana, (vi) Fox Sports Kansas City, (vii) Fox Sports Midwest, (viii) Fox Sports New Orleans, (ix) Fox Sports North, (x) Fox Sports Ohio, (xi) SportsTime Ohio, (xii) Fox Sports Oklahoma, (xiii) Fox Sports San Diego, (xiv) Fox Sports South, (xv) Fox Sports Southeast, (xvi) Fox Sports Southwest, (xvii) Fox Sports Sun, (xviii) Fox Sports Tennessee, (xix) Fox Sports West, (xx) Prime Ticket, (xxi) Fox Sports Wisconsin, and (xxii) the YES Network.

Disney is now believed to have surpassed the last major hurdle in the deal and should be nearing the end of the acquisition process, although regulatory approvals from other countries are still required. Competitive offers could also still appear, potentially from Comcast, although Fox has remained vocal about its preference for Disney to win its entertainment assets.

As outlined in the original announcement last December, these assets include Twentieth Century Fox Film and Television Studios and Fox-related cable and international TV businesses. Movie assets that would become Disney-owned include Avatar, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool, and TV shows include The Simpsons, This Is Us, and The Americans. Disney would also get Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu and become a majority owner of the streaming service.

Tags: Disney, Fox
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27
Jun

BlackBerry KEY2 hands-on: It’s all about speed


Hey! You! We’ve published our full BlackBerry Key2 review, so head to this article to see what we really think of this new BlackBerry phone.

BlackBerry’s renaissance launched with aplomb last year with the BlackBerry KEYone. A year on, and two new variants later, including the first dual SIM BlackBerry ever, the company is back with its new keyboard-toting phone, the BlackBerry KEY2. It’s got an updated design, a new special key, and the first ever dual camera on a BlackBerry, but should this be your new phone? Let’s take a look!

blackberry key2

The KEYone inspired nostalgia amongst BlackBerry users everywhere, with a design reminiscent of iconic devices such as the BlackBerry Bold 9000. The BlackBerry KEY2 brings a few tweaks based on feedback from users, partners, and customers, and builds on this with an emphasis on a better overall typing experience. The curves of the KEYone have been replaced by a flatter design with straighter edges, and the device is one millimeter thinner as well as 12 grams lighter. The result is a much better in-hand experience more conducive to one-handed typing. The keys have also moved to the righthand side of the KEY2 — with the power button gaining a textured finish — to provide a more seamless experience and look.

The KEY2’s typing experience is where it really shines thanks to 20% larger keys

The KEY2’s typing experience is where it really shines. The keys are now 20 percent larger and there’s more room for them, now that the glass display stretches all the way to the top of the phone. Personally, I found the KEYone keyboard to be a little cramped, but the KEY2 is more comfortable to use. Like the KEYone, there’s the fingerprint sensor in the space bar, and it works well whether the phone is flat on a table or in your hand.

blackberry key2

The big addition to the keyboard is the new speed key. One of the best parts of the BlackBerry experience is the ability to program a key to quickly launch apps, shortcuts, or other features directly from your homescreen when you tap or long press it. On the KEYone, you had to go back to the homescreen to use it, but you no longer have to with BlackBerry KEY2 — pressing the speed key and activating your shortcut will work regardless of which app you are in. The larger keys provide excellent tactile feedback and the keyboard still comes with all the swipe gestures and functionality we’ve come to expect from BlackBerry’s physical keyboards.

blackberry key2

The speed key isn’t the only new feature on the KEY2, it also features the company’s first dual camera offering. The back has two 12MP sensors, with the main sensor offering f/1.8 aperture and 1.28μm pixel size. The second sensor has a 12MP resolution with an f/2.6 aperture, 1µ pixel size, and a telephoto lens offering 2X zoom. The BlackBerry KEY2 uses both lenses to offer a portrait mode because it’s 2018 and every camera offers this feature. The front camera has an 8MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and 1.12μm pixel size.

Neither rear camera offers optical image stabilization and portrait mode is limited to just the rear cameras, but it’s an improvement over previous BlackBerry devices nonetheless. While the hardware is new, the real story is the software, which BlackBerry said it heavily refined to capture much better pictures. We’ll have to wait for the full review to confirm this, but the early signs are promising.

blackberry key2

The BlackBerry KEY2 runs Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box, and BlackBerry confirmed the device will get an update to Android P, although it wouldn’t say past that. The software experience is largely what we’ve come to expect from BlackBerry, and its best-in-class DTEK security suite now features an updated UI. A couple of interesting additions to DTEK include the ability to see whether apps are running in the background or foreground, which is particularly useful for finding apps you’ve never opened that consistently run in the background and turning them off.

DTEK has also gained new sensitive permissions, which will help alleviate any security concerns users may have. Out of the box, the microphone and camera are set as sensitive permissions. When an app is trying to use either of these, you’ll get a notification and will have to explicitly grant it access. This could stop rogue apps and also provide you with an understanding of which apps use these features. If the phone app asks for permission to use the microphone, you’ll obviously want to grant it. If the calculator asks to use your microphone, you might want to think twice.

blackberry key2

The other big addition to the software experience is a new Private Locker feature, which creates a private area on your phone. While other Android phones also offer this feature, BlackBerry’s integration is a little different. Inside the locker you can add apps, photos, files, documents and more. Photos added to the locker don’t appear in the regular gallery and won’t back up to the cloud.

The Private locker lets you hide apps from your homescreen or app drawer, which is great for hiding your banking apps

Even more interesting, the Private locker lets you hide apps in the locker from your homescreen or app drawer. This is particularly useful for hiding sensitive items like banking apps, and the only way to launch them is to either access via the locker or using keyboard shortcuts. Everything in the Private Locker is only accessible via your fingerprint, password, or pin. Even when you launch an app in the locker using a keyboard shortcut, you’ll need to authenticate before opening it.

blackberry key2

Those changes aside, the rest of the BlackBerry KEY2 experience is similar to the KEYone, with a few hardware updates. The KEY2 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor and comes with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage standard. The first version of the KEYone — which only had 3GB of RAM — was a little sluggish in every day use. 6GB of RAM will go a long way to prevent any performance issues this time around. Versions with up to 128GB of storage and dual SIM functionality will be available in select non-U.S. markets, but the KEY2 will only come in the 6GB and 64GB variant stateside.

The display is the same 4.5-inch Full HD LCD panel with 3:2 aspect ratio as the KEYone, though the glass extending to the top of the phone makes it feel a little more immersive. There’s a USB Type-C port, as well as a headphone jack (which Blackberry said it has no plans to drop anytime soon). There’s also dual speakers, improvements in the antenna positioning, LTE Cat 9 offering 300Mbps download speeds, and Gorilla Glass 3 protection over the display.

blackberry key2

The 3,500mAh battery unit supports Quick Charge 3.0 and should last about two days, according to the company. To improve your battery experience, the new Power Center app lets you see how much battery individual apps are using, and whether any apps are slowing your device down. The app gives you recommendations on improving battery life.

BlackBerry is also using machine learning to help you manage your battery life. The Power Center application will learn your charging habits and use this data to predict whether you’ll run out of battery. If you always charge around 11 p.m., the phone will learn this. If you’ve been using the phone heavily in the morning, it’ll try and work out if you’re likely to make it to your charging window without running out of juice. Instead of having to wait to hit the five percent low battery warning, it’ll prompt you hours in advance so you have time to find an outlet and top the battery up.

Instead of having to wait to hit the low battery warning, it’ll prompt you hours in advance so you have time to find an outlet and top the battery up.

The BlackBerry KEY2 will launch by the end of June in the U.S. and other select markets like Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, and China. It’ll then roll out to other markets starting in July. It’ll cost $649 in the U.S., with pricing in other markets to be confirmed later.

The BlackBerry KEY2 brings a host of tweaks to improve the overall experience, but the updated keyboard is its biggest change. The larger keys make for a much better typing experience and will be a welcome change for anyone who had issues with the small keys of the original KEYone.

blackberry key2

What do you think of the BlackBerry KEY2 and do you plan to buy one? Check out the rest of our BlackBerry KEY2 coverage below and let us know your views in the comments below!

  • BlackBerry KEY2 Specs: two cameras and twice the power
  • BlackBerry KEY2: when can you buy it?
  • BlackBerry KEY2 is official: Better keyboard, more RAM, and dual cameras
  • Here are our favorite BlackBerry KEY2 features
27
Jun

Qualcomm’s newest smartwatch chips are made just for kids


Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

Android-based smartwatches may not be the fastest growing industry in the world, but Qualcomm reckons there’s still legs on that crowd. That’s why Qualcomm’s first new smartwatch chip in two years is geared toward a very specific market: Smartwatches for children, which run a custom Android interface.

The new chip, the Snapdragon Wear 2500, promises to be more battery efficient than previous chips, supports LTE, location tracking, and cameras up to 5-megapixels, as well as a bunch of other sensors. According to an interview, the Wear 2500 will also be about a third smaller than previous chips too — size being exceptionally important in a child’s watch.

The Verge

Interestingly, the chips are not made to work with Google’s Wear OS — instead, they’ll be running a customized Android interface called Android for Kids that probably won’t have access to the usual array of Android apps. Instead, Qualcomm will preload the watches with all the apps that they expect will be needed by kids (and the adults who supervise them). There’s an emphasis on learning too, and Pankaj Kedia, leader of Qualcomm’s wearable department, intends these watches to complement the more connected lives that children lead today.

“It’s like you grew up on Alexa and you want to take Alexa with you,” Kedia said to The Verge. “You want to ask Alexa ‘what’s the capital of the U.S.’ or ‘who is the 35th president of the U.S.?’ or learn a different language, and voice assistants are making it easy for you to do that. Literally, kids in that bracket are using kid watches to learn.” These watches will presumably facilitate that need, and help parents to keep an eye on their kids at the same time.

The smartwatch market is still a fairly volatile place, and while Apple reigns supreme at the top of the charts with the Apple Watch Series 3, 2017 saw a lot of well-established names drop out of the race in favor of new kids on the block. So while the overall market for wearables continues to grow, it’s new directions and manufacturers that are being rewarded for their hard work. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why Qualcomm chose to go this way.

Interested this new breed of smartwatch? Qualcomm is already sending the chips out to manufacturers, and expect to see watches with it come out later this year, with Huawei being named as one of the companies involved.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Qualcomm smartwatch chip may include eye-tracking support for AR glasses
  • Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for May 2018
  • Here’s everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Gear S4 smartwatch
  • Fitbit Versa vs. Apple Watch Series 3: Which should you wear?
  • Misfit Path review



27
Jun

‘Can I book a table for Thursday?’ Google Duplex duped me, but I didn’t mind


While working the front desk of a New York City Thai restaurant, I picked up the phone, took down a reservation, and hung up. Surreal was the first word that came to mind afterward, not because I was pretending to work at a restaurant, but that I just spoke to and booked a table from the artificially intelligent Google Assistant.

I couldn’t shake the thought that the voice on the other end wasn’t a living being, even if it was only a two-minute conversation. That’s not to say the Assistant wasn’t convincing; if it didn’t tell me (and if I wasn’t in a demo environment), I wouldn’t have thought much about the exchange with what sounded like another human on the other end.

The robot exhange I had was part of a press demonstration Google held for its Duplex technology, first announced at the company’s I/O developer conference in May. It lets people book a table at a restaurant, schedule a haircut appointment, and find out store hours through Google Assistant. The voice assistant will call the restaurant or store — after you make a request from your phone or Assistant-enabled smart speaker, like a Google Home — and minutes later you’ll get a notification confirming your plans are officially booked (or if the call couldn’t be completed).

Google Duplex on an Android phone Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The demo at I/O was jaw-dropping, but wasn’t without controversy. Concerns were raised: Why did the AI needed to sound so lifelike and why didn’t it announce a disclaimer to the human caller, amounting to what some considered to be deception. And because the call was recorded, some questioned if the technology would violate certain laws governing phone calls.

Since that time Google has clarified its position, and we now have some answers. Digital Trends spent some time with the team behind Duplex and demoed the technology for ourselves. But before we dive into our experience, let’s take a look at the new details we’ve unconvered on how and where Duplex will work.

What is Duplex, and where will it work?

Duplex is a technology in development that enables Google Assistant to make phone calls on the user’s behalf, and it stems from years of research and work into artificial intelligence for natural language processing.

“We can now understand natural speech and we can generate natural speech,” Nick Fox, vice president of Product Management at Google, said. “Those technologies are applied with Duplex to have a natural, engaging conversation that adapts to what’s happening within the conversation, ultimately with the goal of getting things done.”

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Google Duplex scheduling a hair appointment Google

Helping you get things done is Google’s goal for Assistant, and with Duplex the company is starting with three specific tasks: Booking a table at a restaurant, finding store hours, and scheduling a hair salon appointment. Duplex cannot do anything more than this at the moment, so if a query isn’t pertinent (say, asking about the weather or sports scores) Assistant won’t understand. Similarly, a user cannot ask Assistant to make calls unrelated to the aforementioned tasks.

It has the potential to save a lot of time for employees stuck answering calls about store hours.

For the user, having the Assistant make these calls frees up a little time, but it also benefits businesses that receive these calls. For example, if a caller asks Assistant for the holiday hours of a local store, the Assistant will place the call, get the answer, and the hours will be added to Google Maps and Google Search for all to see, with a verified tag next to it.

With this info, if other callers want to know the same info, Assistant would only need to pull it from Google’s servers, and not make another call. It only takes one person to ask Assistant, but has the potential to save a lot of time for employees who would be stuck answering calls about store hours otherwise.

During Google’s testing phase this summer, Duplex will only work with select businesses and users in the U.S., and it will only be available at restaurants and hair salons that do not have an online booking system. Google Assistant already works with OpenTable, so it doesn’t need to call restaurants that use the booking service.

Google will test calls for business hours first in the next few weeks, and later this summer, the test will expand to calling for reservations and haircut appointments. There will be a lot of testing and tweaking during this period, so the end result of Duplex may look a little different from what we’ve already seen. Businesses will be able to opt out if they do not want to receive calls from the Google Assistant.

google duplex hands on end to big Google

“What you’re seeing is a technology that’s very early stages,” Fox said. “We want to talk about it publicly even at this stage to make sure we get it right, but you’re seeing something quite early in the process here.”

The demo

The demo experience, which took place at Thep Thai in the Upper East Side neighborhood of New York City, was heavily controlled. First, Google put on a presentation showing the overall process of making and ending a call, but actually using the technology in real-time. An engineer fed Duplex a time and party size we suggested for a booking, and here’s what followed.

The idea is you’d tell Google Assistant on your phone or Google Home that you want to “book a table at Thep Thai for two at 8 p.m. tomorrow.” Assistant will ask if it’s okay to book a time from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. in case there’s no table available at 8 p.m., and after you confirm, it will say it’s going to call the restaurant and will get back to you soon.

When the restaurant employee picks up the phone, Assistant will say the following, or something similar to it: “Hi, I’m calling to make a reservation. I’m Google’s automated booking service so I’ll record the call. Can I book a table for Thursday?”

The call is recorded so that human operators at Google can listen back to the recording, annotate the conversation, and highlight any mistakes Duplex made so it can make the service better.

Getting Duplex to the level where it’s at now started with a lot of manual and human work.

Assistant goes on to respond to each question asked — such as what time the reservation is for, how many people are in the party, and the name for the reservation — and the conversation politely and promptly ends. If it’s asked for information like a user’s email address, the Assistant will say it does not have permission to provide that information.

The person who booked the reservation through Assistant will now get a notification saying that the table has been reserved, and it will automatically be added to Google Calendar. Ahead of the reservation, the user will get a notification and an opportunity to cancel the appointment in case she can no longer make it. Thep Thai’s restaurant owner said a lot of people make reservations and then don’t show up. He’s hopeful this system, which offers an easy way to cancel a booking, will mean fewer empty tables.

After the main demo Google allowed us to try it. When we took the call, we tried to trip Duplex up and threw in some complications, but Assistant handled them well. We asked it to hold at the beginning of the conversation — to which it responded “mhmm,” rather than a verbal “yes.” When we told it the 6 p.m. booking time was full up, Assistant responded with a range between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and it settled for our 7:45 p.m. recommendation. We then asked for a name and phone number for the reservation, and if Assistant could spell the name, which it did successfully.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/digitaltrends-uploads-prod/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/google-duplex-scheduling-a-reservation.mp3

Google Duplex scheduling a restaurant reservation Google

It’s impressive how consistently well Assistant handled its demos, though we did encounter a moment when it needed to fall back on a human operator. It was when someone asked if the Assistant’s client was okay with receiving emails from the restaurant. The phrasing was a little awkward, and the Assistant responded with, “I’m sorry, I think I got confused,” and it said it’s putting a supervisor on the line. The human operator swiftly took over, told the caller it can’t reveal the email address, and finished booking the reservation.

How Duplex works

Early test versions of Duplex, which Google played for us, sounded incredibly robotic. However, the Assistant was still able to understand pauses in the conversation, and even say, “hello?” when a restaurant employee paused for a few seconds. Still, Scott Huffman, vice president of Engineering for Google Assistant, said it was “painful to listen to it.”

If the system really doesn’t know what to do next, it will gracefully bow out of the call, and a human operator will take over.

Getting Duplex to the level where it’s at now started with a lot of manual and human work. Human operators placed calls to restaurants, annotated conversations, and fed the results into Duplex. The team would link phrases like “how many people” and its variations to “number of people in the party,” allowing Duplex to understand the question.

The second stage involved human operators listening to calls the Assistant made, and if things go off track, the operator jumped in to take over and make sure the call is successful. This allowed the team to identify the rough edges around the service, annotate those conversations, and feed it back into the machine-learning algorithms so that Duplex could learn.

The final testing stage is automated mode, where the automated system places calls and completes them. Escape hatches built into the system allow the Assistant to jump back to the key goal of completing the task, thanks to sentences like, “I’m not sure what you said, but can I book a table for three.” If the system really doesn’t know what to do next, it will gracefully bow out of the conversation, and the human operator will take over.

At the moment, Huffman said about four out of five calls made by Duplex do not need the assistance of a human operator. Interestingly, he said human operators aren’t going to be pulled away from the service as Duplex gets better, as Google sees them as an integral part in ensuring Duplex works without a hitch.

The “ums” and “ahs”

Throughout the process of teaching Assistant, Google placed an emphasis on making it sound more natural, and less like a robot. After the demo at Google I/O, critics asked why Google is trying to mix in “ums and ahs” to make the Assistant sound more human, especially if it didn’t add a disclaimer to the beginning of the call that it wasn’t a human. There are disclaimers now, but Huffman said speech disfluencies like “um” or “mhm” were added to keep the flow of conversation going.

Assistant added an “um” after it couldn’t hear what the restaurant employee said, and followed up with its request again.

“We’re not trying to trick or impersonate, but if you go back to that recording of that painful early system, it didn’t sound very natural, it didn’t sound very human,” Huffman said. “But as a result of that, the Assistant was not very successful at completing the tasks. A lot of people would hang up, or get confused about what they were talking to, the conversation would just break down because it didn’t feel natural.”

Huffman said speech disfluencies, according to linguists, are a key part of keeping human conversation between two people going. It’s easy to see how well this works when hearing conversations with the Assistant, and the results are far from the original recording.

One way speech disfluencies help is for conversational acknowledgement, such as when one person is talking, but you want to make sure the receiver know you’re still engaged and listening, like when Assistant said “mhmm” to us when it was asked to hold.


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Another useful tool is saying ”um” when there’s uncertainty, as a polite way of asking for clarification. Assistant added an “um” after it couldn’t hear what the restaurant employee said, and followed up with its request again.

Assistant with these speech disfluencies is a stark contrast over the original, robotic Assistant. It’s far less cold, and the conversation moved much more quickly. And rather than accepting simple commands, Assistant is actually interacting with humans through our language, which is sure to excite some while frightening others.

Convenience

Duplex is all about convenience. It saves you a little time, it can give you more accurate store hours, and it can save businesses time as well. Google also said there’s a big opportunity here to help people who can’t speak or have trouble speaking.

Huffman said to think of Duplex as an evolution of automated voice machines from the past, such as when calling your bank, when it was a slow process of pressing numbers to get to the right department.

“Today if you call those airlines or banks, you’ll get something much, much nicer,” he said. “You’ll hear a much more natural sounding voice, and it might say something like, ‘Just tell me what you need, you can say things like, what time is my flight?’ In Duplex, we’re really just taking that same idea a step further, evolving the conversation and making it more natural so that it’s more successful for users and businesses.”

From what we’ve seen so far, it’s promising technology, but is it something we should embrace, or fear?

Google hasn’t shown us how Duplex makes calls to businesses for store hours, nor has it demoed scheduling haircut appointments — so we can’t comment on how well Duplex would work in these instances. We also are unsure if the human operators will have access to your phone number and full name, as that poses a bit of a privacy risk. We also wonder if Duplex would support multiple languages in the future. We’ve reached out to Google to verify some unanswered questions, but of course, there are sure to be more as the technology progresses.

From what we’ve seen so far, it’s promising technology, but is it something we should embrace, or fear? We’ll be happy if we never have to be put on hold for hours on end again, but it’s important to consider the trajectory here. We’re constantly inching towards a future where we do not need to talk to anyone, where you can live isolated in an apartment, with food delivered to you. packages dropped off by drones, and thousands of hours of media to consume without ever having to step outside.

While Duplex may start with some of the more mundane phone calls, the AI is going to get better at conversations, making it easy to port to other industries. It will be up to us as a society to decide how much of our talking should be done through AI, and whether it’s worth picking the phone up again.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Google Duplex sounds human when it calls to book appointments
  • Microsoft Build and Google I/O are over. Which came out on top?
  • Here’s everything we saw at the action-packed Google I/O 2018 keynote
  • 5 reasons I still hate voice assistants, even as the world goes nuts for them
  • I wore Levi’s smart jacket for three months, and it changed how I use my phone



27
Jun

The best BlackBerry Key2 cases


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Face it — software keyboards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If you’re desperate for a physical keyboard, then there’s only ever been one real option for you — BlackBerry. If you’re looking for a new and powerful phone with a physical keyboard, then the BlackBerry Key2 is probably at the top of your list.

But even though the Key2 is likely to be solid, extra physical components generally mean more areas that can break. It’s hard to protect a keyboard fully, but a protective case can go a long way toward making sure your phone doesn’t get damaged by the knocks, bumps, and hazards of everyday life. Here are the best BlackBerry Key2 cases to keep your phone safe.

Avidet Clear Case ($8)

If you want to keep your phone protected, but don’t want to slap on a big, bulky case, then a slim and clear gel case is a must. This one comes from Avidet, a long-established and trusted name in Amazon phone cases. It’s made from TPU, a soft and flexible material that adds a good amount of shock-resistance and grip to keep your phone locked into your hand. The dot pattern on the back of the case prevents unsightly condensation from forming, and, while it’s not the most protective case you can get, Avidet’s clear gel case should provide good protection, while also giving you a completely clear view to BlackBerry’s executive design.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Olixar Leather-Style Wallet Case ($15)

The BlackBerry Key2 is a phone with a very executive feel, so what better way to complement that than with this extremely business-like wallet case from Olixar? It’s made from synthetic PU leather, which is durable and easy to keep clean, and is almost indistinguishable from real leather in most cases. Your phone is held in place with a shock-absorbent inner TPU core, while PU leather wraps around your phone while not in use, and can be folded back into a stand when in use. The inner lining of the front cover contains slots to hold credit cards, and there’s an inner pocket to hold small documents or spare cash. A great little case that fits in anywhere.

Buy it now from:

Mobile Fun

PushImei Soft Touch TPU Case ($8)

Want something a little more protective? TPU can be adapted into a variety of forms, and this case from PushImei showcases one of the most protective. It’s soft, flexible, and shock-absorbent, but it’s also a little stiffer than the variety of TPU you’ll find on clear cases, providing a bit more protection. Extended corners improve shock absorption in those areas, and a raised lip around the camera lenses and the display keep those areas elevated and protected. Finally, the case has a cool sci-fi style with the addition of a brushed metal texture and carbon fiber-style panels at either end.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Ouba Air Hybrid Bumper Case ($8)

So you want protection, but you also want to show off your Key2’s design? That sounds as if it wouldn’t really be possible, but it is, thanks to this case from Ouba. The back panel of this case is made from hard-wearing polycarbonate (PC) that provides a solid backbone for your phone, and makes it harder for scratches to get through and affect your phone’s body, while also still allowing the phone’s style to shine through. The edge is a softer TPU bumper, which serves to help insulate the Key2 from bumps and shocks. Like other protective cases, there’s a raised edge around the camera lens and display, and the combination of PC and TPU help really elevate the protective qualities of this case.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Official BlackBerry Genuine Leather FlipCase ($51)

Who better to turn to than BlackBerry itself? BlackBerry has released a couple of cases to fit the Key2 — including a nice, soft shell case — but it’s the genuine leather FlipCase that really caught our eye. Wallet cases are fantastic at protection that also looks good, and they never look out of place in any circumstance, whether that’s in the boardroom, or on the table at a bar. The FlipCase is crafted from 100 percent genuine leather for good looks and great protection, and contains an inner lining of microfiber to make sure your phone is safely nestled within the case. There’s room inside the cover to keep two credit cards, and it’s also NFC friendly. It’s not the cheapest on this list by far, but it’s a great buy if you want the best materials for your Key2.

Buy it now from:

Mobile Fun

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Best Samsung Galaxy S9 cases
  • BlackBerry Key2 vs. Apple iPhone X: Which fruit-themed flagship is best?
  • BlackBerry Key2 review
  • BlackBerry Key2 vs. BlackBerry KeyOne: A stunning successor
  • BlackBerry Key2 vs. OnePlus 6: Which fan-favorite will win?



27
Jun

Huawei’s MateBook D could be the new king of powerful budget laptops



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As much as we love midrange laptops such as the Dell XPS 13, there are some fantastic offerings in the more budget-orientated space too. Take the new Walmart exclusive Huawei MateBook D, which combines a 1080p touchscreen with AMD Ryzen CPU and Vega graphics, all within a premium-feel aluminum chassis. Better yet, its battery is designed to charge up super fast, so you can get back to work or gaming in well under an hour.

At 3.5 pounds and just over a half-inch thick, the MateBook D is solidly built, compact machine with decent hardware under the hood. It sports a Ryzen 2500U chip which combines a quad-core Ryzen CPU with multithreading clocked at 3.4GHz, with an AMD Vega 8 graphics core. While not as powerful as desktop Ryzen accelerated processing units (APU) it should provide some decent general computing ability and the option to play basic games too.

In terms of memory and storage, the MateBook D comes with 8GB of DDR4 (the RAM sweet spot) and 256GB of solid-state storage. Combined with the CPU choice, this laptop should be impressively snappy for its price point.

Port selection gives a nod to the modern age of USB-C adoption with one of the reversible ports, but still provides plenty of legacy support with a USB-A 3.0 port and a USB-A 2.0 port. There’s also an HDMI output for those who like hooking up external displays and a standard headphone jack.

Huawei has fitted its new laptop with a great feature for heavy users — fast charging. The 57.4-watt-hour battery is said to last up to eight hours and is capable of charging from nothing to forty percent in just half an hour, so even if you have sporadic access to a power outlet, it won’t take long to get your system back up and running again.

The only downside to the launch of this new laptop is that it’s already out of stock online. While individual Walmarts may have additional stock, it appears the $30 discounted launch price of $600 was just too good to pass up for many.

For a look at some of our other favorite budget-conscious laptops, here’s our list of the best notebooks under $1,000 you can buy today.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Huawei jumps on AMD’s Ryzen bandwagon via an upcoming 14-inch MateBook D laptop
  • Huawei MateBook X Pro review
  • HP’s mainstream Pavilion PCs refreshed with latest AMD Ryzen, Intel Core CPUs
  • HP targets gamers on a budget with new Pavilion notebooks, desktops, and more
  • Huawei MateBook X Pro vs. Dell XPS 13



27
Jun

What do you like the most about Google’s Pixel phones


This is why the AC forum community loves their Pixels so much.

Although Google’s Pixel series was faced with some initial backlash from Nexus loyalists, it didn’t take long for most everyone to realize that Google had crafted something special with the original Pixel and Pixel XL. The phones offered the best Android experience around, and when you added that together with the stellar camera, solid displays, etc., you ended up with a fantastic package.

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Google improved even more on these strengths with the Pixel 2 series, and when the Pixel 3 comes around this October, we’re anticipating more of the same great things.

Why is it though that so many people are enthralled with the Pixel lineup? Phones like the Galaxy S9, LG G7, and OnePlus 6 are far more enticing in some regards, but even so, Google’s Pixel phones remain unshaken.

We decided to check in with our forum users to see what they had to say on the matter, and these are a few of the responses:

avatar1093536_22.gifGolfdriver97
06-22-2018 08:30 AM

I think the camera is very good. My pictures come out quite well.

Battery is always a trick question; no one has the exact same setup and use patterns. However, I am a light to medium use case, and I can get through a day easily.

Speakers are ok. Not bad, not great….just ok.

No issues.

I love the device. I like how there is very little bloatware unlike many of the other OEMs, and…

Reply

avatar2750574_8.giflibra89
06-22-2018 09:08 AM

The camera is great! I don’t know about the battery life for the XL but the regular Pixel was good enough for a day of use for me, but I’m not a heavy user. The speaker quality is decent.

Reply

avatar848409_5.gifGdraft#WN
06-22-2018 02:48 PM

The wife and I each have XL’s….. These things are amazing.

Still as good as day one.

We did not buy a XL2, as these are still like new. And do not intend to buy a XL3.

These are as fast and smooth as the day we got them (1st day they were available). I have never had to reset or monkey with either one due to lag or other phone bull@hit.

I would get another in a heartbeat

Reply

avatar2009533_2.gifTNCattleDog
06-24-2018 01:42 PM

Switched to the OG Pixel XL from a LG V20. I’ve always been very outspoken about wanting a swappable battery and additional (SD Card) storage. but…

I switched to project Fi and my Verizon branded V20 just isn’t going to work on Fi. So I bought a couple Refurbished Pixel XL’s off Amazon and I am amazed.

I loved the V20 camera for all its bells and whistles. With Gcam+, it takes excellent…

Reply

Now, we’d love to hear from you — What do you like the most about Google’s Pixel phones?

Join the conversation in the forums!

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

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  • Join our Pixel 2 forums

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27
Jun

Skull & Bones for PlayStation 4: Hands-on impressions from E3 2018


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This game will be familiar to anyone who has enjoyed boat combat before, and sadly doesn’t offer much else.

Ubisoft’s E3 presentation didn’t detail much we didn’t already know about their new IP, Skull & Bones. We saw more pirates and some fun catch phrases, but nothing to suggest the game was more than pirates in ships fighting one another. And even after playing the upcoming PlayStation 4 game myself for half an hour, I’m convinced that’s the case.

The jokes up until now have been that Skull & Bones is basically just the ship combat portions of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. I had hoped, from my hands-on impressions at E3 2018, to be able to refute that. But I can’t. If you’ve played Black Flag, World of Warships, or just about any other game with boats that fight each other, you’ve played Skull & Bones and then some.

What is Skull & Bones?

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Skull & Bones is a game in which you play as a pirate captain aboard a customizable vessel. Your job is to restore the golden age of piracy by being a really great pirate–sinking merchant ships, looting treasure, and getting into scraps with fellow pirates if you like. Treasure can be exchanged for better ship upgrades, which in turn makes your better at your job. You can get better cannons, stronger rams or hull reinforcement, or even fancy swag to deck out your deck.

My demo of Skull & Bones consisted of sailing about a small area rife with Portuguese merchant ships, in which I was allowed freedom to either complete some listed objectives (bring a ship down, visit and loot a wreck, etc) or just float around and blast my fellow pirates out of the water. Since others were playing the demo with me, I had the chance to do both.

How do you play?

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The major difference between Skull & Bones and Black Flag is how reliant you are on favorable winds to travel. At the start of my demo, a fortune teller promised me such winds, but if they aren’t going in your direction, you won’t travel very fast. To be true to life, you actually have to either sail with the wind or accomplish some fun zig-zag patterns to get anywhere, and even if you have the wind behind you, your hulking galley moves…slow. A point in the realism column, to be sure, but I felt I wasted a chunk of the demo just trying to get where I was going, inch by inch.

Fortunately, when you enter combat, every other ship has mostly the same problem. My ship (selected at the start of the demo) specialized in its broadside cannons, so I was able to do some meaty damage to opposing vessels without having to work too hard or bother much with my front-facing mortars. I did get rammed a few times for hefty damage, but between the brace mechanic and plenty of repair kits from looting shipwrecks, I kept myself alive. I didn’t have a particularly wide array of options for combat action, but given that at the start of the demo I was offered a mere three basic ship type samples and there seem to be many more, I expect customization to be robust.

What is there to do in Skull & Bones?

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What I’ve mentioned so far: looting wrecks, taking down enemy ships, and collaborating or fighting with fellow pirates is about all I saw to do in my little patch of ocean. I was directed to destroy a fort at one point, but before I could try that out I was waylayed and demolished by another player (I got my revenge after respawning, never fear).

It turns out that Skull & Bones is almost 100% a pirate naval battle game, perhaps one with fewer tactics than the more modern World of Warships. If that’s your jam, you’ll have a good time. If you’re looking for some overarching plot or characters or exploration or anything else, nothing Ubisoft has shown me so far has indicated that these are a part of the game.

Overall

Ship battles are fun, especially when other human beings are involved, but I can see the whole operation getting boring quickly if there’s not more to do beyond finishing objectives in the world and building a bigger ship.

The fact that I could essentially get the same kind of gameplay out of a game that came out several years ago, alongside a story, characters, interesting exploration, and whale fishing says a lot about Skull & Bones. In fact, if you can’t even go ashore properly in this game, then Sea of Thieves has an edge on it, too!

When can I set sail?

Skull & Bones is expected to launch sometime in 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Pricing details have not yet been revealed.

Ask a pirate!

Any questions about Skull & Bones? Ask me in the comments!

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