computing

GitHub launches a mobile app, smarter notifications and improved code search

Posted by | Android, code search, computing, Developer, GitHub, instagram, iOS, iPad, Microsoft, mobile devices, operating systems, smartphones, TC | No Comments

At its annual Universe conference today, Microsoft -owned GitHub announced a couple of new products, as well as the general availability of a number of tools that developers have been able to test for the last few months. The two announcements that developers will likely be most interested in are the launch of GitHub’s first native mobile app and an improved notifications experience. But in addition to that, it is also taking GitHub Actions, the company’s workflow automation and CI/CD solution, as well as GitHub Packages, out of beta. GitHub is also improving its code search, adding scheduled reminders and launching a pre-release program that will allow users to try out new features before they are ready for a wider rollout.

GitHub is also extending its sponsor program, which until now allowed you to tip individual open-source contributors for their work, to the project level. With GitHub Sponsors, anybody can help fund a project and the members of that project then get to choose how to use the money. These projects have to be open source and have a corporate or nonprofit entity attached to it (and a bank account).

“Developers are what’s driving us and we’re building the tools and the experiences to help them come together to create the world’s most important technologies and to do it on an open platform and ecosystem,” GitHub SVP of Product Shanku Niyogi told me. Today’s announcements, he said, are driven by the company’s mission to improve the developer experience. Over the course of the last year, the company launched well over 150 new features and enhancements, Niyogi stressed. For its Universe show, the company decided to highlight the new mobile app and notification enhancements, though.

The new mobile app, which is now out in beta for iOS, with Android support coming soon, offers all of the basic features you’d want from a mobile app like this. The team decided to focus squarely on the kind of mobile use cases that would make the most sense for a developer on the go, so you’ll be able to share feedback on discussions, review a few lines of code and merge changes, but this isn’t meant to be a tool that replicated the full GitHub experience, though at least on the iPad, you do get a bit more screen real estate to work with.

“When you start to look at the tablet experience, that then extends out because you now got more space,” explained Niyogi. “You can look at the code, you can navigate some of that, we support some of the key same keyboard shortcuts that github.com does to be able to look at a larger amount of content and a larger amount of code. So, the idea is the experience scales with the mobile devices you have, and but it’s also designed for the things you’re likely to do when you’re not using your computer.”

Others have built mobile apps for GitHub before, of course, and it turns out that the developers of GitHawk, which was launched by a group of engineers from Instagram, recently joined GitHub to help the company in its efforts to get this new app off the ground.

The second major new feature is the improved notifications experience. As every GitHub user on even a medium-sized team knows, GitHub’s current set of notifications can quickly become overwhelming. That’s something the GitHub team was also keenly aware of, so the company decided to build a vastly improved system that includes filters, as well as an inbox for all of your notifications right inside of GitHub.

“The experience for developers today can result in an inbox in Gmail or whatever email client you use with tons and tons of notifications — and it can end up being kind of hard to know what matters and what’s just noise,” Kelly Stirman, GitHub’ VP of Strategy and Product Management, said. “We’ve done a bunch of things over the last year to make notifications better, but what we’ve done is a big step. We’ve reimagined what notifications should be.”

Using filters and rules, developers can zero in on the notifications that matter to them, all without flooding your inbox with unnecessary noise. Developers can customize these filters to their hearts’ content. That’s also where the new mobile experience fits in well. “Many times, the notification will be sent to you when you’re not at your computer, when you’re not at your desktop,” noted Stirman. “And that notification might be somebody asking for your help to unblock something. And so it’s natural we think that we need to extend the GitHub experience beyond the desktop to a mobile experience.”

Talking about notifications: GitHub also today announced a new feature in a limited preview that adds a few more notifications to your inbox. You can now set up scheduled reminders for pending code reviews.

Among the rest of today’s announcements, the improved code search stands out because that’s definitely an area where some improvements were necessary. This new code search is currently in limited beta, but should roll out to all users over the next few months. It’ll introduce a completely new search experience, the company says, that can match special characters and casing, among other things.

Also new are code review assignments, now in public beta, and a new way to navigate code on GitHub.

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Apple’s Mac Pro ships in December with maximum 8TB of storage

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, computers, computing, Gadgets, hardware, mac pro, macbook, macbook pro, macintosh, Steve Jobs, TC | No Comments

Apple is making its Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display available in December, it announced today. The machine was announced earlier this year, but no availability window had been set.

In addition to the previously announced specs, Apple also noted that it would be able to be ordered with up to an 8TB SSD. Apple’s Pro Workflow Team continues to take feedback about wants and needs of its pro customers, and Apple says that the Mac Pro can now handle up to six streams of 8K Pro Res video, up from three streams quoted back in June. 

Apple also says that Blackmagic will have an SDI to 8K converter for productions using a serial digital interface workflow on set or in studio. This was a question I got several times after Apple announced its reference monitor to go along with the Mac Pro. This makes it more viable for many on-set applications that use existing workflows. 

I was able to get a look at the Mac Pro running the SDI converter box as well as a bunch of other applications like Final Cut Pro, and it continues to be incredibly impressive for pro workflows. One demo showed six 8K Pro Res streams running with animation and color coding in real time in a pre-rendered state. Really impressive. The hardware is also still wildly premium stuff. The VESA mount for the Pro Display XDR alone feels like it has more engineering behind it than most entire computers.

The new Mac Pro starts at $5,999 for the base configuration, which includes 32GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a Radeon Pro 570X graphics card. The Pro Display XDR 32-inch reference-quality monitor that Apple will sell alongside it starts at $4,999.

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MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

Posted by | airport, amd, Apple, apple inc, computers, computing, Gadgets, hardware, Intel, iPad, iPhone, Laptop, macbook, macbook air, macbook pro, macintosh, new york city, RAM, retina display, Speaker, TC, writer | No Comments

In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage. 

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling. 

The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable trade-offs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard.

I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first-look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time. 

This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model. 

Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count.

Let’s run down some of the most important new things. 

Performance and thermals

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. 

The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. 

Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week.

The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic hand-off system that trades power for battery life on the fly.  


The i9 model will run $2,799 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage — which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever — and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM, but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey.

The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned; there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model. 

The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy. 

There’s also a new power brick, which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it. 

Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests, I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config, Apple says it can usually handle as many as four, perhaps five un-rendered Pro Res streams.

A bigger display, a thicker body

The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness. 

The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model.

The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro.

This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far. 

But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please.

Speakers and microphone

One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good. 

The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever.

The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop. 

Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before.

The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends. 

That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now, though; Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here.

I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself, but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti. 

The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups, the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it. 

I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a “pro-level” device finally come with a pro-level mic on board is super choice. 

I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh right, the keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (yours truly included) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know there has been a problem.

The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers. 

But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble. 

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key.

Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure. 

Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says “hey, you pressed that key.” This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying “stroke completed” message to the brain.

There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else. 

Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard one-year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient. 

But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low-profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best-feeling keyboards they’ve made in years, and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing. 

Pro, or Pro

In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro, and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience. 

Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of “the best” rather than “for professionals.” This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer-centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before. 

But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.

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Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 starts shipping

Posted by | augmented reality, Australia, barcelona, Canada, China, Computer Vision, computing, France, Gadgets, Germany, hardware, head-mounted displays, holography, hololens 2, ireland, Japan, machine learning, Microsoft, microsoft hardware, Microsoft HoloLens, Microsoft Ignite 2019, mixed reality, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Windows 10 | No Comments

Earlier this year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the second generation of its HoloLens augmented reality visor. Today, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is going on sale in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand, the same countries where it was previously available for pre-order.

Ahead of the launch, I got to spend some time with the latest model after a brief demo in Barcelona earlier this year. Users will immediately notice the larger field of view, which still doesn’t cover your full field of view, but offers a far better experience compared to the first version (where you often felt like you were looking at the virtual objects through a stamp-sized window).

The team also greatly enhanced the overall feel of wearing the device. It’s not light, at 1.3 pounds, but with the front visor that flips up and the new mounting system it is far more comfortable.

In regular use, existing users will also immediately notice the new gestures for opening the Start menu (this is Windows 10, after all). Instead of a “bloom” gesture, which often resulted in false positives, you now simply tap on the palm of your hand, where a Microsoft logo now appears when you look at it.

Eye tracking, too, has been greatly improved and works well, even over large distances, and the new machine learning model also does a far better job at tracking all of your fingers. All of this is powered by a lot of custom hardware, including Microsoft’s second-generation “holographic processing unit.”

Microsoft has also enhanced some of the cloud tools it built for HoloLens, including Azure Spatial Anchors, which allow for persistent holograms in a given space that anybody else who is using a holographic app can then see in the same spot.

Taken together, all of the changes result in a more comfortable and smarter device, with reduced latency when you look at the various objects around you and interact with them.

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The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

Posted by | Android, Assistant, AWS, Bing, chromium, cloud computing, cloud infrastructure, computing, Cortana, Developer, Enterprise, GitHub, Google, google cloud, linux, machine learning, Microsoft, Microsoft Ignite 2019, microsoft windows, San Francisco, Satya Nadella, TC, voice assistant, Windows 10, Windows Phone | No Comments

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

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Nvidia’s new Shield TV wins the Android TV market with amazing 4K upscaling

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Fire TV, Android, apple tv, artificial intelligence, AV, computing, Disney, dolby, ethernet, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, internet television, LG, Netflix, neural network, nvidia, nvidia shield, oled, online stores, Portable Media Players, RAM, Reviews, Shield Portable, shield tv, shields, smart tv, streaming devices, Streaming Media, TC, technology | No Comments

Nvidia has a new family of Android TV-based streaming devices, as tipped early via a couple of leaks from online stores. The new Nvidia Shield TV ($149) and Shield TV Pro ($199) replace the existing Shield TV generation of hardware, which debuted in 2017. Both new Shields offer new Tegra X1+ processors, which outperform the predecessor chip by about 25%, and make possible one of this Shield’s new highlight features: AI-powered 3K up-conversion for HD content.

Both Shield TV and Shield TV Pro also support Dolby Vision HDR content, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. The differences between the two devices center mainly around physical design, with the Shield TV adopting a cylindrical tube design, and the Shield TV Pro looking more like its predecessor (basically a small set-top box form factor). The Shield TV Pro also gets more RAM (3GB versus 2GB), more storage (16GB versus 8GB), the ability to transcode 1080p streams when acting as a Plex Media Server, support for the SmartThings Link to turn it into a SmartThings smart home hub and advanced Android gaming support, along with two USB 3.0 ports.

Shield TV review

Nvidia Shield TV 4I’ve been using the Shield TV for around a week now, and this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to get the best possible experience available in an Android TV home theater device. Nvidia has clearly done a lot to survey the market, look at everything that’s come out in the two years since it last updated this hardware and deliver generational improvements that help it stand out from the crowd in meaningful ways.

Android TV now ships on a lot of smart TVs, and there have been many generations of Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices introduced since we last saw a new Shield from Nvidia — all of which adds up to needing to really do something special to ask for $149.99 from consumers to invest in a new dedicated streaming media box. Nvidia has always delivered a lot of value for the upfront cost of their streaming hardware, with consistent updates over the life of the devices that add plenty of new features and improvements. But this new hardware packs in some excellent features not possible with software alone, and that are also unique when you look across the options available in this category.

AI upscaling

Chief among the additions Nvidia has made here is the AI upscaling made possible with the new Tegra X1+ chip. You might have heard of “upscaling” before, and you might even think that your TV already handles that well. But what you probably don’t know is that often content from streaming media sources doesn’t actually get upscaled by your TV, which means if you have a 4K display but are often watching YouTube or other services with large quantities of non-4K content, you might not be getting the most out of your hardware.

Nvidia has addressed this with on-device 4K upscaling, which is powered by on-device machine intelligence that has been trained on a deep neural network to turn both 720p and 1080p signals into much sharper, 4K-equivalent images. Having used this on a variety of content, including media streamed from YouTube, non-4K Netflix content and stuff from Plex, I can attest to its ability to produce visibly sharper images that look great, especially on my LG C8-series OLED 4K TV.

The Shield TV’s tech is trained on popular movies and TV shows, and so does a remarkably good job of guessing what the 4K version of the HD image it’s looking at should properly look like. Considering that there’s a ton of content out there that hasn’t been made available in 4K, despite now a lot of TVs supporting that resolution, this is a big advantage for Nvidia, and again one that they uniquely offer among their peers.

Dolby everything

These new Shields also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across more services than anything else out there on the market right now. These HDR and surround sound modes really do offer the best audio-visual experience you can get, provided you have TVs and audio output equipment that supports them. But what you might not know is that even on other streaming hardware that technically support these standards, they might not be supported across all services.

Shield TV supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos across Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Vudu and Movies Anywhere, so you should be getting the most out of these technologies, too. I asked about the forthcoming Apple TV+ service, which is rolling out to Roku devices, for instance, but Nvidia didn’t have any news to share just yet — it does seem like it’s a good idea to stay tuned on that front, however.

Like AI Upscaling, Dolby support across everything might not seem like a big competitive advantage, but it’s absolutely a decision-tipping factor for people looking for the best possible A/V experience in a home streaming device.

New and improved remote

Nvidia Shield TV 5Nvidia is shipping the new Shield TVs with a brand new redesigned remote in the box. There’s a dedicated “Netflix” button, which is a nice touch, but the remote overall is just an improvement over both Shield remotes past and other competing remotes, in every way. It’s powered by AAA batteries (included) and it has a new pyramid-shaped body design that makes it easier and more pleasant to hold.

There are also lots of new buttons! Yes, Nvidia actually put buttons on their remote control — what a novel concept! Whereas the remote from the last generation seemed to be adopting a lot of the questionable choices Apple has long been making on their remotes, this one feels like it’s made with humans in mind, with dedicated play/pause, back, forward, volume and other buttons. A wealth of buttons.

This remote also has automatic backlighting, which will serve you well when using it in a darkened room. Because of the bulkier body design, it also stands on its end, and there’s a lost remote finding function, too. Chalk up a win for human-centric design with this remote, as it’s a joy to use.

Simple physical design

The design of the device is not flashy, but it is smart. There’s an Ethernet port, a power connector, an HDMI port and a micro SD card slot, dividing across both ends of the tube. This makes it perfect for placing behind a console or media bench, on the ground or next to your other power cables.

It still provides hardwired connectivity options in case you do things like in-home game streaming or GeForce NOW cloud gaming, and it offers expandable storage via the microSD slot.

Bottom line

Nvidia’s new Shield is a great option for anyone looking for a versatile streaming device, with access to all of Google’s Play Store apps for Android TV, and support for the latest AV standards. Its real bonus advantage is that AI upscaling, however, which is something that Nvidia is uniquely poised to do well, and which goes a long way in making that $149.99 price point, seem like a tremendous value.

SHIELD TV Family

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New Nvidia Shield Android TV streaming device leaks via Amazon listing

Posted by | Amazon, Android, artificial intelligence, Assistant, computing, Federal Communications Commission, Gadgets, Google, hardware, nvidia, nvidia shield, Portable Media Players, set top box, Shield Portable, Streaming Media, streaming media player, TC, tegra | No Comments

The fact that Nvidia is updating its Shield TV hardware has already been telegraphed via an FCC filing, but a leak earlier today paints much more of a detailed picture. An Amazon listing for a new Nvidia Shield Pro set-top streaming device went live briefly before being taken down, showing a familiar hardware design and a new remote control and listing some of the forthcoming feature updates new to this generation of hardware.

The listing, captured by the eagle-eyed Android TV Rumors and shared via Twitter, includes a $199.99 price point, specs that include 3GB of RAM, 2x USB ports, a new Nvidia Tegra X1+ chip and 16GB of on-board storage. In addition to the price, the Amazon listing had a release date for the new hardware of October 28.

If this Amazon page is accurate (and it looks indeed like an official product page that one would expect from Nvidia), the new Shield TV’s processor will be “up to 25% faster than the previous generation,” and will offer “next-generation AI upscaling” for improving the quality of HD video on 4K-capable displays.

It’ll offer support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus surround sound with Dolby Atmos support, and provide “the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player.” There’s also built-in Google Assistant support, which was offered on the existing hardware, and it’ll work with Alexa for hands-free control.

The updated @Nvisia Shield TV is on https://t.co/er7yzgQKLY ?
Comes with Dolby Vison, new Tegra X1 + processorhttps://t.co/IXOFlEvVCS pic.twitter.com/TGEWEZD2zM

Android TV Rumors (@androidtv_rumor) October 17, 2019

The feature photos for the listing show a new remote control, which has a pyramid-like design, as well as a lot more dedicated buttons on the face. There’s backlighting, and an IR blaster for TV control, as well as a “built-in lost remote locator” according to the now-removed Amazon page.

This Amazon page certainly paints a comprehensive picture of what to expect, and it looks like a compelling update to be sure. The listing is gone now, however, so stay tuned to find out if this is indeed the real thing, and if this updated streamer will indeed be available soon.

UPDATE: Yet another Nvidia leak followed the first, this time through retailer Newegg (via The Verge). This is different, however, and features a Shield TV device (no “Pro” in the name) that has almost all the same specs, but a much smaller design that includes a microSD card, and seems to have half the amount of on-board storage (8GB versus 16GB) and a retail price of around $150.

nvidia.0

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Gnarbox 2.0 backup SSD is a photographer’s best friend in the field and at home

Posted by | adobe lightroom, backup, computing, Gadgets, Gnarbox, hardware, lenovo yoga, oled, Reviews, SD card, solid state drive, Sony, TC, usb, usb flash drive | No Comments

Working photographers, and enthusiasts who just love taking plenty of pictures, know that even the biggest SD cards can sometimes fill up, especially when you’re working with large file sizes, shooting both JPG and RAW, and shooting 4K video. The solution? A good mobile backup drive. There are a number of options out there that fit the bill, but the newly released Gnarbox 2.0 might be the best of them all, because it works like a miniature independent photo computer in addition to packing speedy SSD storage on board.

This is the second generation of Gnarbox’s backup solution, and while I used the original HDD-based version to great effect for a long time, the 2.0 version adds a ton of useful features, including super-fast SSD storage ranging from 256GB to 1TB in capacity, a new OLED display that makes it even easier to use in the field, and a removable battery that means you can pack spares to stay powered up and ready.

Simple, no fuss backup

It’s not the fanciest feature that the Gnarbox 2.0 offers, but it might be the one you use most: Quick and painless backup of SD cards. There’s an SD port on the device itself that can transfer at speeds up to 75MB/s, and it has USB-C ports that can transfer direct from cameras or from card readers at up to 350MB/s, depending on their transfer capabilities. When you plug in an SD card or camera, you get an option on the screen to totally back up the contents of the attached drive with one click, which makes it incredibly easy to dump and delete and clear space to keep shooting.

Gnarbox 2.0 6

During a nine-day trip that included two events and a vacation to shoot, I made frequent use of this feature. Shooting with the new Sony A7R IV in both RAW and JPG, even my 128GB SD + 64GB SD backup cards filled up pretty quickly, but I would just slide one of the cards into the Gnarbox’s slot and hit the backup button before changing venues and it’d be fully backed up within a few minutes.

In my experience, this process has been rock-solid reliable, and gives me effectively 10x the space for a shoot versus just relying on my cards alone (I don’t typically have a similar-sized backup SD card on the road, let alone 10). By default, the Gnarbox 2.0 stores all your media in backup folders organized by capture date, too, which makes them super easy to sort through once you get back to base.

A mobile review and rating machine

Once all that great capture content is on your Gnarbox 2.0, you can also very easily connect to the drive using Gnarbox’s mobile apps to either review what you’ve got or go through and rate your photos quickly to make easier the process of working through them once you’re installed at your workstation.

There are two apps from Gnarbox available right now, including Gnarbox Safekeep and Gnarbox Selects. Safekeep gives you access to all your device’s settings and can act as a file browser for shuttling photos between apps. But Selects is probably what you’re going to be using most — it not only offers fast RAW previews (compatible with every major camera’s RAW formats) but also lets you quickly add ratings, keyboard tags and more to make sure your collection is primed for edit when you get back to your desktop.

With Selects, you can review either files on the Gnarbox SSD itself, or on attached memory cards or storage media (so yes, you can use this with something like a Samsung T5 if you’re already using that as a backup solution). All this info will then show up in applications like Adobe Lightroom to expedite your workflow.

This can shave hours off the process of organizing your photos, as it means you can do the rating and reviewing upfront without having to wait for everything to import and then trying to recall what you were going for with the shoot in the field after the fact.

Easy sharing from the field

Speaking of saving time, the Gnarbox 2.0 also helps you move more quickly from capture to sharing, which is incredibly useful if you’re working on a live event or doing photojournalism of something happening in the moment. The device supports Lightroom mobile out of the box, meaning you can navigate to it as a source for a new collection and move files over directly when connected to your phone or tablet. This makes it awesome for adding quick edits to RAW files, exporting finished JPGs and sharing directly to social apps and websites.

With Apple’s new iOS 13 file system changes, the Gnarbox 2.0 can also be addressed as a mass storage device, so you should be pretty wide open in terms of options for working with various editing software. This is also great for mobile video workflows, as Gnarbox 2.0 works just as well for storing video capture as well as photos.

Home workstation companion

Gnarbox 2.0 3The Gnarbox 2.0 is great on the go, but it’s also perfect for plugging in as a home work drive once you’re back from the shoot. I’m reviewing the 1TB version, so the amount of available on-board storage is a big advantage here, because it can essentially provide all the space you need to give you all of your working files in one place.

As mentioned, it supports high-speed USB-C transfer, which makes working with the files directly from the drive on your main workstation much more pleasant. That also means you don’t necessarily have to move things over local to get to work, which saves you a step and spares your computer’s disk space.

Gnarbox 2.0 switches to USB Mass Storage mode pretty easily, using the on-board OLED menu system. You do need to make this switch manually however, because by default the USB-C port that it uses to make the computer connection is used for charging the Gnarbox’s battery. Once you’re in that mode, however, it’s as easy as connecting Gnarbox 2.0 to your computer and navigating to it as you would any other connected mass storage device.

Photos on the drive are organized by capture date, as mentioned (you can customize how it creates its folder structure if you want) and you can select it as an import target in any photo-editing software, like Lightroom or Capture One.

Bottom line

Gnarbox 2.0 5Gnarbox has taken their time to create a thoughtful and thorough successor to their original product with the Gnarbox 2.0. It’s a unique blend of field photo server and mini computer, made more versatile with clever touches like the removable battery packs and dust/splash resistance. Ultimately, there really isn’t anything in the market that can compete with the Gnarbox 2.0 on everything it provides, though devices like WD’s My Passport Wireless Pro and the LaCie Rugged Boss SSD can offer some key parts at lower prices, depending on your needs.

At $899 for the 1TB version I reviewed, ($499 and $599 for the 256 and 512GB versions, respectively), the Gnarbox 2.0 clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s a professional tool for a professional workflow, and it’s priced as such. That said, the value it provides for busy photographers who need a companion storage solution with utmost flexibility for working both at home and on the road is definitely going to make it worth the cost of admission for some.

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Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 finally has USB-C, ships on October 22

Posted by | artist, computing, Gadgets, hardware, Laptop, Microsoft, microsoft surface, Microsoft Surface Event 2019, microsoft windows, smartphone, Surface, surface book, surface pro, tablet computer, TC, technology | No Comments

Today at its special hardware event, Microsoft unveiled the new Surface Pro 7. The new Surface Pro finally brings USB-C to the convertible laptop category of Microsoft hardware, which will be a welcome addition for fans who’ve been waiting for the company to adopt this now-prevalent connection technology.

The latest-generation Surface Pro starts at $749, pre-orders start today and it’s available on October 22.

Like its predecessors, the Surface consists of a 12-inch tablet component with a folding kickstand for adjustable angle viewing. There’s also a detachable keyboard cover accessory, and a Surface Pen stylus that allows for writing, drawing, note taking and more.

The Surface Pro also features “studio mics,” a new microphone array built into the new Surface Laptop.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 7.38.29 AM

“Studio mics are optimized for your voice, their place perfectly tuned, so that we capture what’s coming from your mouth rather than all the background sounds around you,” said Robin Seiler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Devices who presented the new device onstage at the event. They’ll also be used for Microsoft’s Your Phone app, which is a recently released Windows feature that connects your smartphone to your computer for calls, messaging and more.

Surface Pro is the most popular two-in-one on the market, according to Microsoft, with more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies purchasing Surface devices, according to Seiler.

Microsoft emphasized the creative potential of the Surface Pro in a video featuring an artist named Connie using the Pen for digital painting, and Seiler showed off the productivity angle via a live demo of various features of Office on the two-in-one.

Screen Shot 2019 10 02 at 7.26.23 AM

 

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Is Amazon’s Alexa ready to leave home and become a wearable voice assistant?

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Hardware Event 2019, Android, Assistant, car accessory, computing, digital assistant, echo, Fire OS, fire phone, Gadgets, Google, hardware, operating systems, Seattle, smart speakers, smartphone, Speaker, TC, virtual assistant | No Comments

Amazon’s device event today played host to a dizzying number of product announcements, of all stripes — but notably, there are three brand new ways to wear Alexa on your body. Amazon clearly wants to give you plenty of options to take Alexa with you when you leave the house, the only place it’s really held sway so far — but can Amazon actually convince people that it’s the voice interface for everywhere, and not just for home?

Among the products Amazon announced at its Seattle event, Echo Frames, Echo Loop and Echo Buds all provide ways to take Alexa with you wherever you go. What’s super interesting — and telling — about this is that Amazon went with three different vectors to try to convince people to wear Alexa, instead of focusing its efforts on just one. That indicates a stronger than ever desire to break Alexa out of its home environment.

alexa echo amazon 9250082

The company has tried to get this done in different ways before. Alexa has appeared in Bluetooth speakers and headphones, in some cars (including now GM, as of today) and via Amazon’s own car accessory — and though the timing didn’t line up, it would’ve been a lock for Amazon’s failed Fire Phone.

Notice that none of these existing examples have helped Amazon gain any apparent significant market share when it comes to Alexa use on the go. While we don’t have great stats on how well-adopted Alexa is in-car, for instance, it stands to reason that we’d be hearing a lot more about its success if it was indeed massively successful — in the same way we hear often about Alexa’s prevalence in the home.

Amazon lacks a key vector that other voice assistants got for free: Being the default option on a smartphone. Google Assistant manages this through both Google’s own, and third-party Android, phones. Apple’s Siri isn’t often celebrated for its skill and performance, but there’s no question that it benefits from being the only really viable option on iOS when it comes to voice assistant software.

Amazon had to effectively invent a product category to get Alexa any traction at all — the Echo basically created the smart speaker category, at least in terms of significant mass market uptake. Its success with its existing Echo devices proves that this category served a market need, and Amazon has reaped significant reward as a result.

But for Amazon, a virtual assistant that only operates in the confines of the home covers only a tiny part of the picture when it comes to building more intelligent and nuanced customer profiles, which is the whole point of the endeavor to begin with. While Americans seem to be spending more time at home than ever before, a big percentage of peoples’ days is still spent outside, and this is largely invisible to Alexa.

The thing is, the only reliable and proven way to ensure you’re with someone throughout their entire day is to be on their smartphone. Alexa is, via Amazon’s own app, but that’s a far cry from being a native feature of the device, and just a single tap or voice command away. Amazon’s own smartphone ambitions deflated pretty quickly, so now it’s casting around for alternatives — and Loop, Frames and Buds all represent its most aggressive attempts yet.

alexa echo amazon 9250074

A smart spread of bets, each with their own smaller pool of penetration among users versus a general staple like a smartphone, might be Amazon’s best way to actually drive adoption — especially if they’re not concerned with the overall economics of the individual hardware businesses attached to each.

The big question will be whether A) these products can either offer enough value on their own to justify their continued use while Alexa catches up to out-of-home use cases from a software perspective, or B) Amazon’s Alexa team can iterate the assistant’s feature set quickly enough to make it as useful on the go as it is at home, which hasn’t seemed like something it’s been able to do to date (not having direct access to smartphone functions like texting and calling is probably a big part of that).

Specifically for these new products, I’d put the Buds at the top of the list as the most likely to make Alexa a boon companion for a much greater number of people. The buds themselves offer a very compelling price point for their feature set, and Alexa coming along for the ride is likely just a bonus for a large percentage of their addressable market. Both the Frames and the Loop seem a lot more experimental, but Amazon’s limited release go-to-market strategy suggest it has planned for that as well.

In the end, these products are interesting and highly indicative of Amazon’s direction and ambition with Alexa overall, but I don’t think this is the watershed moment for the digital assistant beyond the home. Still, it’s probably among the most interesting spaces in tech to watch, because of how much is at stake for both winners and losers.

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