computing

WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

Posted by | Apps, Asia, computing, cyberspace, Facebook, General Election, india, Instant Messaging, Internet, internet culture, Mexico, Mobile, social media, WhatsApp, world wide web | No Comments

In a bid to cut down on the spread of false information and spam, WhatsApp recently added labels that indicate when a message has been forwarded. Now the company is sharpening that strategy by imposing limits on how many groups a message can be sent on to.

Originally, users could forward messages on to multiple groups, but a new trial will see that forwarding limited to 20 groups worldwide. In India, however, which is WhatsApp’s largest market with 200 million users, the limit will be just five. In addition, a ‘quick forward’ option that allowed users to pass on images and videos to others rapidly is being removed from India.

“We believe that these changes — which we’ll continue to evaluate — will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app,” the company said in a blog post.

The changes are designed to help reduce the amount of information that goes viral on the service, although clearly this isn’t a move that will end the problem altogether.

The change is in direct response to a series of incidents in India. The BBC recently wrote about an incident which saw one man dead and two others severely beaten after rumors of their efforts to abduct children from a village spread on WhatsApp. Reportedly 17 other people have been killed in the past year under similar circumstances, with police saying false rumors had spread via WhatsApp.

In response, WhatsApp — which is of course owned by Facebook has bought full-page newspaper ads to warn about false information on its service.

Beyond concern about firing up vigilantes, the saga may also spill into India’s upcoming national general election next year. Times Internet today reports that Facebook and WhatsApp plan to introduce a fake news verification system that it used recently in Mexico to help combat spam messages and the spreading of incorrect news and information. The paper said that the companies have already held talks with India’s Election Commission.

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One day, Google’s Fuchsia OS may become a real thing

Posted by | Android, chrome os, computing, Google, kernel, linux, Microsoft, operating system, Sundar Pichai, TC | No Comments

Every few months, Google’s Project Fuchsia makes the rounds in the tech press. And for good reason, given that this is Google’s first attempt at developing a new open-source kernel and operating system. Of course, there are few secrets about it, given that it’s very much being developed in the open and that, with the right know-how, you could run it on a Pixelbook today. There’s also plenty of documentation about the project.

According to the latest report by Bloomberg, about 100 engineers at Google work on Fuchsia. While the project has the blessing of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, it’s unclear what Google really wants Fuchsia to be. I don’t think it’ll replace Android, as some people seem to believe. I don’t think it’s the mythical Chrome OS/Android mashup that’ll bring Google’s two operating systems together.

My guess is that we’re talking about an experimental system here that’s mostly meant to play with some ideas for now. In the future, it may become a real product, but to do so, Google will still have to bring a far larger team to bear on the project and invest significant resources into it. It may, however, end up in some of Google’s own hardware — maybe a Google Home variant — at some point, as that’s technology that’s 100 percent in the company’s control.

It’s not unusual for companies like Google to work on next-generation operating systems, and what’s maybe most important here is that Fuchsia isn’t built on the Linux kernel that sits at the heart of Android and ChromeOS. Fuchsia’s kernel, dubbed Zircon, takes a microkernel approach that’s very different than the larger monolithic Linux kernels that power Google’s other operating systems. And building a new kernel is a big deal (even though Google’s efforts seem to be based on the work of the “littlekernel” project).

For years, Microsoft worked on a project called Singularity, another experimental microkernel-based operating system that eventually went nowhere.

The point of these projects, though, isn’t always about building a product that goes to market. It’s often simply about seeing how far you can push a given technology. That work may pay off in other areas or make it into existing projects. You also may get a few patents out of it. It’s something senior engineers love to work on — which today’s Bloomberg story hints at. One unnamed person Bloomberg spoke to said that this is a “senior-engineer retention project.” Chances are, there is quite a bit of truth to this. It would take more than 100 engineers to build a new operating system, after all. But those engineers are at Google and not working on Apple’s and Microsoft’s operating systems. And that’s a win for Google.

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iFixit finds dust covers in latest MacBook Pro keyboard

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple keyboard, Computer Hardware, computing, Gadgets, Keyboard, macbook, macintosh, Steve Jobs | No Comments

Apple released a refreshed MacBook Pro this week and top among the new features is a tweaked keyboard. Apple says its quieter than the last version and in our tests, we agree. But iFixit found something else: thin, silicone barriers that could improve the keyboard’s reliability.

This is big news. Users have long reported the butterfly switch keyboard found in MacBook Pros were less reliable than past models. There are countless reports of dust and lint and crumbs causing keys to stick or fail. Personally, I have not had any issues, but many at TechCrunch have. To date Apple has yet to issue a recall for the keyboard..

iFixit found a thin layer of rubberized material covering the new butterfly mechanism. The repair outlet also points to an Apple patent for this exact technology that’s designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

According to Apple, which held a big media unveiling for new models, the changes to the keyboard were designed to address the loud clickity-clack and not the keyboard’s tendency to get mucked up by dust. And that makes sense, too. If Apple held an event and said “We fixed the keyboards” it would mean Apple was admitting something was wrong with the keyboards. Instead Apple held an event and said “We made the keyboards quieter” admitting the past keyboards were loud, and not faulty.

We just got our review unit and will report back on the keyboard’s reliability after a day or two at the beach. Because science.

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Sales of PCs just grew for the first time in six years

Posted by | Acer, Apple, chromebook, Computer Hardware, computing, Dell, fujitsu, Gadgets, gartner, HP, lenovo, mobile devices, technology | No Comments

Don’t look now, but the PC might not be dead. According to Gartner, collector of marketshare and industry metrics, worldwide shipments of personal computers just experienced the first year-over-year growth since 2012. Shipments totaled 62.1 million units, which is a 1.4 percent increase from the same time period in 2017. The report states “experienced some growth compared with a year ago” but goes on to caution declaring the PC industry as in recovery just yet.

The top five PC vendors all experienced growth with Lenovo seeing the largest gains of 10.5% — though that could be from Lenovo completing a joint venture with Fujitsu. HP grew 6.1%, Dell 9.5%, Apple 3% and Acer 3.1%. All good signs for an industry long thought stagnate. This report excludes Chromebooks from its data. PC vendors experienced growth without the help of Chromebooks, which are the latest challenger to the notebook computer.

Gartner points to the business market as the source of the increased demand. The consumer market, it states, is still decreasing as consumers increasing use mobile devices. Yet growth in the business sector will not last, it says.

“In the business segment, PC momentum will weaken in two years when the replacement peak for Windows 10 passes.” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner said in the report. “PC vendors should look for ways to maintain growth in the business market as the Windows 10 upgrade cycle tails off.”

Consumers will likely continue, for the most part, to keep a computer around but since the web is the new desktop, the upgrade cycle for a causal user will keep getting longer. As long as a home has a computer that can run Chrome, that’s likely good enough for most people.

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Opera adds a crypto wallet to its mobile browser

Posted by | Apps, computing, cryptocurrency, freeware, Mobile, online identity, online payments, Opera, Password, Software, TC, telenor, Wallet | No Comments

The Opera Android browser will soon be able to hold your cryptocurrencies. The system, now in beta, lets you store crypto and ERC20 tokens in your browser, send and receive crypto on the fly, and secures your wallet with your phone’s biometric security or passcode.

You can sign up to try the beta here.

The feature, called Crypto Wallet, “makes Opera the first major browser to introduce a built-in crypto wallet” according to the company. The feature could allow for micropayments in the browser and paves the way for similar features in other browsers.

From the release:

We believe the web of today will be the interface to the decentralized web of tomorrow. This is why we have chosen to use our browser to bridge the gap. We think that with a built-in crypto wallet, the browser has the potential to renew and extend its important role as a tool to access information, make transactions online and manage users’ online identity in a way that gives them more control.

In addition to being able to send money from wallet to wallet and interact with Dapps, Opera now supports online payments with cryptocurrency where merchants support exists. Users that choose to pay for their order using cryptocurrency on Coinbase Commerce-enabled merchants will be presented with a payment request dialog, asking them for their signature. The payment will then be signed and transmitted directly from the browser.

While it’s still early days for this sort of technology it’s interesting to see a mainstream browser entering the space. Don’t hold your breath on seeing crypto in Safari or Edge but Chrome and other “open source” browsers could easily add these features given enough demand.

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You can now stream to your Sonos devices via AirPlay 2

Posted by | AirPlay, apple inc, computing, Gadgets, play:1, play:3, siri, smart speakers, Software, Sonos, TC, technology | No Comments

Newer Sonos devices and “rooms” now appear as AirPlay 2-compatible devices, allowing you to stream audio to them via Apple devices. The solution is a long time coming for Sonos which promised AirPlay 2 support in October.

You can stream to Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 speakers and ask Siri to play music on various speakers (“Hey Siri, play some hip-hop in the kitchen.”) The feature should roll out to current speakers today.

I tried a beta version and it worked as advertised. A set of speakers including a Beam and a Sub in my family room showed up as a single speaker and a Sonos One in the kitchen showed up as another. I was able to stream music and podcasts to either one.

Given the ease with which you can now stream to nearly every device from every device it’s clear that whole-home audio is progressing rapidly. As we noted before Sonos is facing tough competition but little tricks like this one help it stay in the race.

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ANGLR raises $3.3 million to create a Fitbit for fishing

Posted by | ambient intelligence, Android, anglr, Apps, arkansas, computing, Fishing, gps, Internet of Things, pittsburgh, Software, Startups, TC | No Comments

ANGLR, a tracking system for fisherpersons, has raised a $3.3 million Series A to add AR and wearables to their already impressive package of fishing trip management and devices to help record fishing data. That’s right… they caught a big one!

Nic Wilson and Landon Bloomer started this Pittsburgh-based company to build an app that can help record and plan your fishing trips. The system has been around for five years and they’ve logged thousands of catches. They’re releasing “patent-pending connected tracking accessories” to record catch locations so you don’t have to pull out your phone while in the middle of reeling in a real beauty.

“Most fishing apps let users record catches. Our platform is built around trips,” said Wilson. “Mid-July our users will be sharing the first comprehensive summaries of fishing trips. The catch is only the result of many variables coming into alignment. Our system quantifies them We work with the top weather and water data providers and have spent years mastering GPS and pathing under many fishing scenarios.”

The cash, raised from KB Partners with participation from Brunswick Corporation, will help them grow their selection of wearable devices.

“All fishing apps require some form of manual data entry. We’re automating it with the word’s first connected accessories and third party integrations,” said Wilson.

The team started with some pretty basic technology and are now expanding past their modest beginnings.

“Our first prototype was an android phone mounted to a fishing rod, which spurred a network of resources in Western PA who wanted to help get it done,” said Wilson. Over the past few years they’ve perfected their app and they’re looking to create software and hardware to “become the center of fishing intelligence.” A noble goal, especially if they can get the one that got away.

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Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, technology | No Comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

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Apple’s Shortcuts will flip the switch on Siri’s potential

Posted by | Amazon, Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, apple tv, Apple Watch, Apps, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Column, computing, Craig Federighi, Google, google now, iOS, iPad, iPhone, iTunes, mobile devices, operating system, screen time, siri, Software, virtual assistant | No Comments
Matthew Cassinelli
Contributor

Matthew Cassinelli is a former member of the Workflow team and works as an independent writer and consultant. He previously worked as a data analyst for VaynerMedia.

At WWDC, Apple pitched Shortcuts as a way to ”take advantage of the power of apps” and ”expose quick actions to Siri.” These will be suggested by the OS, can be given unique voice commands, and will even be customizable with a dedicated Shortcuts app.

But since this new feature won’t let Siri interpret everything, many have been lamenting that Siri didn’t get much better — and is still lacking compared to Google Assistant or Amazon Echo.

But to ignore Shortcuts would be missing out on the bigger picture. Apple’s strengths have always been the device ecosystem and the apps that run on them.

With Shortcuts, both play a major role in how Siri will prove to be a truly useful assistant and not just a digital voice to talk to.

Your Apple devices just got better

For many, voice assistants are a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have.

It’s undeniably convenient to get facts by speaking to the air, turning on the lights without lifting a finger, or triggering a timer or text message – but so far, studies have shown people don’t use much more than these on a regular basis.

People don’t often do more than that because the assistants aren’t really ready for complex tasks yet, and when your assistant is limited to tasks inside your home or commands spoken inton your phone, the drawbacks prevent you from going deep.

If you prefer Alexa, you get more devices, better reliability, and a breadth of skills, but there’s not a great phone or tablet experience you can use alongside your Echo. If you prefer to have Google’s Assistant everywhere, you must be all in on the Android and Home ecosystem to get the full experience too.

Plus, with either option, there are privacy concerns baked into how both work on a fundamental level – over the web.

In Apple’s ecosystem, you have Siri on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, CarPlay, and any Mac. Add in Shortcuts on each of those devices (except Mac, but they still have Automator) and suddenly you have a plethora of places to execute these all your commands entirely by voice.

Each accessory that Apple users own will get upgraded, giving Siri new ways to fulfill the 10 billion and counting requests people make each month (according to Craig Federighi’s statement on-stage at WWDC).

But even more important than all the places where you can use your assistant is how – with Shortcuts, Siri gets even better with each new app that people download. There’s the other key difference: the App Store.

Actions are the most important part of your apps

iOS has always had a vibrant community of developers who create powerful, top-notch applications that push the system to its limits and take advantage of the ever-increasing power these mobile devices have.

Shortcuts opens up those capabilities to Siri – every action you take in an app can be shared out with Siri, letting people interact right there inline or using only their voice, with the app running everything smoothly in the background.

Plus, the functional approach that Apple is taking with Siri creates new opportunities for developers provide utility to people instead of requiring their attention. The suggestions feature of Shortcuts rewards “acceleration”, showing the apps that provide the most time savings and use for the user more often.

This opens the door to more specialized types of apps that don’t necessarily have to grow a huge audience and serve them ads – if you can make something that helps people, Shortcuts can help them use your app more than ever before (and without as much effort). Developers can make a great experience for when people visit the app, but also focus on actually doing something useful too.

This isn’t a virtual assistant that lives in the cloud, but a digital helper that can pair up with the apps uniquely taking advantage of Apple’s hardware and software capabilities to truly improve your use of the device.

In the most groan-inducing way possible, “there’s an app for that” is back and more important than ever. Not only are apps the centerpiece of the Siri experience, but it’s their capabilities that extend Siri’s – the better the apps you have, the better Siri can be.

Control is at your fingertips

Importantly, Siri gets all of this Shortcuts power while keeping the control in each person’s hands.

All of the information provided to the system is securely passed along by individual apps – if something doesn’t look right, you can just delete the corresponding app and the information is gone.

Siri will make recommendations based on activities deemed relevant by the apps themselves as well, so over-active suggestions shouldn’t be common (unless you’re way too active in some apps, in which case they added Screen Time for you too).

Each of the voice commands is custom per user as well, so people can ignore their apps suggestions and set up the phrases to their own liking. This means nothing is already “taken” because somebody signed up for the skill first (unless you’ve already used it yourself, of course).

Also, Shortcuts don’t require the web to work – the voice triggers might not work, but the suggestions and Shortcuts app give you a place to use your assistant voicelessly. And importantly, Shortcuts can use the full power of the web when they need to.

This user-centric approach paired with the technical aspects of how Shortcuts works gives Apple’s assistant a leg up for any consumers who find privacy important. Essentially, Apple devices are only listening for “Hey Siri”, then the available Siri domains + your own custom trigger phrases.

Without exposing your information to the world or teaching a robot to understand everything, Apple gave Siri a slew of capabilities that in many ways can’t be matched. With Shortcuts, it’s the apps, the operating system, and the variety of hardware that will make Siri uniquely qualified come this fall.

Plus, the Shortcuts app will provide a deeper experience for those who want to chain together actions and customize their own shortcuts.

There’s lots more under the hood to experiment with, but this will allow anyone to tweak & prod their Siri commands until they have a small army of custom assistant tasks at the ready.

Hey Siri, let’s get started

Siri doesn’t know all, Can’t perform any task you bestow upon it, and won’t make somewhat uncanny phone calls on your behalf.

But instead of spending time conversing with a somewhat faked “artificial intelligence”, Shortcuts will help people use Siri as an actual digital assistant – a computer to help them get things done better than they might’ve otherwise.

With Siri’s new skills extendeding to each of your Apple products (except for Apple TV and the Mac, but maybe one day?), every new device you get and every new app you download can reveal another way to take advantage of what this technology can offer.

This broadening of Siri may take some time to get used to – it will be about finding the right place for it in your life.

As you go about your apps, you’ll start seeing and using suggestions. You’ll set up a few voice commands, then you’ll do something like kick off a truly useful shortcut from your Apple Watch without your phone connected and you’ll realize the potential.

This is a real digital assistant, your apps know how to work with it, and it’s already on many of your Apple devices. Now, it’s time to actually make use of it.

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This could be Apple’s next iPhone USB-C fast charger

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, computing, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPhone, macbook, Mobile, technology | No Comments

Right now, the cable that comes with a new iPhone does not plug into a new MacBook Pro without a dongle. #donglelife is for real. If this leak is correct, though, that wrong might soon be righted.

Photos have surfaced showing what is an engineering prototype of an Apple 18 W USB-C charger, which is supposedly to be bundled with the next iPhone. If correct, this will let owners take advantage of the iPhone’s fast charging capabilities without purchasing anything else. Plus, it will let users connect the iPhone to a MacBook Pro out of the box.

This rumor surfaced last year, too, though no photos ever surfaced to back up the claim.

If true, this adapter will mark the first major change in the iPhone’s wall charger. Apple has long bundled a 5W charger with the iPhone. It works fine, but does not supply the phone with the necessary power to charge at its fastest possible speed. Even if the photos here show something other than an official Apple product, chances are Apple is readying something similar. Previous leaks show something similar.

Apple included fast charging in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X but didn’t include the necessary charger to take advantage of the technology. Owners have to buy a third-party charger of the $50 30W charger from Apple.

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