Category Archives: Everything Mobile

News, Analysis and Reviews of Mobile Phones and Tablets including smart watches

Waze's 'Order Ahead' is a quicker way to grab food on the go

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Mike Mozart via Flickr

Waze is a valuable travel buddy because of the many ways it can assist you on the road. The navigation app helps drivers avoid traffic, it integrates with Spotify, and it has a growing ride-sharing platform. In an effort to aid users in all commute-related endeavors, drivers can now place a Dunkin’ Donuts order right from the Waze app.

Dunkin’ is the first eatery included in Waze’s new “Order Ahead” feature, which made its debut as part of a software update made available today. The ordering process seems clunky initially, but easy enough to use once it’s set up. First, users pick their favorite items via the Dunkin’ Donuts app, using the existing on-the-go ordering feature. Then, the Waze app will locate the nearest Dunkin’ and allow users to place their preset order with one tap.

Google, which owns Waze, says that more companies will be added to Order Ahead soon. As The Verge notes, restaurants like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks have mobile ordering capabilities in their apps, so it seems likely Waze will integrate with them at some point. Order Ahead is meant to be used before you hit the road for obvious safety reasons, but as The Verge points out, the feature could be particularly valuable in self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicle technology is quickly evolving, so adding features like these could make Waze more versatile in situations when operating a car doesn’t require as much of our attention.

Order Ahead is a promising addition to Waze, but it could also be a storage nightmare if apps for each supported restaurant need to be installed on your phone. If Waze eventually manages true integration with all of your favorite dining destinations, though, it could become a killer all-in-one driving app.

Images: Mike Mozart via Flickr (Dunkin’ Donuts sign, lead); Waze via Dunkin Donuts (App screenshot)

 

 

How 3D XPoint promises to reshape the data center

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datacenter.jpg

Image: iStockphoto/cybrain

Vendors and consumers, alike, have struggled with the balance of the amount of available RAM vs. disk. HPE has teased the long-awaited Memristor, and Western Digital has shown off ReRAM drives as potential solutions, but Intel’s Optane is the only category of products that promise to blur the lines between RAM and disk.

One can’t overstate the potential impact of these technologies on the data center. Even as a young programmer with a rudimentary understanding of memory and storage buses, I understood the impact.

Historically challenging

Data Center Must-Reads

As a young PC enthusiast, I quickly learned the value of RAM vs. disk-based storage. As a hobby, I wrote a slide animation application in BASIC. The application was incredibly simple. I created an editor that allowed the user to save each frame individually. When the user hit play, the app would load each frame from storage, overwriting the previous frame.

Initially, the animation was choppy. The issue was the latency of reading each image from disk. As a workaround, I discovered the ability to create a RAM disk, thus creating a poor man’s cache system. I could pre-stage the animations to RAM, resulting in a smooth animation. The animation was so fast that I had to place a delay between each render.

Over the years, I’ve had the inverse problem as well. Some applications required more memory than available in my system. DRAM is cost prohibitive, and disk storage wasn’t practical to address directly. For years, the industry has teased the concept of a randomly addressable storage subsystem fast enough to use as short term system memory. Just as in my animation use case, the system didn’t need to provide memory at DRAM speeds, but just fast and cheap enough for practical purposes.

3D XPoint – A new type of memory

Intel recently announced the availability of the long-awaited Optane drive. Optane leverages 3D XPoint, jointly developed by Intel and Micron to solve basic computer I/O memory constraints. 3D XPoint, as a permanent storage medium, was to be magnitudes faster than current SSD and slower, but much cheaper, than DRAM.

As noted, the first drives to use 3D XPoint memory are the Intel Optane brand of drives. While not magnitudes faster, the drives are some of the fastest SSDs on the market. However, the ability to use the drive as addressable RAM is more intriguing for data center managers.

The Enterprise Data Center

My simple example app serves as an illustration of the challenges faced in the enterprise data center. The number of memory slots and cost limit the amount of DRAM a server holds. An Intel Xeon server filled with Optane could potentially hold as much as 24TB of 3D XPoint-based RAM. An obvious use case is in-memory databases. The ability to have several TB of data in-memory significantly reduces query times and results in faster business answers.

SEE: What would a memory-centric system look like? (ZDNet)

Generally speaking, virtualized and hyperconverged infrastructures should benefit from 3D XPoint memory as well. Very few virtualized environments experience CPU resource constraints. Memory and disk I/O are the typical constraints. With tweaks to the hypervisor, virtualized infrastructures could take advantage of different levels of RAM. For example, OS instances could run in DRAM. The virtual machine tools may instruct the hypervisor to make 3D XPoint available for application memory vs. DRAM.

I need to temper your excitement. Optane’s 375GB drive is in limited supply until the third quarter. The limited availability means customers looking to load up on Optane for some of these advanced use cases must wait a bit longer, until capacity is ramped up and the ecosystem figures out how to optimize applicaitons and systems.

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'Yooka-Laylee' is at the heart of a 3D platformer revival

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A few years ago, the 3D platformer was in a bad place. Mario was still around, but the genre had little support elsewhere. Colorful games like Crash Bandicoot, Pyschonauts and Jak and Daxter had vanished in favor of grittier, more realistic adventures. There was the occasional surprise, like the papercraft-inspired Tearaway, but nothing close to the breadth of games found on the N64, PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The market had moved on, publishers thought, and it no longer made sense to fund ambitious, big-budget projects like Beyond Good and Evil.

That all changed in May 2015. Playtonic Games, a small British team made up of former Rare employees, pitched a new platformer called Yooka-Laylee on Kickstarter. At their previous employer, they had worked on Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Country and Viva Pinata, all creative and well-received titles. Yooka-Laylee, they promised, would be a 3D platformer “rare-vival,” bringing back the colorful words, collectibles and twin-protagonist gameplay that made the Banjo series so special.

The crowdfunding campaign was a huge success, raising over £2 million (roughly $2.6 million) and hitting all of its stretch goals, which included boss battles, local co-op and four-person multiplayer, as well as an orchestral score. Clearly, backers remembered Banjo with fondness and were willing to pay for a spiritual successor.

Since then, Insomniac has rebooted Ratchet & Clank, its weapon-centric space platformer, and Sony has announced a Crash Bandicoot ‘N-Sane’ remaster collection. Nintendo has chipped in too, unveiling Super Mario Odyssey, a successor to the likes of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, which is due to come out on the Switch this holiday. Yooka-Laylee, it seems, is at the center of a 3D platformer revival.

“3D platforming has its own subgenres, and they all satisfy a different itch.”

“From our point of view it’s coincidental,” Gavin Price, creative lead at Playtonic says. “I would love to say we all got together and had a secret meeting, and said, ‘Let’s do this!’ One big collaboration.”

He continues, “But what’s brilliant is that 3D platforming has its own subgenres, and they all satisfy a different itch. You have the action-platforming of Ratchet, the gymnastical approach of Mario and the open-world collecting of us. I feel confident that you could buy all of these games and not feel like you’re playing the same game twice. They have this natural inventiveness and creativity that is purely unique to those titles and characters.”

Creature comforts

Playing Yooka-Laylee is an odd experience. It’s at once familiar and alienating, like you’ve traveled to your childhood town only to find the houses and streets rebuilt. You’re quickly introduced to Yooka, a green chameleon, and Laylee, a purple bat, two troublesome heroes who have stumbled upon a magical book. It’s soon ripped from their grasp, however, with the pages scattered across distant lands. Laylee sits on Yooka’s head and you control them as one, rolling along the ground in a ball or lapping up enemies with Yooka’s tongue.

For fans of Banjo-Kazooie, the premise is nothing new. The worlds you’re exploring, however, are more beautiful and interesting than anything Rare produced on the N64. As soon as the first cutscene ends, I found myself rushing toward a pirate ship and using Laylee’s wings to glide where I shouldn’t. Open-world collectathons have always inspired exploration, and the same holds true in Yooka-Laylee. I had forgotten about my objective completely — to investigate a nearby factory that’s hoovering up books — and started testing whether I could open treasure chests yet.

The mechanics are familiar, and I quickly found my rhythm bouncing up walls and double jumping over large gaps. I soon met Trowzer, a snake who has stretched his long body to fit inside a pair of cargo shorts. To an adult, the joke is obvious, and I couldn’t help but giggle as he explained the various upgrade systems. The pun-tastic humor is a trademark of Rare games, and I’m happy to see it preserved in Playtonic’s work.

Encouraging imagination

Notably, there’s no real voice acting in Yooka-Laylee. Instead, the game provides an endless supply of made-up gibberish, performed in slightly different accents to reflect the characters and their eccentric personalities. All the dialogue is explained through subtitles, however, so it’s easy to keep up with the far-fetched story. Banjo-Kazooie was the same way, and Price insists the choice was an artistic one for Yooka-Laylee rather than a way to keep development costs down.

“I’m a big fan of content that doesn’t hand-hold the player and leaves creative gaps for you to inject some of your own thinking into what’s going on and engage with the game on a deeper level,” he says. “You want to decide for yourself exactly what Yooka is like. We provide some bits and bobs of information through the way he talks, and what he says, to inform you that this is the kind of character he is. But if we were to give him a voice, we would also be closing that door for the player.”

The platformer is also quick to poke fun at modern game design. Upon entering the factory, Laylee comments that Yooka “gave himself a short tutorial on the way in.” Trowzer responds that while he’d like to help the pair, he has “an important call coming up with the World 1 boss.” These references are littered throughout the game and emphasize the simple joy of 3D platformers. Sometimes you want a deep, BAFTA-nominated storyline, like the ones found in Firewatch, Inside and Oxenfree, but other times you just want something goofy that puts a smile on your face.

That purity could be why the 3D platformer has found an audience again. “It’s nice to embrace the fact you’re a video game and play to the strengths of acknowledging you’re a video game,” Price explains. The team’s intent is to create comedy that works on different levels, similar to The Simpsons, Wallace and Gromit and the Disney-Pixar films. As a child, it’s all innocent slapstick fun, but as an adult you can appreciate the subtle nods and winks. In the opening world, for instance, you can find tins of multicolored paint around your home. “It’s something we’re a big believer in.” Price says. “I’m sure kids won’t even think about it, and say, ‘Well, multicolored paint is a thing in this world, that’s fine,’ and not see it as a joke.”

Something borrowed, something new

New 3D platformers offer more than upgraded visuals. While it’s true that Yooka’s environments are luscious, the underlying gameplay is far from a simple retread. Each world is now expandable, for example. Once you’ve collected enough ‘Pagies,’ you can unlock a new world or choose to improve an existing one. Either option will grant you new challenges, which can then be completed to repeat the process. It’s a binary choice but one that gives you greater control over how the adventure unfolds.

Yooka-Laylee also features a perk system. These unlocks affect your attributes in the game, simplifying challenges and catering to different play styles. In an early world called Tribalstack Tropics, I was struggling with a race that required me to roll around like a ball. Curling up consumes energy, and my stamina bar would always deplete before the finish line. I solved the problem by talking to Vendi, an enormous vending machine, who can lower the amount of energy required to perform the move. Playtonic says this perk system, and many other new features, were inspired by other video games outside the 3D platformer genre.

“There was a lot to maintain and keep in terms of what worked in the past,” Price says,” but we wanted to update it with new ways of engaging modern gamers’ tastes as well. I think that gives the game a unique, refreshed appeal that can satisfy the old people like myself who played this stuff years ago while hopefully attracting new audiences.”

Living the indie life

Playing Yooka-Laylee, it’s hard to believe the game is an indie project. Playtonic launched its Kickstarter with a six-man team, and during its development averaged 15 full-time employees. Now, two years later, the studio sits at 23. That’s not a small team, especially by indie standards, but it’s a fraction of the manpower that would normally be required to build a platformer of this size. As I tick off more challenges, I’m looking for the cracks, the places where the studio has decided to cut corners. Aside from the camera, which occasionally frustrates, it’s hard to find any faults.

“The middleware tools have been a big help,” Price says. “But being a smaller team, creatively led, you don’t have to worry about disrupting other cogs in the machine. You can be a lot more reactive, nimble and productive. During the day there are no meetings, and we’re in an area that’s similar to the size of this room [he looks around and gestures — we’re in a small bar] so if you need to shout and ask someone for something, you can just stand on your chair and say, ‘Hey, come and do this!'”

Price comes across mellow and carefree, but deep down he’s nervous. Yooka-Laylee is an important game for multiple reasons. For one, it’s a Kickstarter game. The crowdfunding platform is divisive: For every success like Shovel Knight, there’s a dramatic failure such as Yogventures or Mighty No. 9. Yooka-Laylee will inevitably fall into one of those camps, twisting people’s perception of the platform accordingly. For another, it’s the first game that Playtonic has released. If it’s successful, the company will have the creative freedom to tackle new types of games.

“Back in the day, we were never defined by our games in one genre only. We tried our hand at all sorts.”

“Back in the day, we were never defined by our games in one genre only,” Price explains. “We tried our hand at all sorts. As a business proposition, that’s actually really difficult to do. For a large company to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to be the racing game studio,’ or ‘We’re not going to be this genre only.’ That’s the challenge we’ve now given ourselves, because the Kickstarter funding went so well. It’s become a bigger opportunity than even we realized.”

A Playtonic empire

Playtonic has made a conscious effort to design supporting characters who could appear in their own games. Like the Mushroom Kingdom, which allows Yoshi, Wario and Princess Peach to star in their own spinoff titles, Yooka-Laylee is the starting canvas for weird and wonderful heroes (or, potentially, antiheroes) to emerge. Playtonic’s goal is to become a two-game studio, developing projects in tandem. That’s important, Price says, because he and his friends are older than the average indie game developer.

“None of us are getting any younger,” he says. “We’re becoming indie developers at the age of, well, double the age most indie developers are. I remember looking at a list of game ideas we had for various characters and saying, ‘Hang on, if we did all of these, I’m going to be 70!'”

Playtonic is working with Team17, best known for the Worms series, to publish Yooka-Laylee. Success will prove to creators and publishers alike that the 3D platformer can thrive again through new, alternative methods of funding. It could help avoid the problems of the early 2000s, when many middle-tier developers struggled and were ultimately forced to shut down.

“None of us are getting any younger.”

“I don’t want to see other creators make fantastic games which ultimately kill them and mean they can’t carry on,” Price says. “It’s been really frustrating for me, to see games that I’ve really enjoyed and thought, ‘Oh, they didn’t get the love they deserved.’ That can happen to big people as well, like Ubisoft and Beyond Good and Evil. I thought it was one of the best Zelda games I’ve ever played. To see it not perform as I thought it deserved was gutting. But there’s certainly a lot of support out there now, and ways of making content like this viable.”

The future for 3D platformers

The 3D platformer’s future isn’t certain. It’s possible that the renewed interest will quickly fade, leaving Nintendo as the sole flag bearer once more. Yooka-Laylee‘s Kickstarter, however, suggests that a small but viable market exists for the genre. These games have the potential to attract two different types of audiences, after all: new, younger players who never grew up with Croc, Gex or Spyro the Dragon in their home, as well as older video game enthusiasts who remember them with (mostly) fondness.

In some ways, it feels like the video game equivalent of the Western. Movie depictions of the Wild West were popular in the 1950s and ’60s but then quickly fell out of favor. In recent years, however, they’ve made a comeback, with Slow West and The Revenant succeeding at the box office. To feel new again, 3D platformers needed a similar amount of time away from our screens. It’s why recently there’s been a surge of 2D revivals: The point-and-click adventure game has been reborn with Broken Age and countless Telltale episodic series, and ‘Metroidvania’ games, inspired by Metroid and Castlevania, have been revived through titles like Axiom Verge. For the 3D platformer, it was simply a matter of time.

“Because it hasn’t been served so much for so long, maybe that passion has naturally pent up and pent up,” Price muses. “And now it’s just burst out.”

 

 

Urbanears built AirPlay and Chromecast into its WiFi speakers

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Urbanears

The last time we covered Urbanears, the company was hawking headphones with quilted padding. Now, some six years later it’s getting into the crowded wireless speaker game. Long story short, the Connected Speakers are colorful noise boxes that you can network together for multi-room sound; you can set them to play the same track in sync, or separate ones. Each unit has Airplay, Chromecast and Spotify Connect capabilities built in too, so blasting Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” from every room while you’re trying to argue for an unpopular rule-change at your house should be pretty easy. If you want to kick it old-school beyond your song selection, there’s Bluetooth connectivity and an aux port too.

Gallery: Urbanears Connected Speakers | 10 Photos

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Their appearance is understated, with a pair of knobs that control playback and speaker mode (single or multi). Everything else, the company says, is handled by an app. The air-movers are available in a handful of colors to match your home including Goldfish Orange, Plant Green, Indigo Blue and Dirty Pink. If you prefer your music loud, but not your decor, Concrete Grey and Vinyl Black are available as well. The bigger Baggen (“ram” in English) model will run $450 each, while the slightly smaller Stammen (“strain” when translated from Swedish) is priced at $350. Both go on sale March 30th.

 

 

Facebook adds nearly everything Snapchat does to its main app

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Facebook’s quest to mimic Snapchat is undeniable at this point. In just the last few months, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger have all integrated some form of Stories — a disappearing slideshow format that Snapchat is famous for — while Facebook Live dabbled in Snapchat-esque selfie filters. Now, after months of experiments and tests, it’s time for the main Facebook app to get in on the action too. Today, the company is officially rolling out three new Snapchat-inspired features to its core app: a brand new in-app camera that’s chockful of filters, effects and masks; Facebook’s very own Stories; and Direct, which lets you share photos and videos with specific people for a set period of time.

As soon as you launch the updated Facebook app, you’ll see the new Stories navigation bar prominently featured at the top. On the far left is a shortcut for Direct sharing, the second bubble is for Your Story (you can tap it to add to it), while the rest are Stories of your closest friends. Each Story interface is almost identical to that of Instagram’s version — you can move back and forth through the slideshow by tapping left or right, and if it’s your own Story, you’ll be able to see the number of views as well as the names of the people who saw it. Additionally, you’ll be able to leave direct replies on other people’s Stories, which then appear on top of the content. The replies only live as long as the content, however, so once the photo is gone, the comment’s gone too.

“We’ve been very text-centric in the past,” says Connor Hayes, a Facebook product manager. “But what we’ve been seeing is that the way people create content is changing, from text to photos and videos. […] We’re trying to upgrade the app to be more centered around the way people are behaving and creating the content in social apps. And that starts with the camera.”

Which explains why the new camera is much easier to access. Before, the fastest way to launch the camera in the Facebook app was to tap “Photos” and then select the camera icon. Now, that camera icon is located to the left of the search field, and is visible the moment you launch the app. Alternately, you can swipe right from the home screen, and that’ll bring up the camera function as well.

The camera interface is completely different from before too. On the left side of the screen are little navigation dots, which correspond to different filters that the app has pre-selected for you. Simply swipe up or down to scroll through them, and you’ll see the filter take effect on the main screen. These pre-selected filters are chosen based on an algorithm that susses out whether you’ll like them, and also on your location. So if you’re in London, you probably won’t see a San Francisco themed filter, for example.

But if none of those filters strike your fancy, no worries, because you can tap an option that will reveal as many as 70 other options (that number will change depending on your region). You can choose anything from selfie masks to Prisma-esque style effects to simple frames. In a brief demo, I saw filters that showed animated pizza slices flying out of my mouth, round glasses superimposed on my face and a “I Miss You” message scrawled in front of me. Other options include a mirroring effect, one that shows a lazy sloth on top of your head, a mustache, a pride rainbow, a glitter beard and even an effect that makes you look like a minion from Despicable Me.

Indeed, Facebook not only partnered with different film studios for licensed content, it also commissioned two artists — Hattie Stewart from the UK and Doug Coupland from Canada — to come up with special artistic filter effects. One of Coupland’s filters, for example, shows concentric colors radiating from your head. Open your mouth, and the circles now form in your mouth and on your forehead.

Kristen Spilman, the director for Art and Animation in charge of the camera effects, says that she hopes these filters help people express themselves. “Our new camera puts visual content at the heart of the Facebook experience,” she says. “While we want our effects to be fun to use, it’s more important that they’re thoughtful and relevant in enhancing relationships.”

What I found particularly intriguing is that Spilman’s small team of effects artists took pains to really make sure that the filters resonate with the local culture. For example, when the team tested visual text filters like “OMG” and “LOL” in Ireland, they found that they weren’t really all that popular. But what did work were more regional examples like “Gas” (which translates to “astonishing”) and “Some Craic” (which means to have a good time).

After you’ve chosen your filter, you can write text on top of it or doodle on it with your choice of brush. Then, you can save it to your camera roll and do nothing with your creation, or you can choose to share it. You can post it to Newsfeed if you want your photo to live on forever, or you can post it to Your Story if you just want it up for the next 24 hours, or you can share it directly with your friends via the new Direct feature. If you do send your photo or video directly, note that your friends will only be able to view it once and replay it once. Once it’s over, it’s gone.

“Stories has become the format for people to create photos and videos and share them with one another immersively across social apps,” says Hayes. “This is something that Snapchat’s really pioneered. Our take is that Stories has become a format for people to share and consume photos and videos across all social apps.” When asked why someone would use Facebook Stories over Instagram Stories or vice versa, Hayes says that different people use the apps differently. “It depends on how they use each app, and who their network is on each app,” he says, pointing out that oftentimes the two have different audiences.

“Over the coming months, we plan to introduce new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects that can be used on any photo or video created with the new Facebook camera,” said Facebook in a statement. “Our goal is for the camera to be a home to hundreds of dynamic and fun effects that give you new ways to connect with friends, family, and your community.”

Facebook’s new camera, Stories and Direct sharing will be rolling out to all users on both Android and iOS throughout this week.

 

 

The Apple TV Remote app is finally optimized for iPads

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Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

No, we still don’t have an iPad version of the Instagram app, but another longtime holdout has gotten some big(ger) screen love. Apple has finally given its Apple TV Remote app a refresh tailored for the slate’s display. The iTunes listing says that in addition to the expected visual improvements, there’s also lyrics and “playlists for music and chapters.” That’s in addition to captions section for movies and TV shows.

Last February, Apple’s Eddie Cue and Craig Federighi said that with the then-forthcoming app that it would be a “full replacement” for the Apple TV remote. At the time, he was speaking directly about how an iPhone armed with the app can be a second controller for games. Now, the same functionality (with Siri voice commands, no less) on a more substantial screen is a reality. Don’t have an iPad? Well, then you’ll have to settle for the usual “general performance and stability improvements.”

 

 

Dell's 8K monitor is available for $5,000

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Dell

Dell introduced its 31.5-inch 8K monitor at CES, which the company claims is the world’s first consumer screen to meet such a ridiculous resolution. While it took a backseat to the artist-aimed Canvas at the tech show, the Ultrasharp 32 is finally available on Dell’s online store for initial shipping in mid-April. Assuming you’ve got a spare $5,000 to spend.

Of course, you probably won’t plunk down that cash to use your fancy 8K monitor for high-end gaming or a VR ride. As we pointed out when we first saw it, the Ultrasharp 32’s 7,680 by 4,320 pixels and 100 percent Adobe RGB and sRGB color support will most benefit artists and photographers that need to view and edit massive files. It has a maximum 33.2MP resolution and 280 PPI density, but you’ll need to pipe in the visuals over two DisplayPort 1.3 ports, so make sure your machine has a pair freed up.

Sure, $5,000 is a hefty pricetag for visuals, but it’s a far cry from the $130,000 professional use-only 82-inch TV Sharp debuted in September 2015 . While LG and Samsung both introduced consumer-facing 8K-ready televisions at CES, they didn’t come with cost estimates or release dates. Dell’s Ultrasharp may be the only 8K ultra high resolution screen on the market for awhile.

 

 

Apple knows you keep losing your AirPods

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AOL

If you’re an AirPod owner, you’ve probably felt a twinge of panic or two over the thought of losing one on your daily commute. Luckily, Apple now has a solution. As part of the company’s fresh 10.3 iOS update, you can now track down a missing earbud with the help of your phone’s GPS.

Find My AirPods, an option inside the stock Find My iPhone app, shows you the last place the wireless earbuds were in range of your device. It also plays sounds to help you locate them (unless they’ve run out of battery, that is). Since it costs $69 to replace a single earbud, this could well be a handy feature that potentially saves you money when one of the pods inevitably rolls under the couch.

Apple is also adding some promised (and welcome) features to its other platforms. With today’s update, it’s bringing Night Shift to macOS. As a refresher, this feature changes your display settings after sunset, using warmer colors to make things easier to read and reduce your exposure to blue light, which can throw your circadian rhythms out of whack and disrupt your sleep. Meanwhile, Apple Watch owners get Theater Mode for watchOS, which lets you mute sound and keep the screen dark until you tap on it, so you can watch movies undisturbed by Facebook notifications, Twitter replies and emails.

Here’s a full list of changes in the iOS 10.3 update:

Find My iPhone

  • View the current or last known location of your AirPods
  • Play a sound on one or both AirPods to help you find them

Siri

  • Support for paying and checking status of bills with payment apps
  • Support for scheduling with ride booking apps
  • Support for checking car fuel level, lock status, turning on lights and activating horn with automaker apps
  • Cricket sports scores and statistics for Indian Premier League and International Cricket Council

CarPlay

  • Shortcuts in the status bar for easy access to last used apps
  • Apple Music Now Playing screen gives access to Up Next and the currently playing song’s album
  • Daily curated playlists and new music categories in Apple Music

Other improvements and fixes

  • Rent once and watch your iTunes movies across your devices
  • New Settings unified view for your Apple ID account information, settings and devices
  • Hourly weather in Maps using 3D Touch on the displayed current temperature
  • Support for searching “parked car” in Maps
  • Calendar adds the ability to delete an unwanted invite and report it as junk
  • Home app support to trigger scenes using accessories with switches and buttons
  • Home app support for accessory battery level status
  • Podcasts support for 3D Touch and Today widget to access recently updated shows
  • Podcast shows or episodes are shareable to Messages with full playback support
  • Fixes an issue that could prevent Maps from displaying your current location after resetting Location & Privacy
  • VoiceOver stability improvements for Phone, Safari and Mail

 

 

Android creator Andy Rubin teases his new smartphone

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Andy Rubin

The creator of Android, Andy Rubin, is building a new smartphone — and today, he shared the first image of his mysterious hardware. It’s just a tease, revealing only the corner of the phone, where battery, time and network information is displayed in tiny white text.

The new device comes from Rubin’s company, Essential Products Inc., which is focused on creating tablets, smartphones and mobile software. Essential’s flagship phone will serve as the foundation for a lineup of connected products, according to early reports about the company’s movements. A handful of its smartphone prototypes are larger than an iPhone 7 Plus, featuring bezel-free screens and ceramic backings. Rubin and co. are apparently working on a proprietary version of Apple’s 3D Touch and they’re playing around with magnetic charging accessories.

The image Rubin shared today is reminiscent of Xiaomi’s Mi MIX concept phone, which has an edge-to-edge 1080p LCD and a ceramic body. However, with such a small portion of the hardware exposed in this single tweet, it’s hard to say where the similarities truly begin (and end).

Essential’s flagship smartphone is expected to drop in mid-2017.

 

 

Samsung will sell refurbished Galaxy Note 7s… somewhere

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Engadget

Last month, a report claiming that Samsung would refurbish and sell the many Galaxy Note 7 smartphones that were returned following a global recall. In case you forgot, the Galaxy Note 7 had a battery problem that was causing the device to overheat and catch on fire. Now that Samsung finished its investigation into the root cause of the problem, the company is detailing how it plans to deal with the millions of returned phones. Refurbishment and resale is at the top of that list: Samsung says it’ll consider if devices are in suitable condition to be sold or used as rental devices.

Samsung doesn’t have a lot of details on how that program will work just yet, though. The decisions on where and how these refurbished phones will be sold will depend on “consultations with regulatory authorities” in each country — because it’s likely that some locales will not be interested in letting the phone hit the market after all the past troubles. The original report claimed the target markets for these refurbished phones would be Vietnam or India.

If that’s not an option, Samsung says it’ll detach salvageable components for reuse and do some metal extraction using “environmentally friendly methods” to get as much useful material out of each phone as possible. Specifically, Samsung will be trying to extract semiconductors, camera modules as well as precious metals like copper, nickel, gold and silver before passing the rest of the device on to recycling.

We’ll be waiting to see how the process for selling refurbished Note 7 devices winds up, but we have to give Samsung some credit here for trying not to be wasteful. The phone wasn’t on the market for long, but millions were sold and then returned, and that’s a lot of material that could have gone to waste. Hopefully Samsung will be able to get as much out of these returned devices as possible. And hopefully they won’t try and sell these with the Galaxy Note name — it’s about as toxic of a brand name as you can find in the smartphone landscape right now.

 

 

Talk to Cortana even when your Android phone is locked

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Devindra Hardawar/AOL

Windows Phone is basically dead, but that hasn’t kept Microsoft’s excellent voice assistant Cortana from finding a home on mobile. Cortana has been available on iOS and Android for a while now, and users of Google’s mobile OS will find that the app has gotten a helpful new upgrade today. Android users can now talk to Cortana directly from their phone’s lock screen. Previously, you could swipe to pull up some info stored in Cortana from the lock screen, but you couldn’t actually interact with it or ask it questions.

That restriction has been removed — Microsoft says that you can ask Cortana questions, set reminders and basically do anything else you might usually ask the app direct from the lock screen. Microsoft has also made some updates to the default Cortana home screen, showing glanceable info like weather, upcoming calendar items, commute times and so forth. It sounds handy, but given that Android basically does this in the Google Search search app, it’s also a bit redundant. For those that use Cortana a lot on their Windows computers and want easy access to that info on their phone, though, this updated app should do the trick. The latest version of Cortana for Android is available now in the Google Play Store.

 

 

Businesses beware: Smartphone malware rises 400% in 2016, Nokia reports

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Image: iStockphoto/BrianAJackson

More about IT Security

Mobile device malware infections reached an all-time high last year, according to a new Nokia Threat Intelligence Report, released Monday.

Smartphones were by far the most vulnerable devices, with infections that rose nearly 400% in 2016. Attacks on smartphones represented 85% of all mobile device infections in the second half of the year, according to the report.

“From these trends, it is clear that cybercrime is moving to the mobile space and that smart phones are becoming the target of choice,” the report stated. The report examined trends and statistics for malware infections in devices connected through mobile and fixed networks in the second half of 2016, aggregating data from more than 100 million devices worldwide that use its Nokia NetGuard Endpoint Security solution.

In October 2016, malware infected 1.35% of all mobile devices—up from 1.06% in April 2016, and representing the highest level measured since reporting started in 2012, Nokia noted.

SEE: Information security incident reporting policy (Tech Pro Research)

Androids were by far the most commonly attacked smartphones: These devices were responsible for 81% of malware infections in the second half of 2016, up 95% from the year before. Windows/PCs followed, representing 15% of attacks, as they connect to mobile networks via USB dongles, mobile Wi-Fi devices, and smartphone tethering. iPhones and other mobile devices made up just 4% of attack victims, the report found.

The report also dove into the Mirai botnet and the DDoS attacks associated with it, calling it “the biggest security event of 2016.” The incident demonstrates the many vulnerabilities that still exist within the Internet of Things (IoT), and the necessity of building in and adding security measures to manage these devices.

“The security of IoT devices has become a major concern,” said Kevin McNamee, head of the Nokia Threat Intelligence Lab, in a press release. “The Mirai botnet attacks last year demonstrated how thousands of unsecured IoT devices could easily be hijacked to launch crippling DDoS attacks. As the number and types of IoT devices continue to proliferate, the risks will only increase.”

Nokia’s findings echo those of Kaspersky Lab, which in February found that the number of malicious installation packages hit more than 8.5 million—three times more than the year before. That report also found that ransomware and IoT attacks continue to rise.

As more people use their devices for both work and personal use, it’s more important than ever to ensure that business users take precautions to keep their devices secure and protect both personal and professional accounts. Running anti-malware on your devices, keeping software updated, and training employees on cybersecurity hygiene are all good places to start.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Mobile device malware infections reached an all-time high in 2016, with smartphone infections rising nearly 400%, according to a new Nokia Threat Intelligence Report.

2. Android phones were the most vulnerable, representing 81% of malware infections in the second half of 2016.

3. The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a growing area of security concern, after the Mirai botnet demonstrated how these devices can be used to attack individuals and businesses.

Also see

The best Galaxy S6 and S7 trade-in deals

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Whether you’re itching to get your hands on the Galaxy S8 or you want to upgrade to another phone, you might be thinking about trading in your older Galaxy S7 and S6 phones.

To help you make that decision, we’ve rounded up the trade-in values for different Galaxy devices, so that you can know what your phone is worth and where you should trade it in.

We looked at what eight different companies that are willing to pay you for your old phone, focusing on the black versions of the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge models; we also list what you can expect for the 32 GB and 64 GB versions (in the cases where that latter configuration is an option).

TL;DR: Go with Glyde or Swappa

Based on our analysis, Glyde and Swappa tend to offer the highest trade-in values. For instance, for a 32GB Galaxy S7 on Verizon, Swappa offers $349 and Glyde $304. Compare that to just $135 for Gazelle and $160 for Amazon.

It was a similar story for the Galaxy S6 Edge on T-Mobile. Swappa offered us $364 for a 32GB version of the handset, compared to just $80 for GameStop and $96 on Wal-Mart.

MORE: Here’s How the Galaxy S8’s Coolest Feature Will Work

In general, we noticed that Sprint Galaxy phones have less trade-in value than other carriers. Plus, you aren’t likely to get as good deal from Gamestop or Wal-Mart.

Note that 64GB versions of the S7 and S6 have been more popular overseas and not sold through U.S. carriers, which is why you see so few of them being accepted as trade-ins. The Galaxy S8 will likely offer 64GB in the U.S., though.

Galaxy S7 (32 GB)

The best trade-in value for last year’s S7 comes from Swappa, which will give you $416 for an unlocked 32GB S7. Swappa’s values are the best across the board, though Glyde comes close, offering between $304 and $340 depending on which carrier your phone is tied to.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $160 $200 n/a $208.97 $200
Best Buy $200 $200 $200 n/a n/a
Gamestop $120 $120 $85 $85 n/a
Gazelle $135 $115 $100 $130 n/a
Glyde $304 $313 $340 $310 n/a
Next Worth $200 $250 $210 $240 n/a
Swappa $349 $366 $332 $383 $416
Wal-Mart $167 $167 $143 $143 $180

MORE: Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus Prices Leaked: Just Too High?

Galaxy S7 (64 GB)

Not many outlets will buy back the 64GB version of the Galaxy S7, but an unlocked version fetches the best return from Swappa at $416. The only other retailer offering trade-ins for the 64GB model is Next Worth, which will pay as much as $250 for the AT&T version of the phone.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Next Worth $200 $250 $210 $240 n/a
Swappa $349 $366 $332 $383 $416

Galaxy S7 Edge (Credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

Galaxy S7 Edge (Credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom’s Guide)

Galaxy S7 Edge (32 GB)

And unlocked 32GB Galaxy S7 Edge will fetch $503 from Swappa, though the retailer offers the best trade-ins even for carrier-tied versions of the phone. The $395 Glyde will pay for AT&T and Sprint versions of the S7 Edge are also worth noting.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $200 $200 $200 $208.97 $200
Best Buy $233 $233 $233 n/a n/a
Gamestop $150 $150 $90 $90 n/a
Gazelle $160 $160 $150 $150 $170
Glyde $350 $395 $395 $365 n/a
Next Worth $200 $250 $210 $240 n/a
Swappa $425 $436 $429 $464 $503
Wal-Mart $178 $178 $152 $156 $196.65

Galaxy S7 Edge (64 GB)

As with the S7, you’ll find few trade-in options for the 64GB version of the S7 Edge, though Swappa offers the most money.

MORE: Snapdragon 835 Benchmarks Tease Galaxy S8’s Sheer Power

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Next Worth $200 $250 $210 $240 n/a
Swappa $425 $436 $429 $464 $499

Galaxy S6 (Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

Galaxy S6 (Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom’s Guide)

Galaxy S6 (32 GB)

An unlocked 32GB Galaxy S6 will get you $285 from Swappa. But if you’ve got a version of that phone that’s tied to either Sprint or T-Mobile, consider Glyde, which either matches or beats Swappa’s price.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $120 $334.48 $329 $110 $120
Best Buy $120 $120 $120 n/a n/a
Gamestop $95 $95 $70 $70 $80
Gazelle $130 $105 $110 $95 $110
Glyde $201 $220 $220 $230 n/a
Next Worth $120 $125 $110 $120 $125
Swappa $195 $230 $220 $200 $285
Wal-Mart $101 $101 $82 $82 $108

Galaxy S6 (64 GB)

While Swappa offers the biggest value for the unlocked 64GB Galaxy S6, Glyde has the best trade-in value for each of the carrier versions of that phone.

MORE: Galaxy S8’s Bixby Now Official: Here’s What It Does

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $125 $130 $130 n/a $130
Best Buy $120 $120 $120 n/a n/a
Gamestop $95 $95 $70 $70 $80
Gazelle $125 $105 $85 $95 $125
Glyde $224 $252 $264 $244 n/a
Next Worth $120 $125 $110 $120 $125
Swappa $195 $230 $220 $200 $285
Wal-Mart $110 $110 $90.50 $90.50 $117

Galaxy S6 Edge (32 GB)

Swappa’s the choice here, offering $348 for an unlocked 32GB Galaxy S6 Edge. It also has the best trade-in values for carrier versions, giving you between $266 and $364 back.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $130 $130 $130 $130 $137
Best Buy $130 $130 $130 n/a n/a
Gamestop $100 $100 $80 $80 n/a
Gazelle $115 $120 $90 $120 n/a
Glyde $220 $252 $242 $185 n/a
Next Worth $120 $190 $100 $120 $100
Swappa $256 $273 $282 $364 $348
Wal-Mart $96 $101 $91.25 $96 $113.63

Galaxy S6 Edge (64 GB)

Swappa will give you $365 if you trade-in an unlocked 64GB of the Galaxy S6 Edge. It also offers the best trade-ins for carrier-tied versions of the phone, though Glyde is the only other outlet to offer trade-ins higher than $200 on those models.

Retailer Verizon AT&T Sprint T–Mobile Unlocked
Amazon $130 $130 $130 n/a 130
Best Buy $130 $130 $130 n/a n/a
Gamestop $100 $100 $80 $80 n/a
Gazelle $125 $135 $95 $105 n/a
Glyde $238 $239 $257 $255 n/a
Next Worth $120 $190 $100 $120 $100
Swappa $256 $318 $282 $293 $365
Wal-Mart $110 $110 $90.50 $90.50 $117

More from Tom’s Guide:

 

 

MakeVR turns the HTC Vive into a virtual design tool

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Vive

Consumers are giving the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive a tepid reception, but organizations like NASA and BMW think the VR headsets are great for things like training and design. HTC is today launching MakeVR, a program built in collaboration with Sixense that lets you do modeling and sculpting in VR, then export the results to a CAD program or 3D printer. As we saw last month, it uses the Vive’s controllers (and maybe the new trackers, more on that in a sec) to let you do freeform modeling and design.

The app interface resembles a studio where you can do hands-on work with the controllers. “Room-scale VR gives creators a virtual workshop, and the use of natural physical motions brings unprecedented expressiveness and intuitiveness to object design,” said Vive Studios Head Joel Breton.

A brief HTC Vive Studios video shows an artist creating a cartoon turtle’s eyes, exporting the files and 3D printing a physical version. The company says the app is designed for “all ages and skill levels with a low learning curve and intuitive two-handed 3D multi-touch interface.” It can supposedly help you “easily and naturally” create 3D objects on a one-to-one scale with simple physical movements and gestures. However, another video I saw the process look a little janky.

HTC further says that using the apps can give you an experience that’s “more powerful and expressive” than a mouse and touchscreen, but again, it seems more like a toy than a powerful app like ZBrush. You can then send your files to modeling apps or 3D print them directly. The app is now available for $20 at Viveport, and HTC has promised a more powerful version called MakeVR Pro later this year.

HTC made a few other key announcements today. As alluded to earlier, the company has finally released its wireless Vive Trackers to the developer community for $100 each. The devices can be attached to your hands, body and objects like guns to let you incorporate props into VR play.

Vive also released an open-source full tracking system on Github that uses three Vive trackers. That will help developers build full body tracking apps, “bringing feet and natural movements into VR,” the company says. It has already showed off a few demos using the software, including firefighter training, VR rifles, tracked boxing gloves and dinosaur kicking (for a full list, see the blog post here).

Finally, Vive announced that it’s teaming with Warner Bros. to create VR content for Ready Player One, a sci-fi action film by Steven Spielberg “that unfolds largely within the virtual reality space.” It’ll release the content on Viveport “across all VR in-home platforms from high-end PC-based VR systems to mobile solutions,” presumably meaning the Vive and Rift, along with Samsung’s Gear VR and Google VR-based Daydream headsets. The film is set to arrive in spring of 2018.

 

 

The Morning After: Monday, March 27th 2017

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Giphy

Hey, good morning!

Hello from Monday morning. Over the weekend, we welcome the return of a 1998 gaming classic, toured the fanciest toilet showroom you’ll ever see, and reported on a self-driving Uber crash. Oh, and in case you forgot, we will finally get to see Samsung’s next flagship smartphone later this week.


4K graphics, reworked audio and even story improvements.‘StarCraft: Remastered’ upgrades a real-time strategy classic

Blizzard is legendary for keeping old games alive, but it’s going the extra mile this time around. The studio has unveiled StarCraft: Remastered, an overhaul that drags the 1998 real-time strategy game into the modern era. It’s getting the obligatory fresh coat of paint, including higher-resolution graphics and improved audio. The team is also using this as an excuse to ‘fix’ the game by adding content and features you take for granted. Multiplayer fans will see features that have been a staple of newer Blizzard titles, including “advanced” matchmaking, ladder play and social features. You’ll also have cloud saves for everything from your solo progress to custom maps and key bindings. About the only thing that won’t change is the core gameplay.


The retailer plans to expand its non-gaming businesses.Digital downloads killed 150 GameStop stores

It’s game over for at least 150 GameStop stores. The retailer has announced that it’s shutting down 2 to 3 percent of 7,500 shops across the globe after sales and earning plummeted last year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company was affected by the shift to digital downloads. More and more people now prefer installing their games straight from their console’s online store instead of buying physical copies, that GameStop’s sales dropped 14 percent in 2016.


Travel through space on your porcelain throne.
Toto hopes to woo you with its high-tech toilet showroom

High-functioning toilets have long been a mainstay in Asian households, but the concept is still something of a curiosity in much of the Western world. Toto, Japan’s biggest toilet maker, has attempted to market its high-tech commodes to American audiences for decades with little success. The company is trying to change all this with a brand new “experiential” showroom that launched this week in San Francisco. It’s called Concept 190, and it’s equipped with four sensor-laden bathrooms where visitors are invited to pee, poo and have a toilet experience unlike anything they’ve had before.


Automakers may have to ignore the feds’ attempts to loosen rules.
California’s new car emission standards defy the White House

The Trump administration may be rethinking car efficiency regulations, but that isn’t stopping California. The state’s Air Resources Board has finalized car emissions standards for 2022-2025 that the White House still wants to review, creating the potential for a conflict if federal officials rethink the rules.


‘Not taking risks’Uber suspends self-driving tests following an Arizona crash

Uber isn’t taking any chances in the wake of its self-driving car accident in Tempe, Arizona. The company has suspended both its Arizona testing and its Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania operations while it investigates what happened. The company has confirmed that its vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time, but adds that there were no serious injuries on either side of the collision, and “no backseat passengers” in Uber’s autonomous Volvo.


‘Hi! I’m Alexa. How may I help?’
Amazon considers opening augmented reality furniture stores

Amazon’s retail plans could extend well beyond books and groceries. New York Times sources hear that the internet giant is “exploring” the possibility of appliance and furniture stores with a technological angle. You’d use augmented or virtual reality to see how items would look in your own home, making it easier to pull the trigger on that new couch or stove. Amazon might directly challenge some of its tech rivals in retail too. Just as long as Alexa doesn’t try to sell me a sofa on interest-free credit.

But wait, there’s more…