Monday, December 31, 2018
Saturday, December 29, 2018
Thursday, December 27, 2018
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Saturday, December 22, 2018
"Yesterday I told the story of Zach, a Macworld reader who discovered that his 2018 11-inch iPad Pro was starting to bend down the middle after a month of normal use. We reported that Zach was on his way to see if Apple would replace the device, particularly in light of Apple’s acknowledgement that some 11-inch iPad Pro models would be bent from the moment you opened the box, owing to a problem with the cooling process during manufacture. This was normal, Apple seemed to suggest in an unquoted statement, and as such Apple wouldn’t replace units outside the first 14 days.
I’m happy to report that on Friday, Zach was able to get a replacement iPad Pro. I’m not so happy to report, though, that he had to pay a $49 service fee in order to get it.
Importantly, Zach has AppleCare+, so it’s doubtful that he would have been able to get that replacement without it. This is in line with earlier reports on forums and subreddits, which claimed that Apple was charging a deductible on the assumption that bent iPads were the result of accidental damage..."
Apple will replace your bent iPad Pro, but it will cost you | Macworld
Friday, December 21, 2018
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Monday, December 10, 2018
Sunday, December 09, 2018
"After years of facing suspicion from US authorities, Huawei is now standing trial for fraud. Today, a bail hearing was held for Huawei’s chief financial officer, who was arrested in Canada on Saturday at the request of US law enforcement. The CFO, Meng Wanzhou, is facing extradition to the US for conspiring to defraud banking institutions, according to The Star Vancouver.
Many lined up to see Meng’s bail hearing today, after the extremely high-profile arrest that signified the first major break in a US probe that has mostly been kept from the public. Meng happens to be the daughter of Huawei’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army engineer whose connection to the Chinese Communist Party has contributed to the suspicions of US intelligence agencies. Meng also serves as deputy chair on Huawei’s board.
The US has an arrest warrant out for Meng that was issued by a New York court on August 22nd. It has 60 days from the time of Meng’s arrest on Saturday to provide Canadian courts with evidence and intent.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver during a flight transfer where she was flying from Hong Kong to Mexico. Canada’s prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley noted that Meng used to travel frequently to the US and has a son attending school in Boston but has made no trips since March 2017, implying that she began to avoid traveling to the US after Huawei started to be probed by the US Justice Department. Still, a number of Huawei executives continued to visit the US after the probe began, suggesting that Meng’s position differed from theirs.
Meng served on the board for a Hong Kong-based company called Skycom, which allegedly did business with Iran between 2009 and 2014. US banks worked with Huawei at this time, so Iran sanctions were violated indirectly, and Meng therefore committed fraud against these banks. Skycom reportedly had connections to Huawei and at the bail hearing today, Gibb-Carsley argued that Skycom was an unofficial subsidiary of Huawei’s, using the same company logo. “Huawei is SkyCom,” he said, “This is the crux, I say, of the alleged fraud.”
Huawei’s comment on the arrest to The Verge was: “The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng. The company believes the Canadian and US legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion. Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.” It didn’t have a comment to share about the hearing.
In summary, as we break for lunch: This whole case rests on the content of a Power Point presentation #MengWanzhou made to a bank responding to concerns about #Huawei’s relationship with SkyCom and whether this is fraudulent misrepresentation. #Huaweiarrest
— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu)
In Huawei and Meng’s defense, her lawyer, David Martin, introduced a 2013 PowerPoint presentation that Meng had once given to explain to a bank in Hong Kong that Huawei had not violated any US sanctions.
The hearing today also examined whether Meng would be a flight risk if she was granted the $1 million bail, part of the argument Gibb-Carsley was pushing. Defense lawyer Martin responded by explaining the Chinese emphasis on saving face, and how Meng wouldn’t want her father and Huawei to look bad. Even more than that, “she would not embarrass China itself,” Martin said."
Huawei’s CFO is being accused of fraud, and her main defense is a PowerPoint - The Verge
Saturday, December 08, 2018
Friday, December 07, 2018
Tuesday, December 04, 2018
Monday, December 03, 2018
Saturday, December 01, 2018
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Thursday, November 22, 2018
"In today’s digital age, it sometimes feels like hardware has taken a back seat to the software that drives our devices. Button of the Month is a monthly look at what some of those buttons and switches are like on devices old and new, and aims to appreciate how we interact with our devices on a physical, tactile level.
It’s almost impossible to talk about hardware controls without mentioning the iPod click wheel. I’ve been dancing around doing this one for a while since plenty has already been said about how Apple solved the problem of navigating and scrolling through lists of data on a small screen without a touch interface. It’s a UI paradigm that still lives on in a way; the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown is probably the most direct descendant of the click wheel on Apple’s current products, offering a similar purpose of navigating around long text lists on a small screen.
But I want to talk about something more specific about the iPod click wheel — in particular, the final iteration of the wheel that’s likely most familiar to people, the iconic gray circle with integrated buttons, introduced on the fourth-generation iPod.
That click wheel was the pinnacle of iPod design — so much so that for the rest of its non-touchscreen iPods, Apple didn’t mess with the design, even on its diminutive iPod nano. It was simple, it was uncluttered, and it was so easy to use that nearly anyone, regardless of their familiarity with technology, could figure it out.
But my favorite part of the click wheel is also the part that we’ve lost the most since we switched to touch-enabled devices: the ability to use it without looking at the screen.
It’s a small thing, but a significant one. Today’s devices demand our constant attention: they’re almost impossible to use without it, in fact. Look away from your phone, and you’re aimlessly tapping a featureless glass slab with no landmarks or guides to light the way. As Steve Jobs pointed out when Apple first launched the iPhone, a device without buttons can have an infinite number of them. But they’re transitory; they only exist when you’re looking at them.
The click wheel is the polar opposite. Instead of an infinite array of buttons, the wheel gave you five, plus the dial, located in positions you’re always aware of. Raising volume, skipping a song, playing or pausing — these are all things you can do passively, without taking your iPod out of your pocket or lighting up the screen. It let you add music to your life without demanding that you give your life back to the iPod.
Even the physical texture of the click wheel lends itself to this. The click wheel is a matte surface, distinct from the glossy iPod case, with the center button sharing that same gloss so that you can easily find it by touch. I still look fondly back to using my iPod while drifting off to sleep on long plane or bus rides, relaxing with my finicky music tastes without having to open my eyes and / or blind myself in the dark by lightning up the giant, glowing display.
It’s not that touchscreens are bad — Jobs was correct: my iPhone is far more functional than my old iPod ever was. But I can’t help miss what we gave up whenever I have to stare at my phone just to change a track."
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Monday, November 19, 2018
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Friday, November 16, 2018
"By The Editorial Board, www.nytimes.com November 15th, 2018
Only Congressional hearings can answer what the company knew about Russian meddling — and when.
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
“Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself,” tweeted Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline on Wednesday night.
Mr. Cicilline, who is likely to chair the House of Representative’s Judiciary subcommittee that focuses on antitrust law, was responding to a Times investigation, one that painted a damning picture of how Facebook had handled the discovery of Russian misinformation campaigns on its platform. Based on interviews with more than 50 people, the investigation depicted Facebook’s top executives — including Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg — ignoring and downplaying the extent of Russian skulduggery, even going as far as to stall the publication of internal findings.
On Thursday, Facebook pushed back in a blog post that denied slow-rolling its response to foreign election interference.
But familiar questions remain unanswered: How much did Facebook know, and when?
The answers to those questions grow in size and seriousness as the breadth of the effort to befoul the democratic process becomes more and more apparent. In February, the special counsel Robert Mueller brought an indictment against an infamous Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency. In July, Mr. Mueller secured an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers for their roles in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and those of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The same officers used both Facebook and Twitter to promote the stolen documents and emails.
In early 2016, people inside Facebook had spotted suspicious Russian activity, which was reported to the F.B.I. But in the days after the 2016 election, Mr. Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the notion that misinformation on Facebook had influenced the election, calling it “a pretty crazy idea.”
Even before the Mueller indictments exposed the extent of a coordinated Russian misinformation campaign, suspicions ran high. Many people had questions; few people were in the position to demand answers. Mr. Zuckerberg was one of those few, and for some reason he did not.
Facebook could have approached its civic duty head-on, but instead busied itself with damage control. Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president for global public policy, objected to the public dissemination of internal findings on the grounds that it would offend conservatives. The company also chose to strengthen its ties with Definers Public Affairs, a consulting firm founded by Republican political operatives, which then sought to discredit anti-Facebook activists by linking them to George Soros, a wealthy liberal donor who is often the subject of conspiracy theories. Facebook said it cut ties with Definers on Wednesday night.
Russian influence operations and viral false reports should have been anticipated byproducts of Facebook’s business model, which is based on selling advertising on the back of user engagement. In short, Facebook capitalizes on personal information to influence the behavior of its users, and then sells that influence to advertisers for a profit. It is an ecosystem ripe for manipulation.
Facebook is not the only tech company that demands regulatory scrutiny. But Facebook has, perhaps uniquely, demonstrated a staggering lack of corporate responsibility and civic duty in the wake of this crisis."
Opinion | How to Find Out What Facebook Knew - The New York Times
Thursday, November 15, 2018
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Saturday, November 10, 2018
Friday, November 09, 2018
Thursday, November 08, 2018
Samsung's foldable phone is real and opens into a tablet
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Tuesday, November 06, 2018
Monday, November 05, 2018
Friday, November 02, 2018
Thursday, November 01, 2018
The new MacBook Air hands-on: More pixels, fewer ports - CNET
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018
Sunday, October 28, 2018
"Tinkerers will now have an easier time modifying and repairing electronic devices.
- You can jailbreak voice assistant devices, such as Alexa-enabled gadgets.
- You can unlock new phones, not just used ones. Recyclers sometimes get unopened phones.
- It's now legal to repair pretty much any kind of home device, such as smartphones, home appliances and home systems.
- You can modify software on motorized land vehicles, like tractors.
- Third-parties can repair devices on behalf of the owner.
- This is good news for tinkerers, but some petitions weren't granted, according to Wiens. You still can't repair game consoles, such as the PS4 and Xbox One, on your own. Products that don't fall under smartphones, home appliances or home systems, like boats and airplanes, also can't legally be repaired by owners or third-parties."
Copyright Office rules in favor of your right to repair your own phone - CNET
Saturday, October 27, 2018
Thursday, October 25, 2018
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Monday, October 22, 2018
"Cristina SpanòI think we can all agree that Silicon Valley needs more adult supervision right about now.
Is the solution for its companies to hire a chief ethics officer?
While some tech companies like Google have top compliance officers and others turn to legal teams to police themselves, no big tech companies that I know of have yet taken this step. But a lot of them seem to be talking about it, and I’ve discussed the idea with several chief executives recently. Why? Because slowly, then all at once, it feels like too many digital leaders have lost their minds.
It’s probably no surprise, considering the complex problems the tech industry faces. As one ethical quandary after another has hit its profoundly ill-prepared executives, their once-pristine reputations have fallen like palm trees in a hurricane. These last two weeks alone show how tech is stumbling to react to big world issues armed with only bubble world skills:
As a journalist is beheaded and dismembered at the direction of Saudi Arabian leaders (allegedly, but the killers did bring a bone saw), Silicon Valley is swimming in oceans of money from the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund. Saudi funding includes hundreds of millions for Magic Leap, and huge investments in hot public companies like Tesla. Most significantly: Saudis have invested about $45 billion in SoftBank’s giant Vision Fund, which has in turn doused the tech landscape — $4.4 billion to WeWork, $250 million to Slack, and $300 million to the dog-walking app Wag. In total Uber has gotten almost $14 billion, either through direct investments from the Public Investment Fund or through the Saudis’ funding of the Vision Fund. A billion here, a billion there and it all adds up.
[Kara Swisher will answer your questions about this column on Twitter on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Eastern: @KaraSwisher.]
Facebook introduced a new home video device called Portal, and promised that what could be seen as a surveillance tool would not share data for the sake of ad targeting. Soon after, as reported by Recode, Facebook admitted that “data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.” Oh. Um. That’s awkward.
After agreeing to pay $20 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission for an ill-advised tweet about possible funding (from the Saudis, by the way), the Tesla co-founder Elon Musk proceeded to troll the regulatory agency on, you got it, Twitter. And even though the settlement called for some kind of control of his communications, it appears that Mr. Musk will continue tweeting until someone steals his phone.
Finally, Google took six months to make public that user data on its social network, Google Plus, had been exposed and that profiles of up to 500,000 users may have been compromised. While the service failed long ago, because it was pretty much designed by antisocial people, this lack of concern for privacy was profound.
Grappling with what to say and do about the disasters they themselves create is only the beginning. Then there are the broader issues that the denizens of Silicon Valley expect their employers to have a stance on: immigration, income inequality, artificial intelligence, automation, transgender rights, climate change, privacy, data rights and whether tech companies should be helping the government do controversial things. It’s an ethical swamp out there.
That’s why, in a recent interview, Marc Benioff, the co-chief executive and a founder of Salesforce, told me he was in the process of hiring a chief ethical officer to help anticipate and address any thorny conundrums it might encounter as a business — like the decision it had to make a few months back about whether it should stop providing recruitment software for Customs and Border Protection because of the government’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border.
Amid much criticism, Mr. Benioff decided to keep the contract, but said he would focus more on social and political issues.
At a recent company event, he elaborated: “We can have a structured conversation not just with our own employees myopically, but by bringing in the key advisers, supporters and pundits and philosophers and everybody necessary to ask the question if what we are doing today is ethical and humane.”
23andMe has also toyed with the idea of hiring a chief ethics officer. In an interview I did this week with its chief executive, Anne Wojcicki, she said the genetics company had even interviewed candidates, but that many of them wanted to remain in academia to be freer to ponder these issues. She acknowledged that the collection of DNA data is rife with ethical considerations, but said, “I think it has to be our management and leaders who have to add this to our skill set, rather than just hire one person to determine this.”
When asked about the idea of a single source of wisdom on ethics, some point out that legal or diversity/inclusion departments are designed for that purpose and that the ethics should really come from the top — the chief executive.
Also of concern is the possibility that a single person would not get listened to or, worse, get steamrollered. And, if the person was bad at the job, of course, it could drag the whole thing down.
Others are more worried that the move would be nothing but window dressing. One consultant who focuses on ethics, but did not want to be named, told me: “We haven’t even defined ethics, so what even is ethical use, especially for Silicon Valley companies that are babies in this game?”
How can an industry that, unlike other business sectors, persistently promotes itself as doing good, learn to do that in reality? Do you want to not do harm, or do you want to do good? These are two totally different things.
And how do you put an official ethical system in place without it seeming like you’re telling everyone how to behave? Who gets to decide those rules anyway, setting a moral path for the industry and — considering tech companies’ enormous power — the world.
Like I said, adult supervision. Or maybe, better still, Silicon Valley itself has to grow up.
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Friday, October 19, 2018
Thursday, October 18, 2018
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
"YouTube is experiencing a major outage. Users across the world started to notice that the video service’s sites and mobile apps were down around 9:20PM ET, and everything remains inaccessible more than an hour later. YouTube TV and YouTube Music are also affected by the service disruption.
YouTube has acknowledged the outage in a tweet. “We’re working on resolving this and will let you know once fixed,” the Team YouTube account says. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and will keep you updated.” As of 10.35PM ET, the account is still replying to reports of the outage saying that the team is working on the problem.
As with all Google-operated services, serious downtime for YouTube is pretty rare. YouTube TV did suffer service interruption at an inopportune time during this summer’s World Cup, however, and channel pages went down for a while in April. Perhaps most infamously, Pakistan’s government accidentally caused an hours-long global YouTube blackout a decade ago by attempting to censor a trailer for an anti-Islamic film.
Update, 10:40PM ET: Multiple Verge staffers are reporting that service has been restored, though YouTube itself is yet to confirm a fix.
Update, 11:01PM ET: YouTube says it has restored service, bringing the saga to an end."
YouTube was down but now it’s back - The Verge
Monday, October 15, 2018
Google real-time translation comes to Bose QuietComfort 35 II and more - CNET. It has come to any Bluetooth headset that supports Google Assistant such as the Sony Sony WH-1000XM2. and Sony WH-1000XM3.
"Google Assistant's real-time translation's been limited to Google's Pixel Buds headphones since they launched a year ago. No longer.
Google has rolled out support to any headphones with Google Assistant access built in, such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM2.
Just pair the headphones with a phone that supports Google Assistant and the latest version of the Google app. And voila! You'll be multilingual mingling in no time."
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Friday, October 12, 2018
"Robert Mueller surfaced from the Russia investigation this afternoon to ask for help — tech support, specifically. The special counsel and former FBI director was spotted in the Georgetown Apple store today, working with a Genius bar employee to get help with a MacBook Pro. The photo was taken by Meghan Pianta, who works in communications in DC; we initially caught it via Washington Examiner reporter Kelly Cohen.
In the photo, you can see a pained, confused look on the special counsel’s face. What is he looking at? We tried calling the Apple store to find out, but were stymied by endless phone trees. An investigator who went on location on behalf of The Verge said there was no sighting of either Mueller or the employee seen helping him…"
"After the 2016 US presidential election, social media came under scrutiny like never before, and what’s since come to light hasn’t been pretty: widespread consensus that foreign government-backed groups used platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to spread discord and division among the American public. In their new book, P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking make the argument that what we witnessed was a new form of global conflict, in which there are no bystanders.
LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media is a look at the role social media plays in modern conflict. Singer has written extensively about the future of warfare, looking at robotics (Wired for War), cybersecurity (Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What You Need to Know), private military companies (Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry), and even speculative fiction (Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War). Now, he turns his attention to what warfare looks like when information can spread around the world instantly. Singer and Brooking look at how groups like ISIS have used platforms like YouTube and Twitter to spread their message around the world, taunting their opponents and enticing new recruits, while bad actors like Russian-backed groups found ways to game Facebook’s design to spread misinformation and lies..."
A military expert explains why social media is the new battlefield - The Verge
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
"For months, Google has been trying to stay out of the way of the growing tech backlash, but yesterday, the dam finally broke with news of a bug in the rarely used Google+ network that exposed private information for as many as 500,000 users. Google found and fixed the bug back in March, around the same time the Cambridge Analytica story was heating up in earnest. But with the news breaking now, the damage is already spreading. The consumer version of Google+ is shutting down, German privacy regulators in Germany and the US are already looking into possible legal action, and former SEC officials are publicly speculating about what Google may have done wrong.
The vulnerability itself seems to have been relatively small in scope. The heart of the problem was a specific developer API that could be used to see non-public information. But crucially, there’s no evidence that it actually was used to see private data, and given the thin user base, it’s not clear how much non-public data there really was to see. The API was theoretically accessible to anyone who asked, but only 432 people actually applied for access (again, it’s Google+), so it’s plausible that none of them ever thought of using it this way.
The bigger problem for Google isn’t the crime, but the cover-up. The vulnerability was fixed in March, but Google didn’t come clean until seven months later when The Wall Street Journal got hold of some of the memos discussing the bug. The company seems to know it messed up — why else nuke an entire social network off the map? — but there’s real confusion about exactly what went wrong and when, a confusion that plays into deeper issues in how tech deals with this kind of privacy slip.
Part of the disconnect comes from the fact that, legally, Google is in the clear. There are lots of laws about reporting breaches — primarily the GDPR but also a string of state-level bills — but by that standard, what happened to Google+ wasn’t technically a breach. Those laws are concerned with unauthorized access to user information, codifying the basic idea that if someone steals your credit card or phone number, you have a right to know about it. But Google just found that data was available to developers, not that any data was actually taken. With no clear data stolen, Google had no legal reporting requirements. As far as the lawyers were concerned, it wasn’t a breach, and quietly fixing the problem was good enough.
There is a real case against disclosing this kind of bug, although it’s not quite as convincing in retrospect. All systems have vulnerabilities, so the only good security strategy is to be constantly finding and fixing them. As a result, the most secure software will be the one that’s discovering and patching the most bugs, even if that might seem counterintuitive from the outside. Requiring companies to publicly report each bug could be a perverse incentive, punishing the products that do the most to protect their users.
(Of course, Google has been abruptly disclosing other companies’ bugs for years under Project Zero, which is part of why critics are so eager to jump on the apparent hypocrisy. But the Project Zero crew would tell you that third-party reporting is a completely different dance, with disclosure typically used as an incentive for patching and as a reward for white-hat bug-hunters looking to build their reputation.)
That logic makes more sense for software bugs than social networks and privacy issues, but it’s accepted wisdom in the cybersecurity world, and it’s not a stretch to say it guided Google’s thinking in trying to keep this bug under wraps.
But after Facebook’s painful fall from grace, the legal and the cybersecurity arguments seem almost beside the point. The contract between tech companies and their users feels more fragile than ever, and stories like this one stretch it even thinner. The concern is less about a breach of information than a breach of trust. Something went wrong, and Google didn’t tell anyone. Absent the Journal reporting, it’s not clear it ever would have. It’s hard to avoid the uncomfortable, unanswerable question: what else isn’t it telling us?
It’s too early to say whether Google will face a real backlash for this. If anything, the small number of affected users and relative unimportance of Google+ suggests it won’t. But even if this vulnerability was minor, failures like this pose a real threat to users and a real danger to the companies they trust. The confusion about what to call it — a bug, a breach, a vulnerability — covers up a deeper confusion about what companies actually owe their users when a privacy failure is meaningful and how much control we really have. These are crucial questions for this era of tech, and if the last few days are any indication, they’re questions the industry is still figuring out."
The breach that killed Google+ wasn’t a breach at all - The Verge
Tuesday, October 09, 2018
Monday, October 08, 2018
WITHIN HOURS OF California governor Jerry Brown signing a sweeping net neutrality bill into law, the US Department of Justice sued the state, sparking the latest battle in the long legal war over the ground rules for the internet. Groups representing broadband providers followed suit on Wednesday, with their own lawsuit arguing that California's law was illegal. The California law, set to take effect on January 1, will ban internet service providers from blocking or otherwise discriminating against lawful internet content. The rules are designed to replace similar regulations passed by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission but jettisoned earlier this year by the now Republican-controlled agency. Lawyers say the dispute raises novel questions about the relationship between the federal government and the states. First is whether California has authority to impose net neutrality rules at all. Both the DOJ and the broadband industry claim that the inherently interstate nature of the internet means that only the federal government can regulate broadband services. A second, even thornier question is whether the FCC was within its rights when it effectively banned states from adopting net neutrality rules earlier this year. At its heart is this conundrum: In repealing the Obama-era rules, the FCC said it didn’t have authority to impose net neutrality regulations. But the agency now claims it does have the authority to ban states from adopting their own rules. "It's hard to find a case that's perfectly, squarely applicable, where an agency says 'we're vacating the field, and we're not allowing anyone else to enter the field,’" says Marc Martin, a former FCC staffer during the presidency of George H.W. Bush who is chair of law firm Perkins Coie's communications practice.
"By Dan Seifert, October 8th, 2018
After being confined to an audio-only experience for over two years, Amazon’s Alexa assistant was finally given a screen with last year’s Echo Show, a blocky combination of a tablet-sized display and smart speaker. The original Echo Show was the first of its kind: a smart display, powered by an intelligent assistant, that could do more than just play music and set timers, it could show you the name of the song and the timer counting down, too.
In the year and a half since, other assistants have gotten displays of their own. So now Amazon has released a new Echo Show, one that addresses some of the faults of the original and improves upon the idea, without completely reinventing it.
The new Echo Show has a bigger screen, better speaker system, and a nicer design. It’s also running new software that’s prettier and easier to interact with, though the new software will also be coming to the original Echo Show and the Echo Dot when the new model arrives on October 11th. The new model comes with all of these features without commanding a higher price: it’s available for the same $229.99 that the first Show sold for at launch.
Despite these improvements, the new Echo Show doesn’t do that much more than the prior model, and if anything, it highlights where Alexa’s boundaries are. When Alexa is restricted to a speaker, it’s easier to accept that Alexa is only really good at a handful of things, all of which rely on sound: weather reports, music, alarms, timers, etc. But when a large, bright screen is added to the mix, the expectations go up. A screen should let me watch video from any source I want, and it should be able to display information that’s relevant to me no matter where it comes from. Unfortunately, the new Echo Show’s bigger, better screen still doesn’t fulfill either of those expectations.
That all makes the new Echo Show a bit frustrating: it’s better to look at, better to listen to, and nicer to use, but it still can’t do all of the things I reasonably expect a big, internet-connected display on my kitchen counter to be capable of.
The most obvious upgrade with the new Echo Show is its new display. Amazon has expanded the screen from a cramped seven inches to a 10.1-inch panel. Instead of sitting atop a speaker grille, the new Show’s display takes up the entire front of the device, and it’s much nicer to look at as a result.
The display is bright and vibrant, with rich colors and good viewing angles. It has a glossy glass cover, which means it can catch a bad glare at the wrong angle, but otherwise there’s nothing to complain about with it. For what the Show does and how it’s intended to be used, the new screen works well and is easier to use than the prior model’s display.
The other obvious hardware upgrade is with the new Show’s speaker design. It still has two 2-inch speakers, but they’ve been moved from the front of the device to side-firing positions and have been upgraded with neodymium drivers for better quality sound. The new Echo Show also has a passive bass radiator for much better low-end response.
The result of these design changes and speaker upgrades is a much better sounding device than before. The side-firing positioning of the speakers allows the Show to fill a room with sound much better than before. The more powerful speakers produce greater volume, and the passive radiator gives the Show some bass you can hear and sometimes feel, which was lacking in the old model.
Is it as good as a Sonos One or another high-quality speaker? No, not quite, and at full volume the sound starts to fall apart and distort. But it’s good enough at normal listening volumes that when I swapped the out Sonos One in my kitchen for the new Show to do this review, I didn’t miss the Sonos. It also sounds better than the Lenovo Smart Display that runs the Google Assistant.
I also like how the new Show looks on my kitchen counter more than the old model or Lenovo’s design. The first Show had a “chiseled out of a block of plastic” industrial vibe, while the fabric cover on the sides and the repositioned speakers give this new one a softer, gadget-that-can-live-in-your-home appearance. It also takes up less space on my counter than the Lenovo, while still giving me the same size display.
Even with the greater volume and better sound output, the Show still was able to hear my voice commands without any problems, even from across the room.
Still, there are things with the Show’s hardware design that will bother some. If you aren’t comfortable with an internet-connected camera staring at you all the time (there’s a 5-megapixel camera in the bezel just above the display), you can disable it in the Show’s settings, but there’s no hardware shutter switch to block it, like you can on Lenovo’s Smart Display. (Some double-sided tape and a googly eye work well, however.) It’s also still a big thing to have sitting on your counter all the time, and if you have a small kitchen with limited counter space, you might have a tough time making room for the Show. Unlike an iPad, you can’t easily put the Show in a drawer when you’re not using it.
More significant than the new hardware is the new software that’s debuting with this Echo Show. Amazon says it spent the last year-plus learning how its customers used the Show in their homes and has designed the new software in response to that. There’s more customization, more ways to use touch to interact, more ways to control smart home gadgets and Alexa routines, and more things to do with the Show’s display than before. There’s even a web browser now.
Even with these additions, the interface is still very familiar, and if you’ve been using an Echo Show for the past year, you’ll feel right at home with it. Most of the interactions are still driven by voice commands, but certain things can now be done by touch, such as turning on smart lights or running an Alexa routine. The web browser (you can choose between Amazon’s Silk browser or Firefox) is operated entirely with touch control, though amusingly, the only way to launch it is to ask Alexa to “open [Firefox or Silk]”.
The home screen has more customization options and presents things like sports scores in a nicer fashion that before. Largely, it’s just prettier to look at, which is important for a device that will be sitting on your counter, shelf, or nightstand all the time, displaying headlines and other bits of information.
Swiping down from the top of the screen displays two new options: Lights & More and Routines, which let you control individual or groups of smart lights and run Alexa routines you’ve set up in the mobile app without having to use your voice. It’s clever enough to put the most recently used smart light controls at the top of the list, so if you always use it to turn the lights on and off in your kitchen, you don’t have to scroll through the whole list every time.
There still isn’t a grid of app icons, however, so many of the Show’s capabilities can feel hidden or hard to find. Amazon says there are now over 1,000 “skills” (the company’s equivalent of apps in the Alexa world) that take advantage of the Show’s display, and if you ask Alexa to “show me skills”, you can browse through a variety of categories, including ones that are specifically designed to use the screen. Most of the suggested skills are for displaying new facts or quotes every day, which is a bit underwhelming. In all, I find this whole process to be tedious and cumbersome, and most of my usage with Alexa is with its built-in capabilities, such as smart home control, shopping lists, timers, and music, not through third-party skills.
There are other features that I don’t find very valuable. That 5-megapixel camera lets you video chat with other Echo Show devices or anyone that has the mobile Alexa app on their phone, but this feature isn’t particularly compelling in my day-to-day use. The Drop-In feature that lets you start a video call on the Show unannounced is still here and still kind of weird, though Amazon now lets you limit it to just the people on your Amazon Household. Should you decide to use these features, the Show’s fixed viewing angle can make it hard to find the right position for a video call, though the larger display does make it easier to see the other person.
That said, there are certain things that I really like with the Show. My spouse and I use Alexa’s shopping lists to organize our grocery shopping and sync everything with our phones, and the Show’s display is great for seeing what’s already on the list and checking things off as necessary. I can even add a whole slew of items to the list with just one command (i.e. “Alexa add milk, eggs, bread, cereal, and Oreos to my list”) and Alexa is now smart enough to parse each one out into individual items. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the new feature I’ve appreciated the most.
The Show makes it very easy to manage multiple timers when you’re cooking, which you can individually label and watch as they count down without having to ask Alexa for an update on them.
The Echo Show is also great for controlling smart home gadgets like lights and outlets. The new model now has built-in Zigbee support (just like the Echo Plus speaker), so you can use it as a central smart home hub and connect lights and other devices to it if you want.
But all of these things also work great with a standard Echo or Alexa speaker, and none of them really justify the presence of the Show’s screen. For that, we need to see what the Show can do as a video player.
The biggest drama with the original Echo Show was the ongoing disagreements between Amazon and Google over whether the device should be able to have YouTube or not. Amazon had originally included a specially designed YouTube experience for the Show that Google blocked, and then Amazon tried another approach that Google blocked yet again.
So, Amazon went back to the drawing board and came up with a way to get YouTube on its Echo and Fire TV devices without the risk of Google blocking it: it installed a web browser on them. Using the Show’s built-in Amazon Silk or Firefox browsers, you can navigate to YouTube.com with the on-screen keyboard or a shortcut button and search for and watch videos that way.
There are many issues with this experience. For starters, the Show’s browsers can only display the mobile version of the YouTube website, which looks ridiculous on the Show’s display. Video quality from the stream is poor and low resolution, and there’s no way to play YouTube videos with a voice command: you must type in all of your searches with the on-screen keyboard. You also can’t cast YouTube videos to the Show’s screen from your smartphone, like you can do with Lenovo’s Smart Display.
Still, if you really want to watch YouTube videos on the Echo Show, you can now do so. I just don’t think I’ll ever want to go through the hassle.
You can link your Hulu account or watch NBC (with a cable subscription) on the Show now, which gives it a couple of more video options. The Show can also work with Ring video doorbells to display who’s standing at your front door and allow you to have a two-way conversation with them. It will even announce when the bell has been rung. Unfortunately, the Hulu, NBC, and Ring integrations were not available for me to test in time for this review, but Amazon says they will be available when the Show ships to customers.
There’s also new integration with Vevo, so you can request music videos to watch on the Show. But asking for specifics can be difficult (the Show refused to play the music video for “Shallow (A Star is Born)” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, no matter how I phrased my request), and there really isn’t a way to casually browse popular music videos. Amazon says that “Alexa’s ability to understand music video requests on Vevo is going through optimizations” and it expects this to be improved over time.
The Show’s integration with Vevo lets you watch popular music videos
The Show is also still lacking many other video sources, such as Netflix, HBO, Vudu, and over-the-top TV services like DirecTV Now and PS Vue. Aside from the Hulu and NBC integrations that are coming, the primary source of video content for the Show is still Amazon’s own Prime Video service, which while expansive and full of good content and exclusives, is still only one video source, and likely not the most watched one in your home.
On top of all of that, much of the time, the Show feels frustratingly isolated from my phone. It’s much easier to search for things like videos and recipes on my phone, which I wish I could then push to the Show’s larger display. But the only thing I can cast from my phone to the Show is Amazon Music or Spotify music (via Spotify Connect).
Amazon has established Alexa as one of the top-tier virtual assistants, and even if you don’t use most of Alexa’s features, you can still find it to be a very useful assistant for the few things you rely on it to do. The Echo Show is a similar proposition: you probably aren’t going to use all of its features, but you may find those few things that it does well that work in your life. For me, that’s managing a grocery list, controlling smart home gadgets, getting weather reports, and listening to music.
But I’d love to use the Echo Show for other things, like watching the latest season of Big Mouth on Netflix while I do the dishes. Or use as a digital photo frame for my Google Photos account. The Show supports Amazon’s Prime Photos, naturally, but none of my photos are stored there. It’d be great if I could just cast Doug DeMuro’s latest deep dive on an exotic car on YouTube from my phone to the Show, so I can have it on while preparing lunch.
Aside from perhaps Netflix, which Amazon potentially could add in the future, I probably won’t ever be able to use the Echo Show for all of the things I want to use it for, because at the end of the day, it’s mostly an access point for Alexa and not a full-fledged computer platform. Without deals with all of the video content providers, such as Netflix and HBO, and personal data storehouses, like Google and Apple, Alexa can feel a bit lonely. While I do not expect the Echo Show to do the exact same things as my phone — the thought of an email app and Twitter on the Show makes my eye twitch — I would like to be able to use the Show in conjunction with my phone, to either share information between them or remotely control either one.
There certainly are pros to Amazon’s isolated, simplistic approach – my colleague Dieter Bohn appreciated the Show’s simplicity compared to a tablet or PC when he reviewed the first model over a year ago. And the Show is not alone in its limitations: Google’s Smart Displays have similar gates around what services they support and what features they have (and they don’t support Netflix either). The advantage Google has, however, is it already is a giant storehouse of my personal data, which Amazon is not.
At the end of the day, if I’m going to commit to having an always-on, internet-connected screen sitting on my countertop all the time, I want it to do more than the Echo Show."
New Echo Show 2018 review: bigger screen and better sound aren’t enough - The Verge
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"Microsoft is updating the Surface Laptop with 8th Gen Intel processors and a matte black finish. The second-generation model, called the Surface Laptop 2, is supposed to be 85 percent faster than the previous generation and use the “thinnest ever LCD” on a touch laptop. The product’s entry-level price is dropping by $100 for this generation to $899. It goes on sale October 16th, and preorders start today.
This year’s refresh appears to be almost entirely a spec update. While Microsoft hasn’t revealed full details for the laptop, the hardware appears to be identical, down to the port situation — which means another year without USB-C. The laptop will still have a 13.5-inch display, and Microsoft is still estimating 14.5 hours of battery life for nonstop video playback. It does claim that typing on this version will be quieter, though.
The original Surface Laptop was announced in May 2017, and it became a surprise favorite, thanks to its balance of size, power, and style. But the laptop did have shortcomings. The original model started at just 4GB of RAM and didn’t include USB-C ports, despite them becoming increasingly standard. From the look of things, the USB-C situation is going unchanged this year; we’re still waiting to hear about RAM.
While the first Surface Laptop is still one of the best laptop options around, this new model faces some stiffer competition. In recent months, Huawei has claimed the title for best laptop, thanks to a model with ultra-thin bezels, a simple and light design, and plenty of power (and ports). But that laptop starts at a much higher price — $1,500 — and is going for a somewhat different audience.
With the Surface Laptop, Microsoft is targeting the college student and the everyday customer who just wants a reliable machine to get things done. The Surface Laptop 2 doesn’t look like it’s going to change that formula much; it’s just updating specs to be a bit more competitive in 2018."
Microsoft announces Surface Laptop 2 with black finish and 8th Gen Intel processors - The Verge
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"Elon Musk has said he is ‘neutral’ about a union but former employees blame their firing on their efforts to organize while current workers say a ‘culture of fear’ persists"
Tesla workers speak out: 'Anything pro-union is shut down really fast' | Technology | The Guardian