Samsung has acknowledged that some Galaxy S9 and S9+ handsets have unresponsive screens. Early adopters of the handset have taken to Samsung's forums to voice complaints about the issue, which renders areas of the display unresponsive to touch input. "At Samsung, customer satisfaction is core to our business and we aim to deliver the best possible experience. We are looking into a limited number of reports of Galaxy S9/S9+ touchscreen responsiveness issues. We are working with affected customers and investigating," said Samsung in a statement provided to CNET. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ reached store shelves March 16.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today said will take action to ensure the U.S. telecommunications supply chain is protected from potential threats. Pai made the comments in a response to members of Congress who expressed concern about AT&T and Verizon's plans to sell Huawei handsets in the U.S. On December 20, 2017, Senators Tom Cotton, Angus King, John Coryn, Susan Collins, Roy Blunt, Jim Risch, Richard Burr, Marco Rubio, and James Lankford, and Representatives Frank LoBiondo, Brad Wenstrup, Elise Stefanik, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Michael Conaway, Michael Turner, Chris Stewart, Rick Crawford, and Peter King all signed a letter imploring Pai to examine the relationship between Huawei, AT&T, and Verizon. The main matter of concern in the letter from Congressional members to the FCC was that government employees might eventually buy and use Huawei devices from U.S. carriers. Some members of the U.S. government have long claimed that Huawei equipment could be used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans. Pressure on AT&T and Verizon put that matter to rest. Shortly after these members of Congress sent the letter to the FCC, AT&T and Verizon Wireless dropped plans to sell Huawei handsets. Earlier this week, Huawei's retail partner Best Buy said it will cease selling Huawei devices in the U.S. Telecom companies in the U.S. are not allowed to buy networking equipment form Huawei. Even so, Pai alluded to taking more action. In his response he said, "I intend to take proactive steps to help ensure the integrity of the communications supply chain in the United States in the near future." Pai did not specify what those steps might be, though Huawei and ZTE continue to be targets of government scrutiny. The FCC did not immediately return a request for comment on the nature of Pai's intended actions.
Snapchat today introduced a new feature called Snap Map Explore. The idea is to make it easier for people to see where friends are, such as landmarks, festivals, or parks, or see what else is going on nearby. People will be able to reach out to friends they see are traveling on the map. "With one tap, you can start a new conversation. You’ll also get updates for other moments you might want to see like breaking news, events, and trends," explained Snapchat. Use of the Snap Map is optional, and users must manually turn on location sharing so their friends can see them. Snapchat says the Explore tool will roll out to Snapchatters globally over the next few weeks.
The FCC today said new rule changes should make it easier for people to use consumer-grade wireless signal boosters. Signal boosters general work by gathering and amplifying the existing signals from wireless network operators in environments such as homes, cars, and office buildings. Some are carrier specific, meaning they only work with a certain network operator, while others can work with many carriers. The FCC wants signal boosters to be more widely available, allowing more flexible uses, such as embedding them in cars. It also wants non-customers to be able to operate carrier-specific signal boosters. "The rules adopted today eliminate the current personal use restriction on provider-specific boosters so that businesses, public safety entities, educational institutions, and other enterprise users and their customers can also benefit from the use of boosters," said the FCC.
The FCC today took several actions that should make it easier for wireless network operators to deploy 5G. First, the agency reduced the red tape needed to put up 5G cells. For example, it removed a requirement that applicants file Environmental Assessments for some locations. Further, the agency said it will create timeframes that the FCC must adhere to when acting on Environmental Assessments. "The actions taken today will reduce regulatory impediments to deploying small cells needed for 5G and help to expand the reach of 5G for faster, more reliable wireless service and other advanced wireless technologies to more Americans," said the agency. In a separate action, the FCC wants to explore current use of the 4.9 GHz band. The band was initially set aside for public safety. However, of the 90,000 available licenses only 3,200 are in use. "The Commission’s goal is to promote increased public safety use of the band and protect users from harmful interference while opening the spectrum to additional uses that will encourage a more robust market for equipment and greater innovation," said the FCC.
Instagram today outlined changes it its making to users' feeds that should give them more control over what they see when they open the app. To start, the company said it will ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in the feed. Instagram says it is making this change based on user feedback. Instagram used to show feeds in chronological order, but eventually switched to an algorithm for showing posts. "With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about," said Instagram in a blog post. Instagram is also changing how feeds refresh. The app often automatically refreshes the feed when the app is opened To change this, the company is testing a "New Posts" button that will let people choose when to refresh the feed, rather than allowing it to happen automatically. The feed will remain where it was when last used until users tap the button. Instagram says it plans to roll out more changes to the feed over the new few months.
Google today updated Files Go for Android devices and introduced several new features to the file management app. Files Go on Android now supports file search. Google says the search function delivers instant results, search history, autocomplete, and filters. Search even works when the device is offline. The app adds the ability to see where duplicate apps are located on the device. One of the core tools of Files Go is to help eliminate duplicate files. Moving forward, people can see where the duplicates are stored on their phone before they opt to delete one of them. Last, Files Go now works hand-in-hand with Google Photos to help remove backed up photos and videos. The app can detect when pictures are saved to the cloud and prompt users to delete them to save storage space. Files Go is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google today updated Google Assistant on Android and iOS devices with the ability to send mobile payments. Google says people can easily send or request money from their contact list for free. Google Pay is required for the sender, and those who haven't yet set it up will be prompted to enroll. Recipients, however, do not need to have a Google Pay account. Google says funds are transferred almost instantaneously. Recipients who do have Google Pay will be alerted via email, text, or push notification so they can cash out. To use the tool, people need to say something like "Hey Google, send Jane $15 for lunch today." Google says this feature will eventually reach its Google Home smart speakers. There are no fees associated with using the service. Google Assistant is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Best Buy is expected to drop products made by Huawei over the next few weeks, reports CNET. Citing a source familiar with Best Buy's plan, CNET says the company will sell through the stock of devices such as Huawei's smartphones that are already in its stores, but the electronics retailer will not replenish supplies of Huawei phones. Huawei has faced scrutiny from some in Washington over its ties to the Chinese government. Some believe the Chinese government could use Huawei handsets for espionage purposes. Earlier this year, government pressure led AT&T and Verizon Wireless to cancel plans to sell the Mate 10 Pro from Huawei, the company's flagship smartphone. The Mate 10 Pro is available to Americans online from retailers such as B&H Photo and Amazon. Huawei has been banned from selling telecommunications gear in the U.S. for some time. Neither Best Buy nor Huawei commented directly on the matter concerning smartphone sales.
Samsung today announced the Exynos 7 Series 9610 mobile application processor, a chip built using Samsung's 10nm FinFET process that targets high-end smartphones. The octa-core processor has four Cortex A-73 cores at 2.3 GHz and four Cortex A-53 cores at 1.6 GHz. These are paired with ARM's newer Bifrost-based Mali-G72 GPU for gaming. A Cortex-M4F low-power sensing hub handles the constant street of information generated by sensors, gestures, and other inputs without waking the main processor. One of the key advancements of this chip is the addition of a neural network engine for face detection that can recognize faces covered with hats or hair or glasses. The 9610 also has more advanced depth-sensing for bokeh photos, better low-light augmentation, and processes to reduce signal-to-noise ratio in photos and videos. When it comes to other media, the 9610 can handle slow-motion capture and playback at up to 480 frames per second (half that of the Galaxy S9). More interestingly, the revised image signal processor uses a multi-format codec that allows encoding and decoding slow motion at resolutions up to 4K at 120fps. On the connectivity side of things, the 9610 supports Cat 12 LTE with three-channel carrier aggregation for up to 600 Mbps on the downlink and Cat 13 LTE with two-channel carrier aggregation for up to 150 Mbps on the uplink. It also includes 2x2 MIMO WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, and an FM radio. Samsung says the Exynos 7 Series 9610 is expected to be mass produced in the second half of this year.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today outlined several steps the company has taken and plans to take to protect users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In 2013, an app developer created a personality quiz that was used by 300,000 people. The app had access to those peoples' data, and also the data of their friends, which numbered in the millions. The developer later shared that data with Cambridge Analytica, a firm that put the data to use in creating profiles of U.S. voters ahead of the 2016 election. "This was a breach of trust between [the developer], Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that," said Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg contends that in 2014 Facebook put in place measures that prevent apps from soliciting large amounts of data from users. Moving forward, it intends to audit all the apps that had access to large amounts of data before 2014. The company will audit any developers or apps that show suspicious activity, which may result in bans from the Facebook platform. If it finds abuse, Facebook will alert the impacted people as quickly as it can. Zuckerberg says the company will further restrict apps' access to user data, and will remove developer access altogether once a person hasn't used an app in three months. It will reduce the amount of data required for sign-ins to just a name, photo, and email address. Developers that want more information than that will have to obtain approval from Facebook. Last, the company plans to install a tool at the top of the News Feed that shows people which apps they've used, as well as give them an easy way to revoke those apps' permissions. Facebook suggests people review the apps that have access to their data and delete any they don't want to keep connected to their account. "We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can't then we don't deserve to serve you," said Zuckerberg. Facebook didn't say anything about what the social network itself does with user data.
Instagram today made it possible for people to add links to hashtags or other profiles in their own bio section. Inserting the links is easy. Users simply enter the "#" or "@" symbol and Instagram will recommend popular hashtags or profiles as users type. The photo-sharing social network calls the new tool another way for people to express themselves and highlight the things they care about. Users will be alerted if another person links to their profile and can approve or disapprove the link if they wish. The new linking feature is rolling out to users in the latest mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Apple today revealed its Spring collection of bands for the Apple Watch, which include a variety of new colors and styles. Apple updated the Woven Nylon band with stripes and colors. The Sport band now comes in Denim Blue, Lemonade, and Red Raspberry; the Sport Loop comes in Flash Light, Hot Pink, Marine Green and Tahoe Blue; and the Classic Buckle comes in Spring Yellow, Electric Blue, and Soft Pink. The Nike Sport is being sold separately for the first time and comes in Barely Rose/Pearl Pink, Black/White, and Cargo Khaki/Black. The Nike Sport Loop is available in Black/Pure Platinum, Bright Crimson/Black, Cargo Khaki, Midnight Fog, and Pearl Pink. Last, Apple is offering new variations of the Hermes loop in Indigo and Blanc with painted edges. Apple says the refreshed bands will reach its stores, carrier stores, and other resellers later this month.
People in the U.S. who own the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ can expect to see Android 8 Oreo reach their phone over the coming days. Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and not AT&T are all pushing the system upgrade to their customers. Oreo includes notification dots, picture-in-picture, and autofill. The update brings the S8/S8+ in line with the user experience seen on the newer S9/S9+, which includes updated emoji. It also packs the February 2018 security patch from Google. The update weighs in at a little over 1.5 GB and can be downloaded over WiFi. Samsung has not yet said when it will update the unlocked model of the S8/S8+ to Oreo.
Facebook today expanded the tools people can use to manage large group chats in Messenger. Administrator privileges allow people to approve new members before they can join a group chat, as well as remove members and promote/demote another user to/from the role of admin. The admin position is off by default, but can be turned on any time to control a group chat if needed. Moving forward, any member of a group chat can add other members by sending a custom invite link. People who tap the link can be added automatically or with admin approval. Facebook Messenger supports group chats with up to 250 participants, though real-time voice and video chats are limited to groups with up to 50 participants. The new tools are rolling out to Messenger over the next few days.
Qualcomm today announced a new software development kit for the Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Platform. Qualcomm believes this new SDK will give developers the power they need to create next-generation virtual reality experiences. The new SDK does several important things. First, it supports room-scale six degrees of freedom with inside-out simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). This will let developers more easily create worlds that give people the freedom to move around within an actual room. Second, the platform supports real-time eye tracking. Qualcomm says it worked with Tobii AM to create the algorithms needed to track user gaze. Third, the platform supports what Qualcomm calls Adreno Foveation. While tracking users' eyes, the new SDK lets developers take advantage of foveated rendering (sharp detail in the area the eye us focusing on) in order to improve virtual worlds and also optimize power use. Last, the SDK supports a new boundary system that lets developers create real-world constraints that limit what people can do in any given space while they wander through virtual worlds. Qualcomm claims these and other tools will help content creators expand what they can do with their virtual worlds while ensuring people safely interact with the real world in front of them. The Snapdragon 845 Virtual Reality Development Kit is expected to be available later this year.
Google today announced Subscribe with Google, an easy way for people to subscribe to and pay for select news sources. Google has worked with a number of publishers over the last six months to develop the service. People can discover news sources online and use Subscribe with Google tool to take advantage of their existing Google credentials and stored credit card information to generate a subscription. Google says it will generate logins and passwords, making it simple for people to access the news they want online and within mobile apps. Some of the early participants include the Financial Times, Gannett, The New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Washington Post. In addition to easing the process of subscribing to news sources, Subscribe with Google will also impact search results, giving priority to the news sources to which people already subscribe. Google hopes more news sources and publishers will take advantage of the service over the coming months. At the same time, Google said it is making a renewed commitment to verified news sources. The Google News Initiative will examine the credibility of news organizations and give higher ranks to verified sources while also down-ranking sources known to publish fraudulent or incorrect information. Google is investing some $300 million in the effort.
Google today highlighted some of the initial augmented reality apps to reach the Play Store that take advantage of ARCore 1.0. Google says some 60 apps are now available for dozens of smartphone models. For example, games such as My Tamagochi Forever, Walking Dead Our World, and TendAR overlay gameplay with real-world objects. A bevy of shopping apps, such as offerings from Pottery Barn, Wayfair, Sotheby’s, and eBay, allow people to preview goods in their homes. Another app, called Just a Line, allows people to make simple drawings on top of live video/photos. All these and other ARCore-based apps are available in the Google Play Store.
BlackBerry Mobile today kicked off the BlackBerry Fan League, a way for BlackBerry smartphone enthusiasts to connect with the brand. BlackBerry says participants will have the opportunity to win prizes, including smartphones, as well as participate in surveys and beta programs, and interface directly with the BlackBerry Mobile team. Members can earn points by re-sharing official BlackBerry social media posts, creating their own BlackBerry-themed content, and recruiting new members. Points are what allow members to enter drawings for the weekly prizes. The BlackBerry Smartphone Fan League is available to all BlackBerry owners in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. BlackBerry Mobile handsets are designed and sold by TCL.
T-Mobile is offering customers a chance to access MLB.tv free for a third year in a row. T-Mobile announced that baseball fans will be able to watch every regular season Major League Baseball game on their smartphones through 2018. T-Mobile has partnered with MLB and is providing customers with a free year of MLB.tv and MLB At Bat Premium. T-Mobile customers can stream every out-of-market regular season game to their Apple or Google smartphone and tablet via the MLB.tv app. At Bat Premium is a mobile sports app for watching home and away broadcasts, and it also includes player stats, highlights, and other information. T-Mobile One customers don't need to worry about streaming on their plan thanks to unlimited data. T-Mobile says games will be streamed in standard definition by default, but can be viewed in HD if customers wish. T-Mobile customers will need to redeem the free subscription via the T-Mobile Tuesdays application between March 27 and April 2, and then sign up for MLB.tv Premium no later than April 2. On March 27, T-Mobile Tuesdays is also offering 25% off purchases made at MLBShop.com and 10 cents off per gallon of gas at Shell stations. T-Mobile has made similar offerings to customers the last two years.
BlackBerry and Microsoft announced a new partnership that will see the two deliver mobile software and services to businesses customers. A new solution, called BlackBerry Bridge, lets business users access Microsoft mobile apps from within BackBerry Dynamics. This means corporate employees will have the same experience opening, editing, and saving Microsoft Office documents on any Android or iOS device. It gives mobile workers a secure way to access their files that are immediately backed up in Microsoft's cloud. Microsoft says the partnership also brings new powers to the IT department, which will better be able to secure company data and maintain privacy while remaining compliant with regulatory statutes. In order to make this work, the companies have integrated BlackBerry UEM Cloud, Workspaces, Dynamics, and AtHoc into the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Microsoft and BlackBerry didn't specify how quickly these new services will be available to their customers.
BlackBerry's hope to squash a lawsuit has been dashed by a U.S. judge who says the legal proceedings can move forward. Plaintiffs allege BlackBerry "inflated its stock price and defrauded shareholders" by suggesting sales of BlackBerry 10 handsets were much better than they really were. The case was originally dismissed in March 2015, but new evidence suggests there's merit to the accusations. A retailer called Wireless Zone compiled data that showed a high return rate for BlackBerry 10 handsets. James Dunham, former CEO of Wireless Zone, sold that data to Detwiler Fenton, which generated a report detailing consumers' general dissatisfaction with BlackBerry 10 phones. BlackBerry's executives publicly said at the time that Blackberry 10 owners were in fact "satisfied" and the company insisted that return rates for Blackberry 10 handsets were “at or below our forecasts and right in line with the industry." It is these statements, in light of evidence to the contrary, that the plaintiffs say misled investors and eventually led to shareholder losses when BlackBerry 10 collapsed. BlackBerry did not comment on the matter, which now heads to trial.
Google today announced its Shopping Actions program, a way for retailers to surface their products in search results and ensure those products are easy to purchase. Google is bringing Shopping Actions to Google Assistant and Google Search, which will include a universal shopping cart on mobile devices, desktops, and Google Home products. The program is for retailers and lets them surface their products in Google Assistant with voice shopping. For example, customers can say, "OK Google, buy Up & Up laundry detergent," and Google will find the item and then ask if it should added to the user's shopping cart. People can save their checkout and shipping credentials for use across retailers online. Google says the platform offers improved loyalty programs to retailers, which can take advantage of one-click reordering, personalized recommendations, and basket-building. Google has partnered with Target, Ulta, and 1-800 Flowers, which have been testing the service for some time. Google claims early tests have been positive with these initial partners. Businesses interested in participating in Shopping Actions can register with Google online. Mobile device users can expect to see Shopping Actions appear within Google Assistant and Google Search over time.
Google today announced several changes to the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps that should entice Android device owners to check out the latest games. A new feature called Google Instant Play lets people tap and try games directly in the Google Play Store and Google Play Games app without first downloading the game. Google first introduced Instant Apps in the Play Store last year. Play Instant marks the tool's expansion to gaming. Google says it is starting with a few sample games today and will post more Instant Play games over the course of the year. Google is also making games more visible in order to appear to game developers. The Google Play Games app now includes an "Arcade" tab that lets people view game trailers or take advantage of new tags to browse through game categories. Last, the Google Play Games app will include YouTube videos related to users' favorite games, such as tutorials, to help them boost their skills and/or interest in the game. Google says these new features are hitting the Google Play Store and Google Play Games apps for most Android handsets.
Google today said its Google Pay app can now serve as a transit ticket on the Las Vegas monorail system. People visiting Las Vegas will be able to use Google Pay to purchase their monorail ticket online and add it to the app. The service includes prepaid, single-use, or other types of passes. Once purchased, people will be able to use their phone as the ticket at monorail stations. Google says the system is powered by NXP's MIFARE contactless system, which relies on NFC for authentication at gates. Travelers will need to hold their phone to a reader at the gate in order to enter the monorail. Las Vegas monorail passes in Google Pay include data such as recent transactions, trips, and the location of monorail stops. The most recent version of Google Pay is free to download from the Google Play Store. Google says support for more transit systems in more cities in on the way.
LG today made an open version of the webOS platform available to developers and the public. Anyone can download webOS Open Source Edition from LG's web site and use the the code for whatever they wish. WebOS was originally developed by Palm for smartphones and later cultivated by HP before being purchased by LG. LG chiefly uses the platform to power its connected devices, such as television sets and refrigerators. LG said developers can grab the source code as well as tools and guides. Forums are available online to help developers become more familiar with webOS and all its capabilities. The platform is based on Linux and supports open web standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, so it should be fairly easy to work with. Further, LG is working with the Korean government to encourage entrepreneurs and startups to make use of the operating system. LG will solicit webOS-based business proposals and provide logistical and technical support to help startups commercialize webOS products. "As we move from an app-based environment to a web-based one, we believe the true potential of webOS has yet to be seen," concluded LG.
Apple has made available iOS 11.3 Beta 6 to both developers and public testers. iOS 11.3 Beta 6 tweaks performance and includes the battery health meter for certain devices. The tool is meant to help people balance the battery life and performance of older iPhones. iOS 11.3 also introduces four more animoji for the iPhone X, business chat, AirPlay 2, and more personalized recommendations in News. Registered developers and public testers can download iOS 11.3 Beta 6 over the air. Apple said the final version of iOS 11.3 will be available to all consumers this spring. Spring kicks off March 20, and Apple has scheduled an event for March 27. It's possible Apple will provide the final version of iOS 11.3 in the next couple of weeks.
TCL today announced that it intends to sell the Alcatel 1X with Android Go and the Alcatel 3V in the U.S. at some point over the next few months. Both phones were announced earlier this year. The Alcatel 1X (pictured) is a small, entry-level device with the Android 8.1 Oreo Go Edition on board. Android Go is intended for low-powered phones and includes optimized Go variants of core apps such as Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. The 1X has a 5.3-inch, 18:9 screen with a quad-core MediaTek processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 8-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel selfie camera. The U.S. version, priced at $100, will include a fingerprint reader. The Alcatel 3V has a 6-inch, 18:9 display and includes a quad-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM and at least 16 GB of storage. The rear camera has a 12-megapixel main sensor and 2-megapixel secondary sensor for bokeh-style photos. The 3V comes in black, gold, or blue with a fingerprint reader, and runs Android 8 Oreo. TCL said more details will be made available soon.
Google today said iOS users can try a preview of Google Lens in the latest version of Google Photos (v3.15). Google Lens is an image-recognition function that relies on mobile cameras to perform searches. Using Google Lens, iPhone and iPad owners can aim their camera at just about anything and Google will instantly perform a search and suggest results. For example, users can snap a shot of an old car on the street and immediately gain information about that car and discover where it might be available for sale. Google Lens can recognize objects such as flowers, vehicles, gadgets, business cards, and more. The tool works within the Google Photos mobile app. Google Photos is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Google Lens has been widely available to Android devices since earlier this month.
Samsung today said those who buy the Galaxy S9 or S9+ smartphones will have access to classic Disney characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse via the phones' cameras. The pair of mice are brought to life in the S9/S9+ device thanks to Samsung's AR Emoji, which uses the front-facing camera to help people animate characters and more. Owners of the S9/S9+ will be able to send animated GIFs of Mickey and Minnie through messaging apps or pin them to their lock screen. "With more than 6 billion emojis sent daily, our goal with developing AR Emoji was to provide a fun, exciting way to communicate and a new way to bring animated images to life,” said Samsung's Younghee Lee. Characters from other Disney films including The Incredibles, Zootopia, and Frozen will roll out throughout the year.
Google today updated Google Maps public transit navigation with support for wheelchairs. The company asked its Local Guides to begin adding wheelchair/accessibility data to Maps last fall. This week's action builds on the data generated by that effort. Moving forward, people will be able to look up "wheelchair accessible" routes within Google Maps when using public transportation. Maps then displays a list of possible routes that weigh accessibility needs with data concerning elevators, lifts, ramp, and escalators. Google says accessibility-compatible routes are available in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. Support for wheelchair navigation in public transit will come to more major cities over the coming months.
Facebook today said it will allow more people to download and use the Facebook Lite application. Facebook Lite, which has been available since 2015, is a stripped-down version of the social networking app meant for regions with slow or poor network connectivity. Facebook is expanding the app's availability beyond the initial list of 100 countries to include nations with developed networks such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand. "We’ve seen that even in some developed markets people can have lower connectivity, so we want to make sure everyone has the option to use this app if they want," said the company. Facebook Lite will reach the new markets beginning March 16. Earlier this month Facebook brought Facebook Messenger Lite to more countries, including the U.S.
The CLOUD Act would give law enforcement both at home and abroad new access to Americans' personal data in violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The CLOUD Act (H.R. 4943 and S. 2383) lets U.S. law enforcement access data stored anywhere in the world regardless of the privacy laws where that data is located. Moreover, it gives the president the power to enter into agreements with any nation that would let foreign law enforcement officials take data from U.S. companies — all without showing probable cause or requiring a warrant. The Act stipulates that foreign police could only grab data from U.S. companies when the target is not a U.S. citizen, but there's a big back door. According to the EFF, data scooped up on foreign targets in the U.S. would surely include metadata generated by and pertaining to Americans. Metadata might include call times/locations, emails, messages, voicemails, and more. Further, foreign law enforcement agencies could then share any data collected about U.S. citizens with U.S. law enforcement, again, with no warrant needed. The language that covers the circumstances under which data could be shared between agencies and across boarders is vague at best. "The backdoor proposed in the CLOUD Act violates our Fourth Amendment right to privacy by granting unconstitutional access to our private lives online," claims EFF. The Cloud Act is currently working its way through the House and the Senate. It's not clear if or when there might be a vote.
Google today said it is getting rid of the Android Wear brand that has been a part of its smartwatch strategy for years. Moving forward, Google's platform for wearable devices will be called Wear OS by Google. "As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone," explained Google in a blog post. "We’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all — the people who wear our watches. We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone." Google didn't say if the OS or platform will change along with the name. It did, however, say that smartwatch and phone apps will be updated with the new name over the coming weeks.
BlackBerry today said it has extended its contract with CEO John S. Chen, who will serve as chief executive through November 2023. BlackBerry brought Chen on board in 2013 and he oversaw the company's transformation from a hardware business to a software and services business. Chen was responsible for deep spending cuts that helped keep the company from going under. It is now focused on selling mobile device management services to business customers. The company also develops device-side software for Android handsets that allows them to offer secure email, messaging, and other core communications. "The BlackBerry Board of Directors has tremendous confidence in John Chen. John engineered a successful turnaround and has the company repositioned to apply its strengths and assets to the Enterprise of Things, an emerging category with massive potential," said board member Prem Watsa. BlackBerry-branded handsets are designed and sold by TCL, which also designs devices under the Alcatel brand.
Google this week made its semantic image segmentation feature, which is what powers the portrait effect on the Pixel smartphones, available to academia and researchers. Google uses semantic image segmentation to define the shape of objects within photos and then assign those objects a label, such as person, dog, or car. In short, it's what allows smartphones such as the Pixel to recognize the shape of a subject's head in a portrait, draw a line around it, and then take action with the other regions of the photo, such as blur the background. Google is open-sourcing the newest version of its semantic image segmentation code, DeepLab-v3+, as implemented in TensorFlow. It is built on top of a convolutional neural network (CNN) backbone architecture, which Google says is meant for server-side deployments. Google's immediate goal is not to bring Pixel-level portrait shooting to other smartphones. "We hope that publicly sharing our system with the community will make it easier for other groups in academia and industry to reproduce and further improve upon state-of-art systems, train models on new datasets, and envision new applications for this technology," said the company. Researchers and academics interested in the technology can find the necessary resources on GitHub.
Apple recently published a new web site meant to help families manage their iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple accounts. The site offers high-level overviews of all the parental controls available, as well as deep-dive tutorials with step-by-step directions on how to enable each tool. Parents have long been able to manage iTunes purchases, control content, set time/usage limits, see location data, share calendars and iTunes purchases, and more. The new Families web page is meant to serve as a central resource. It describes in detail how parents can reduce distracted driving for teens, set family groups and manage communications, find lost devices, and so on. The web site arrives after shareholders published an open letter earlier this year asking the company to address smartphone addiction.
Google today gave developers more access to mapping and audio tools for creating games and other immersive experiences. First, Google brought its Google Maps API to the Unity gaming engine. The idea is to allow game developers to bring real-world map data into their augmented reality games. This way, games can mix and match reality with augmented content so developers can find the best real-world places for playing their games. Google says roads, parks, and buildings are now GameObjects in Unity, allowing developers to add their own style and textures to existing objects rather than force them to create new worlds from the ground up. Some 100 million buildings, landmarks, and other locales are available in 3D across more than 200 countries around the globe. Together with ARCore, Google believes its new Google Maps API will improve mobile gameplay. Second, Google released an open source version of its Resonance Audio project. Google released the spatial audio SDK last year. That SDK relies on data generated by the Resonance Audio project. Spatial audio creates a sense of presence within AR/VR environments, meaning players feel more like they are actually there. By opening Resonance Audio, Google hopes the community-driven approach will improve the tools available for developers when creating mobile or desktop experiences. Resonance Audio is now open source as a standalone library offered via GitHub through an Apache 2.0 license. Resonance Audio plugins for Unity, Unreal, FMOD, and Wwise are also open source, though they will be maintained by Google's partners. Developers can learn more about the new Maps API and open source Resonance Audio from Google's developer web sites.
Google has this week added several new features to Google Home that make the product more useful. First, people can now set reminders on their Google Home that are triggered by their phone's location. For example, at home, say, "Hey Google, set a reminder to pick up more coffee at the grocery store," and Google Assistant will remind you on your phone when you're actually at the grocery store. This is an expansion of a feature Google first announced last month. Second, routines are now more widely available. Routines string together a handful of actions that are triggered by a specific catch phrase. For example, people can ask Google to tell them about their day and get the news, weather, and traffic information they need first thing in the morning. Routines can now proactively turn off mobile devices' silent mode, and even interact with Assistant-powered appliances. Google is offering a half dozen routines to start, including morning, leaving home, bedtime, and so on. Users can easily customize the routines, and even ensure Google Assistant recognizes individual users for personalized routines. The new tools are free to use.
Owners of Samsung's newer high-end phones will soon be able to score same-day repairs for most problems. Samsung has teamed up with uBreakiFix, which has some 370 locations around the country, in order to provide more timely repairs. uBreakiFix offers authorized repairs with genuine Samsung parts. The company says its technicians are all certified by Samsung and repaired devices are restored to factory conditions. uBreakiFix will fix the Note 5 and Note 8, as well as the Galaxy S6, S7, S8, and S9. The partnership officially kicks off March 15. The move helps Samsung become more competitive with Apple, which offers quick iPhone repairs at its Apple Stores.
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