computing

First US apps based on Google and Apple Exposure Notification System expected in ‘coming weeks’

Posted by | Android, Android Nougat, api, Apple, Apps, Bluetooth, Canada, computing, coronavirus, COVID-19, dave burke, exposure notification, Google, Health, location services, mass surveillance, mobile applications, mobile software, operating systems, privacy, smartphones, TC, United States | No Comments

Google Vice President of Engineering Dave Burke provided an update about the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) that Google developed in partnership with Apple as a way to help public health authorities supplement contact-tracing efforts with a connected solution that preserves privacy while alerting people of potential exposure to confirmed cases of COVID-19. In the update, Burke notes that the company expects “to see the first set of these apps roll out in the coming weeks” in the U.S., which may be a tacit response to some critics who have pointed out that we haven’t seen much in the way of actual products being built on the technology that was launched in May.

Burke writes that 20 states and territories across the U.S. are currently “exploring” apps that make use of the ENS system, and that together those represent nearly half (45%) of the overall American populace. He also shared recent updates and improvements made to both the Exposure Notification API as well as to its surrounding documentation and information that the companies have shared in order to answer questions from state health agencies, and hopefully make its use and privacy implications more transparent.

The ENS API now supports exposure notifications between countries, which Burke says is a feature added based on nations that have already launched apps based on the tech (that includes Canada, as of today, as well as some European nations). It’s also now better at using Bluetooth values specific to a wider range of devices to improve nearby device detection accuracy. He also says they’ve improved the reliability for both apps and debugging tools for those working on development, which should help public health authorities and their developer partners more easily build apps that actually use ENS.

Burke continues that there’s been feedback from developers that they’d like more detail about how ENS works under the covers, and so they’ve published public-facing guides that direct health authorities about test verification server creation, code revealing its underlying workings and information about what data is actually collected (in a de-identified manner) to allow for much more transparent debugging and verification of proper app functioning.

Google also explains why it requires that an Android device’s location setting be turned on to use Exposure Notifications — even though apps built using the API are explicitly forbidden from also collecting location data. Basically, it’s a legacy requirement that Google is removing in Android 11, which is set to be released soon. In the meantime, however, Burke says that even with location services turned off, no app that uses the ENS will actually be able to see or receive any location data.

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Google is making autofill on Chrome for mobile more secure

Posted by | Access Control, Android, biometrics, Chrome, computing, cryptography, Google, Identification, identity management, internet security, Mobile, Password, password manager, Security, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Google today announced a new autofill experience for Chrome on mobile that will use biometric authentication for credit card transactions, as well as an updated built-in password manager that will make signing in to a site a bit more straightforward.

Image Credits: Google

Chrome already uses the W3C WebAuthn standard for biometric authentication on Windows and Mac. With this update, this feature is now also coming to Android .

If you’ve ever bought something through the browser on your Android phone, you know that Chrome always asks you to enter the CVC code from your credit card to ensure that it’s really you — even if you have the credit card number stored on your phone. That was always a bit of a hassle, especially when your credit card wasn’t close to you.

Now, you can use your phone’s biometric authentication to buy those new sneakers with just your fingerprint — no CVC needed. Or you can opt out, too, as you’re not required to enroll in this new system.

As for the password manager, the update here is the new touch-to-fill feature that shows you your saved accounts for a given site through a standard Android dialog. That’s something you’re probably used to from your desktop-based password manager already, but it’s definitely a major new built-in convenience feature for Chrome — and the more people opt to use password managers, the safer the web will be. This new feature is coming to Chrome on Android in the next few weeks, but Google says that “is only the start.”

Image Credits: Google

 

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Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator is a beautiful work in progress

Posted by | artificial intelligence, barcelona, bing maps, computing, Gaming, Las Vegas, Microsoft, microsoft flight simulator, nvidia, San Francisco, Seattle, Software, TC | No Comments

For the last two weeks, I’ve been flying around the world in a preview of Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator. Without a doubt, it’s the most beautiful flight simulator yet, and it’ll make you want to fly low and slow over your favorite cities because — if you pick the right one — every street and house will be there in more detail than you’ve ever seen in a game. Weather effects, day and night cycles, plane models — it all looks amazing. You can’t start it up and not fawn over the graphics.

But the new Flight Simulator is also still very much a work in progress, too, even just a few weeks before the scheduled launch date on August 18. It’s officially still in beta, so there’s still time to fix at least some of the issues I list below. Because Microsoft and Asobo Studios, which was responsible for the development of the simulator, are using Microsoft’s AI tech in Azure to automatically generate much of the scenery based on Microsoft’s Bing Maps data, you’ll find a lot of weirdness in the world. There are taxiway lights in the middle of runways, giant hangars and crew buses at small private fields, cars randomly driving across airports, giant trees growing everywhere (while palms often look like giant sticks), bridges that are either under water or big blocks of black over a river — and there are a lot of sunken boats, too.

When the system works well, it’s absolutely amazing. Cities like Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle, New York and others that are rendered using Microsoft’s photogrammetry method look great — including and maybe especially at night.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The rendering engine on my i7-9700K with an Nvidia 2070 Super graphics card never let the frame rate drop under 30 frames per second (which is perfectly fine for a flight simulator) and usually hovered well over 40, all with the graphics setting pushed up to the maximum and with a 2K resolution.

When things don’t work, though, the effect is stark because it’s so obvious. Some cities, like Las Vegas, look like they suffered some kind of catastrophe, as if the city was abandoned and nature took over (which in the case of the Vegas Strip doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, to be honest).

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Thankfully, all of this is something that Microsoft and Asobo can fix. They’ll just need to adjust their algorithms, and because a lot of the data is streamed, the updates should be virtually automatic. The fact that they haven’t done so yet is a bit of a surprise.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Chances are you’ll want to fly over your house the day you get Flight Simulator. If you live in the right city (and the right part of that city), you’ll likely be lucky and actually see your house with its individual texture. But for some cities, including London, for example, the game only shows standard textures, and while Microsoft does a good job at matching the outlines of buildings in cities where it doesn’t do photogrammetry, it’s odd that London or Amsterdam aren’t on that list (though London apparently features a couple of wind turbines in the city center now), while Münster, Germany is.

Once you reach altitude, all of those problems obviously go away (or at least you won’t see them). But given the graphics, you’ll want to spend a lot of time at 2,000 feet or below.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

What really struck me in playing the game in its current state is how those graphical inconsistencies set the standard for the rest of the experience. The team says its focus is 100% on making the simulator as realistic as possible, but then the virtual air traffic control often doesn’t use standard phraseology, for example, or fails to hand you off to the right departure control when you leave a major airport. The airplane models look great and feel pretty close to real (at least the ones I’ve flown myself), but some currently show the wrong airspeed. Some planes use modern glass cockpits with the Garmin 1000 and G3X, but those still feel severely limited.

But let me be clear here. Despite all of this, even in its beta state, Flight Simulator is a technical marvel and it will only get better over time.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Let’s walk through the user experience a bit. The install on PC (the Xbox version will come at some point in the future) is a process that downloads a good 90GB so that you can play offline as well. The install process asks you if you are okay with streaming data, too, and that can quickly add up. After reinstalling the game and doing a few flights for screenshots, the game had downloaded about 10GB already — it adds up quickly and is something you should be aware of if you’re on a metered connection.

Once past the long install, you’ll be greeted by a menu screen that lets you start a new flight, go for one of the landing challenges or other activities the team has set up (they are really proud of their Courchevel scenery) and go through the games’ flight training program.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That training section walks you through eight activities that will help you get the basics of flying a Cessna 152. Most take fewer than 10 minutes and you’ll get a bit of a de-brief after, but I’m not sure it’s enough to keep a novice from getting frustrated quickly (while more advanced players will just skip this section altogether anyway).

I mostly spent my time flying the small general aviation planes in the sim, but if you prefer a Boeing 747 or Airbus 320neo, you get that option, too, as well as some turboprops and business jets. I’ll spend some more time with those before the official launch. All of the planes are beautifully detailed inside and out and except for a few bugs, everything works as expected.

To actually start playing, you’ll head for the world map and choose where you want to start your flight. What’s nice here is that you can pick any spot on your map, not just airports. That makes it easy to start flying over a city, for example. As you zoom into the map, you can see airports and landmarks (where the landmarks are either real sights like Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle or cities that have photogrammetry data). If a town doesn’t have photogrammetry data, it will not appear on the map.

As of now, the flight planning features are pretty basic. For visual flights, you can go direct or VOR to VOR, and that’s it. For IFR flights, you choose low or high-altitude airways. You can’t really adjust any of these, just accept what the simulator gives you. That’s not really how flight planning works (at the very least you would want to take the local weather into account), so it would be nice if you could customize your route a bit more. Microsoft partnered with NavBlue for airspace data, though the built-in maps don’t do much with this data and don’t even show you the vertical boundaries of the airspace you are in.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

It’s always hard to compare the plane models and how they react to the real thing. Best I can tell, at least the single-engine Cessnas that I’m familiar with mostly handle in the same way I would expect them to in reality. Rudder controls feel a bit overly sensitive by default, but that’s relatively easy to adjust. I only played with a HOTAS-style joystick and rudder setup. I wouldn’t recommend playing with a mouse and keyboard, but your mileage may vary.

Live traffic works well, but none of the general aviation traffic around my local airports seems to show up, even though Microsoft partner FlightAware shows it.

As for the real/AI traffic in general, the sim does a pretty good job managing that. In the beta, you won’t really see the liveries of any real airlines yet — at least for the most part — I spotted the occasional United plane in the latest builds. Given some of Microsoft’s own videos, more are coming soon. Except for the built-in models you can fly in the sim, Flight Simulator is still missing a library of other airplane models for AI traffic, though again, I would assume that’s in the works, too.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

We’re three weeks out from launch. I would expect the team to be able to fix many of these issues and we’ll revisit all of them for our final review. My frustration with the current state of the game is that it’s so often so close to perfect that when it falls short of that, it’s especially jarring because it yanks you out of the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, though, flying in FS2020 is already a great experience. Even when there’s no photogrammetry, cities and villages look great once you get over 3,000 feet or so. The weather and cloud simulation — in real time — beats any add-on for today’s flight simulators. Airports still need work, but having cars drive around and flaggers walking around planes that are pushing back help make the world feel more alive. Wind affects the waves on lakes and oceans (and windsocks on airports). This is truly a next-generation flight simulator.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft and Asobo have to walk a fine line between making Flight Simulator the sim that hardcore fans want and an accessible game that brings in new players. I’ve played every version of Flight Simulator since the 90s, so getting started took exactly zero time. My sense is that new players simply looking for a good time may feel a bit lost at first, despite Microsoft adding landing challenges and other more gamified elements to the sim. In a press briefing, the Asobo team regularly stressed that it aimed for realism over anything else — and I’m perfectly okay with that. We’ll have to see if that translates to being a fun experience for casual players, too.

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Google One now offers free phone backups up to 15GB on Android and iOS

Posted by | Android, cloud storage, computing, Google, Google-Drive, iCloud, iOS, ios devices, mobile app, operating systems, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Google One, Google’s subscription program for buying additional storage and live support, is getting an update today that will bring free phone backups for Android and iOS devices to anybody who installs the app — even if they don’t have a paid membership. The catch: While the feature is free, the backups count against your free Google storage allowance of 15GB. If you need more you need — you guessed it — a Google One membership to buy more storage or delete data you no longer need. Paid memberships start at $1.99/month for 100GB.

Image Credits: Google

Last year, paid members already got access to this feature on Android, which stores your texts, contacts, apps, photos and videos in Google’s cloud. The “free” backups are now available to Android users. iOS users will get access to it once the Google One app rolls out on iOS in the near future.

Image Credits: Google

With this update, Google is also introducing a new storage manager tool in Google One, which is available in the app and on the web, and which allows you to delete files and backups as needed. The tool works across Google properties and lets you find emails with very large attachments or large files in your Google Drive storage, for example.

With this free backup feature, Google is clearly trying to get more people onto Google One. The free 15GB storage limit is pretty easy to hit, after all (and that’s for your overall storage on Google, including Gmail and other services) and paying $1.99 for 100GB isn’t exactly a major expense, especially if you are already part of the Google ecosystem and use apps like Google Photos already.

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Gmail for G Suite gets deep integrations with Chat, Meet, Rooms and more

Posted by | Android, chat room, computing, DocuSign, Enterprise, G Suite, gmail, Google, Javier Soltero, major, operating systems, outlook.com, Salesforce, TC, trello, webmail | No Comments

Google is launching a major update to its G Suite productivity tools today that will see a deep integration of Gmail, Chat, Meet and Rooms on the web and on mobile, as well as other tools like Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides. This integration will become available in the G Suite early adopter program, with a wider roll-out coming at a later time.

The G Suite team has been working on this project for about a year, though it fast-tracked the Gmail/Meet integration, which was originally scheduled to be part of today’s release, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the core of today’s update is the idea that we’re all constantly switching between different modes of communication, be that email, chat, voice or video. So with this update, the company is bringing all of this together, with Gmail being the focal point for the time being, given that this is where most users already find themselves for hours on end anyway.

Google is branding this initiative as a “better home for work” and in practice, it means that you’ll not just see deeper integrations between products, like a fill calendaring and file management experience in Gmail, but also the ability to have a video chat open on one side of the window while collaboratively editing a document in real time on the other.

Image Credits: Google

According to G Suite VP and GM Javier Soltero, the overall idea here is not just to bring all of these tools closer together to reduce the task-switching that users have to do.

Image Credits: Google

“We’re announcing something we’ve been working on since a little bit before I even joined Google last year: a new integrated workspace designed to bring together all the core components of communication and collaboration into a single surface that is not just about bringing these ingredients into the same pane of glass, but also realizes something that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” he told me ahead of today’s announcement. “The degree of integration across the different modes of communication, specifically email, chat, and video calling and voice video calling along with our existing physical existing strength in collaboration.”

Just like on the web, Google also revealed some of its plans when it first announced its latest major update to Gmail for mobile in May, with its Meet integration in the form of a new bar at the bottom of the screen for moving between Mail and Meet. With this, it’s expanding to include native Chat and Rooms support as well. Soltero noted that Google thinks of these four products as the “four pillars of the integrated workspace.” Having them all integrated into a single app means you can manage the notification behavior of all of them in a single place, for example, and without the often cumbersome task-switching experience on mobile.

Image Credits: Google

For now, these updates are specific to G Suite, though similar to Google’s work around bringing Meet to consumers, the company plans to bring this workspace experience to consumers as well, but what exactly that will look like still remains to be seen. “Right now we’re really focused. The people who urgently need this are those involved in productivity scenarios. This idea of ‘the new home for work’ is much more about collaboration that is specific to professional settings, productivity and workplace settings,” Soltero said.

Image Credits: Google

But there is more…

Google is also announcing a few other feature updates to its G Suite line today. Chat rooms, for example, are now getting shared files and tasks, with the ability to assign tasks and to invite users from outside your company into rooms. These rooms now also let you have chats open on one side and edit a document on the other, all without switching to a completely different web app.

Also new is the ability in Gmail to search not just for emails but also chats, as well as new tools to pin important rooms and new “do not disturb” and “out of office” settings.

One nifty new feature of these new integrated workspaces is that Google is also working with some of its partners to bring their apps into the experience. The company specifically mentions DocuSign, Salesforce and Trello. These companies already offer some deep Gmail integrations, including integrations with the Gmail sidebar, so we’ll likely see this list expand over time.

Meet itself, too, is getting some updates in the coming weeks with “knocking controls” to make sure that once you throw somebody out of a meeting, that person can’t come back, and safety locks that help meeting hosts decide who can chat or present in a meeting.

Image Credits: Google

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Logitech’s new Mac-specific mouse and keyboards are the new best choices for Mac input devices

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple keyboard, Bluetooth, Computer Mouse, computing, Gadgets, hardware, Input Devices, iPad, iPads, iPhone, laser, Logitech, mac, Reviews, TC, usb, wireless | No Comments

Logitech has released new versions of its MX peripherals in Mac-friendly finishes, as well as a new K380 wireless Bluetooth keyboard designed for Apple devices. These aren’t dramatically different devices from the existing versions that Logitech offers — but that’s a good thing in this case, and it elevates what were already amazing peripherals to no-brainer default choices for Mac users.

MX Master 3 for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The MX Master 3 for Mac is a very slightly altered twist on the MX Master 3 — consisting mostly of a new paint job that actually pretty closely resembles the old one. Specs are the same for the Mac-specific version, including its quiet scroll wheel with 1,000 lines per second maximum scroll speed, and Logitech’s MagSpeed tech that dynamically enables freewheel scrolling when you’re going fast.

The MX Master 3 for Mac ships with a USB-C to USB-C cord in the box instead of the USB-A to USB-C cable that comes with the non-Mac version, and that’s much more convenient for charging and using it dongle-free with modern MacBook computers. It can run for 70 days on a full charge, and you can get three full hours of use out of just 60 seconds of charge time. The mouse uses Logitech’s Darkfield laser tracking, which provides 1000 dpi on average of accuracy and the ability to track on virtually every surface, and it can also work across Macs and iPads with Logitech’s Easy-Switch technology for connecting to multiple devices.

In terms of major differences, the main one any owners of the MX Master 3 will notice is that the MX Master 3 for Mac is listed on Logitech’s website as only offering Bluetooth connectivity — and it doesn’t ship with Logitech’s Unifying USB receiver, which connects its peripherals via a dedicated RF network instead of Bluetooth for greater reliability. That’s odd, because the MX Master 3 for Mac definitely still works with Logitech’s Unifying Retriever, and that’s exactly how I had it set up, using the USB dongle that shipped with the MX Master Keys for Mac.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

This is noteworthy because Logitech is charging $129.99 for the MX Master 3 for Mac — the same as the non-Mac version, but it doesn’t include the receiver and bills itself as a Bluetooth mouse. It’s a bit of an odd choice, but if you’ve used Logitech gear over the years, you probably have an abundance of unifying receivers on hand, and the Space Gray colorway on the Mac version does match better with actual Mac hardware.

Performance-wise, the MX Master 3 for Mac is still one of the best full-size mice you can get. It’s extremely comfortable to use, features a healthy array of controls that are customizable with Logitech’s Options software and provides smooth, high-precision tracking, with the ability to use it while charging.

MX Keys for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Like the mouse, the Mac version of the MX Keys is mostly an aesthetic change. It’s also done up in Space Gray to match Apple’s colorway of the same name, and it features contrast-coloured black keys and a top bar that houses the wireless and battery electronics. The key layout also gets Mac-specific, ditching the hybrid key labeling of Logitech’s existing MX Keys for actual dedicated Command and Option keys, as well as a hardware eject key.

Also like the Mac Master 3, the MX Keys can work across devices, including those running macOS, iPadOS and iOS. It ships with a USB-C to USB-C charging cable (again, more convenient than the USB-A to USB-C one in the standard MX Keys configuration) and a unifying receiver. It’s also able to connect via Bluetooth, and can be connected to up to three devices with dedicated keys to switch between each.

The MX Keys is already probably your best choice for a third-party keyboard that offers great performance and key feel, unless you’re specifically into clicky mechanical keyboards. It includes smart backlighting that activates automatically when your hands approach, and turns off automatically when not in use to preserve battery life. While it’s made of plastic, it still feels heavy (in a good way), ensuring it’ll rest flat on your desk. Because it’s based on the MX Keys, I can also attest to its durability, as I’ve been using that keyboard since its launch and have not had any problems with it at all thus far.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of battery life, you can expect 10 days of use with the backlighting active — but if you go without the underlay lighting, it’ll stretch out to as much as five months. And as mentioned, it’s easy to charge up directly from your Mac with the included USB-C cable — which also allows you to use it while charging.

Logitech’s work on the color scheme here really does a good job of matching the look of Apple’s aluminum treatment, right down to the metal-like speckles on the Space Gray surfaces. If you’re already using an MX Keys, stick with it, but if you’re in the market for something new, this is the new best choice for a Mac user — at the same $129.99 price point as the original.

K380 Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac, iPad and iPhone

The K380 is a much more portable keyboard option, with rounded keys and a lighter plastic shell. It’s Bluetooth-only, but still offers the ability to connect up to three devices at once. The Mac version comes in either a white or pink version, and it features Mac-specific keys like the MX.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

It works across macOS, iOS and iPadOS, and can switch between each seamlessly, making it a great choice for working on the road with a setup that includes both a Mac and your iPad or iPhone. It’s powered by two AAA batteries (included), and is rated at around two years of use on a single pair.

The typing feel is a bit shallower than the MX series, but still impressive, and it’s near-silent, which makes it better for use in shared or busy spaces. It’s available now for $49.99.

Bottom line

Logitech hasn’t reinvented the mouse wheel with any of these products (it already did that with the MX Master 3’s original launch), but these are all welcome updates that make its hardware feel more at home with Mac and other Apple devices. Even Apple itself charges a premium for the dark-coated versions of its input devices, too, so it’s nice to see pricing stay the same along with the facelift.

If you’re in the market for new peripherals and don’t already own the MX series, these are obvious choices. Ditto the K380 for Mac if you want a durable, all-in-one keyboard to use across your devices that won’t add too much weight to your pack, and that looks and feels great.

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Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18

Posted by | alpha, artificial intelligence, cloud technology, computing, denver, Frankfurt, Gaming, Heathrow, Microsoft, microsoft flight simulator, PC Games, San Francisco, simulation, TC, video games, x-plane, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

After a series of closed alpha tests, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios and Asobo Studio today announced that the next-gen Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18. Pre-orders are now live and FS 2020 will come in three editions, standard ($59.99), deluxe ($89.99) and premium deluxe ($119.99), with the more expensive versions featuring more planes and handcrafted international airports.

The last part may come as a bit of a surprise, given that Microsoft and Asobo are using assets from Bing Maps and some AI magic on Azure to essentially recreate the Earth — and all of its airports — in Flight Simulator 2020. Still, the team must have spent some extra time on making some of these larger airports especially realistic and today, if you were to buy even one of these larger airports as an add-on for Flight Simulator X or X-Plane, you’d easily be spending $30 or more.

The default edition features 20 planes and 30 hand-modeled airports, while the deluxe edition bumps that up to 25 planes and 35 airports and the high-end version comes with 30 planes and 40 airports.

Among those airports not modeled in all their glorious detail in the default edition (they are still available there, by the way — just without some of the extra detail) are the likes of Amsterdam Schiphol, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Frankfurt, Heathrow and San Francisco.

The same holds true for planes, with the 787 only available in the deluxe package, for example. Still, based on what Asobo has shown in its regular updates so far, even the 20 planes in the standard edition have been modeled in far more detail than in previous versions, and maybe even beyond what some add-ons provide today.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Because a lot of what Microsoft and Adobo are doing here involves using cloud technology to, for example, stream some of the more detailed scenery to your computer on demand, chances are we’ll see regular content updates for these various editions as well, though the details here aren’t yet clear.

“Your fleet of planes and detailed airports from whatever edition you choose are all available on launch day as well as access to the ongoing content updates that will continually evolve and expand the flight simulation platform,” is what Microsoft has to say about this for the time being.

Chances are we will get more details in the coming weeks, as Flight Simulator 2020 is about to enter its closed beta phase.

Image Credits: Microsoft

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The best Wi-Fi 6 home networking tech to upgrade your setup

Posted by | Amplifi, Android, computing, ethernet, Gadgets, Google WiFi, hardware, iPhone, LAN, mesh network, mesh networking, Netgear, network management, Reviews, smart home devices, smartphones, TC, telecommunications, ubiquiti, wi-fi, Wifi 6, wireless networking | No Comments

Wi-Fi 6 is here — making its way to more and more devices, with a noteworthy inclusion on last year’s flagship iPhone 11 lineup. This next-generation Wi-Fi technology provides faster speeds for transferring data between devices, but more importantly, it also means your system will be better equipped to handle multiple Wi-Fi devices connected at one time, without slowdowns or interruptions — and it can even reduce battery drain in mobile devices.

The number of Wi-Fi 6 routers and mesh systems has definitely improved dramatically since the debut of the iPhone 11, and there are a range of options available at a variety of price points. But for those looking to get the most out of their Wi-Fi 6 setup, two available systems in particular can provide all the power you need, with two different approaches that will appeal to differing user needs.

Orbi AX6000 Mesh Wi-Fi System (starting at $699.99)

Image Credits: Netgear

Netgear’s Orbi lineup is a popular mesh option, and its latest AX6000 series offers Wi-Fi 6 networking in either a two- or three-pack configuration. Even the two-pack is able to cover a home of up to 5,000 square feet, Netgear claims, and it can support up to 2.5G internet connections from an Ethernet-connected modem.

The Orbi AX6000 includes Netgear’s X technology, which can optimize streaming and media connections for optimal performance. Both the base unit and the satellite include 4 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports for hardwired connections, which means you’re less likely to need an Ethernet switch to connect all your gear.

In real-world testing, the AX6000 proved a remarkably reliable and far-reaching mesh system. I tested a two-device configuration, with one base unit and one satellite, and really saw the advantages of its range. In my testing, I was able to enjoy a consistent and strong Wi-Fi connection with the AX6000 as far as around 500 feet or more outside — useful in the situation where I had it installed in a lake house for reaching all the way down to a dock.

Orbi’s system can be managed from a mobile app, which provides an overview of devices attached, with detailed information available for each. You can pause and resume access for each connected device from the app, and also enable features like a dedicated guest network.

Netgear also offers a service called Armor that provides real-time threat detection and protection on your network. It’s a subscription service, with a limited free trial included when you first set up your Orbi system. In practice, it did seem to effectively detect and block phishing and malware connections, and it’s optional as an ongoing paid add-on.

The real strength of the Orbi system for me was that when I used it with a cellular-based network connection in a relatively remote setting, it dramatically improved performance. That was true even when I used it with my home fibre connection, which is a 1.5Gbps network, but it improved the much less reliable 50Mbps mobile connection so much that it went from relatively unreliable to fully reliable.

Netgear’s offering also offers a level of simplicity in terms of the app and network management that has advantages and downsides, but that is probably much better suited to casual or non-technical users. I found that it lacked some advanced options I was looking for, like the ability to separate 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks under separate network SSIDs to more easily connect some smart home devices, but that’s probably not a feature most users want or need.

AmpliFi Alien Wi-Fi 6 Router (starting at $379)

Image Credits: AmpliFi

The AmpliFi Alien router from AmpliFi, which is the consumer arm of commercial networking giant Ubiquiti, offers all the customization that an advanced user could want, on the other hand. The $379 device can act as a standalone tri-band router, or it can pair up with other Alient base stations (a two-pack is $699) to form a mesh network for greater coverage. Unlike the Orbi option, AmpliFi’s hardware doesn’t have dedicated base station and satellite units, meaning they can be swapped out as needed to set up different networks if you don’t need the mesh capabilities.

AmpliFi’s Alien in testing also offered excellent coverage, and worked extremely well providing access to the full capabilities of my 1.5Gbps finer optic connection. In long-term testing, their reliability has been impeccable in terms of network uptime, and AmpliFi has consistently and reliably pushed updates to improve their performance as well.

Building on their reputation for delivering the best in advanced networking through Ubiquiti, AmpliFi has also equipped the Alien with some impressive hardware specs, including a custom antenna array and a dedicated 2.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU in each base station. That’s more computing power than you’ll find in some mid-range Android smartphones, all committed to the task of continually optimizing your network and device connections for maximum performance.

All that onboard intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate to complexity, however — AmpliFi is meant to be Ubiquiti’s more accessible consumer brand, and it stays true to that with its simple, app-based setup and control. The AmpliFi app is very user-friendly and well designed, and includes all the features you’d expect from a mesh networking system, including individual device views and controls, as well as rule creation and full stats reporting. You can also set up guest networking, and configure more advanced features like distinct SSIDs for different frequency networks.

The AmplifFi Alien also has a colorful, high-resolution display that provides at-a-glance information, including current network performance, signal strength and a list of connected devices. Both these menus and the in-app ones can get a little information dense compared to other options like the Orbi, however, which is why I think it’s a much better option for someone more comfortable with tech in general, and networking tech in particular.

The Alien system offers great expandability and flexibility (albeit with a cost, as each is $379) and amazing custom control features. It’s definitely the networking solution to beat when it comes to advanced at-home Wi-Fi 6 networking.

Bottom line

More and more Wi-Fi 6 options are coming to market as the technology shows up on more consumer devices, and as mentioned, you can also get them at increasingly affordable prices. But Wi-Fi 6 stands to be an investment that should provide you with many years of networking advantages, with more benefits accruing over time, so it’s likely worth investing money in a top-tier system that will provide future-proof performance.

Both the Netgear Orbi system and the AmpliFi Alien offer terrific performance, easy setup and a host of great features. Orbi’s AX6000 is likely better for those who prefer to set-it-and-forget-it, and who might appreciate the option of setting up threat detection on an ongoing basis. The Alien is better for power users and anyone who wants the ability to change their configuration over time — including potentially splitting up their networking hardware to use in multiple locations.

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Apple’s iOS 14 will give users the option to decline app ad tracking

Posted by | Android, app-store, Apple, apple inc, computing, events, Google, iPads, iPhone, iTunes, mach, operating systems, privacy, Security, smartphones, Software, wwdc 2020 | No Comments

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera and microphone recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use, or if a microphone is active.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: By allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps request. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It also will explain how that collected data could be tracked outside of the app.

Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

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In-game app-development platform Overwolf acquires CurseForge assets from Twitch to get into mods

Posted by | computing, CurseForge, gamer, Gaming, Intel, Intel Capital, Liberty-Media, M&A, Minecraft mods, mod, Overwolf, Roblox, TC, telecommunications, Twitch, twitch tv, video games, video gaming, video hosting, Wikia | No Comments

Overwolf, the in-game app-development toolkit and marketplace, has acquired Twitch’s CurseForge assets to provide a marketplace for modifications to complement its app development business.

Since its launch in 2009, developers have used Overwolf to build in-game applications for things like highlight clips, game-performance monitoring and metrics, and strategic analysis. Some of these developers have managed to earn anywhere between $100,000 and $1 million per year off revenue from app sales.

“CurseForge is the embodiment of how fostering a community of creators around games generates value for both players and game developers,” said Uri Marchand, Overwolf’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “As we move to onboard mods onto our platform, we’re positioning Overwolf as the industry standard for building in-game creations.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of the company as the Roblox for applications for gamers, and now it’s moving deeper into the gaming world with the acquisition of CurseForge. As the company makes its pitch to current CurseForge users — hoping that the mod developers will stick with the marketplace, they’re offering to increase by 50% the revenue those developers will make.

Overwolf said it has around 30,000 developers who have built 90,000 mods and apps, on its platform already.

As a result of the acquisition, the CurseForge mod manager will move from being a Twitch client and become a standalone desktop app included in Overwolf’s suite of app offerings, and the acquisition won’t have any effect on existing tools and services.

“We’ve been deeply impressed by the level of passion and collaboration in the CurseForge modding community,” said Tim Aldridge, director of Engineering, Gaming Communities at Twitch. “CurseForge is an incredible asset for both creators and gamers. We are confident that the CurseForge community will thrive under Overwolf’s leadership, thanks to their commitment to empowering developers.”

The acquisition comes two years after Overwolf raised $16 million in a round of financing from Intel Capital, which had also partnered with the company on a $7 million fund to invest in app and mod developers for popular games.

“Overwolf’s position as a platform that serves millions of gamers, coupled with its partnership with top developers, means that Intel’s investment will convert into more value for PC gamers worldwide,” said John Bonini, VP and GM of VR, Esports and Gaming at Intel, in a statement at the time. “Intel has always prioritized gamers with high performance, industry-leading hardware. This round of investment in Overwolf advances Intel’s vision to deliver a holistic PC experience that will enhance the ways people interact with their favorite games on the software side as well.”

Other investors in the company include Liberty Technology Venture Capital, the investment arm of the media and telecommunications company, Liberty Media.

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