Saturday, May 19, 2018
"Google Assistant will identify itself at the beginning of conversations when it starts making phone calls on behalf of real users later this year using Google’s human-sounding Duplex AI technology. It will also alert those on the other end of the conversation “in certain jurisdictions” that calls are being recorded, according to Bloomberg, which reported on the details that were shared at a company meeting Thursday. Certain jurisdictions?! Many states require consent from both parties for phone calls to be recorded, so it’s a necessary step. But I really, really hope that Google plans to share that information in every call — not just in areas where it’s forced to by law.
The uproar that followed Google’s I/O demonstration of Duplex spanned a range of emotions — from amazement at the technology’s mimicry of casual human speech to deep concern over ethics — and the company has tried to resolve apprehension about Duplex in the days since. Duplex will launch in experimental form this summer and allow consumers to have it call businesses to make restaurant reservations or hair appointments.
On stage at I/O, CEO Sundar Pichai said that Assistant/Duplex would record calls so that users could review the conversation later on to see how things went. But he didn't say whether the recipient would be told about the call being captured. A few days after I/O, Google emphasized that “transparency in the technology is important” and said “we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified.” Now we know that’ll probably be something like a friendly “Hi, this is Google Assistant!” greeting, though it’ll still sound real enough to pass as an actual person. Still creepy?
Over the last week, there has been some skepticism over whether the demonstrations of Duplex on stage and at Google’s blog are in fact real phone calls made to actual businesses. Twitter users seem to have successfully tracked down one restaurant that Google called, with Mashable reporting that employee confirmed it received a call. Bloomberg claims that some of the demo recordings were edited to remove identifying information about the recipients.
Google Assistant will alert people that Duplex calls are being recorded - The Verge
Friday, May 18, 2018
"Megan Brennan to double the rate the US Postal Service charges companies like Amazon to use its services, according to a report from The Washington Post today. The move is just the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, turn in the ongoing feud between the sitting president and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and owner of The Washington Post. Trump has often criticized the newspaper for its coverage of his administration.
Brennan has managed to keep Trump at bay, fearful the request could massively complicate existing contracts between the USPS and companies like Amazon, many of which are reportedly reviewed by a regulatory commission, The Post reports. Yet last month, Trump ordered a Postal Service review via executive order so that a task force can evaluate the finances of the organization, presumably to help back up his claim that it loses billions a year due to poor deals struck with Amazon and others.
Trump has also criticized Amazon in the past for not paying an adequate amount of taxes and for using The Post as an idealogical arm of Bezos to criticize Republicans and the White House, a charge Trump has been making for years prior to his winning the 2016 US election. Bezos, in response, has offered to shoot Trump into space using a Blue Origin rocket, though he made the joke back in 2015 when it would likely garner a less polarized response.
Brennan, who has spent 32 years at the Postal Service and became Postmaster General in 2014, has met with Trump multiple times in the past 18 months to discuss the Amazon matter, according to The Post. Reportedly, the debate over how much Amazon should be paying the Postal Service has divided top administration officials, with Trump calling on and receiving conflicting opinions from members of his cabinet and staff like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, who left the White House in March over a major rift with Trump on proposed steel and aluminum tariffs.
Amazon’s relationship to the Postal Service is a complicated one. The Post reports that Amazon, like many other retailers, uses the USPS for so-called last-mile deliveries, meaning Amazon brings the package to the post office closest to a customer’s home so a mail worker can then bring it to the door. Amazon reportedly uses the USPS for 40 percent of its last-mile deliveries, according to some analysts, and paid $21.7 billion in 2017 in shipping costs.
The Postal Service, though it’s lost money for the last 11 years, reported a 11.8 percent year-over-year increase in revenue to $19.5 billion last year, some of which is likely attributable to Amazon’s increased spending in the area. The nature of Amazon and the Postal Service’s deal remains secret."
Trump reportedly wants to punish Amazon by trying to double Postal Service rates - The Verge
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
By Zach Epstein, bgr.com May 16th, 2018
Like most other smartphone vendors out there, OnePlus has a history of copying Apple’s iPhone designs. The notion of Android vendors copying Apple’s iPhone designs is obviously nothing new. But last year’s OnePlus 5 is notable because it was one of the most blatant iPhone copies we had seen in quite some time. In a nutshell, the OnePlus 5 was an iPhone 7 Plus that ran Android. I mean, look at this thing. Not only did it sport the same design, OnePlus even copied elements of Apple’s software design, such as the camera UI. That was particularly ironic, because the OnePlus 5 also copied the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-lens rear camera and used the second lens for the exact same features as Apple’s iPhone: Optical zoom and a portrait mode effect.
In 2018, OnePlus dialed things back a bit. Sort of. Yes, one of the first things you’ll notice about the newly announced OnePlus 6 is that it has a notch cut out of the top of the display, and it’s shaped just like the one on the iPhone X. The OnePlus 6 is one of dozens of Android phones that copy the iPhone X’s display design, though — you can see 20 Android-powered iPhone X copycats all in one place right here. There are a few other ways the OnePlus 6 takes inspiration from Apple, but there’s also one important way that this phone improves upon Apple’s iPhone X design.
For the first time ever, we found a group of people who love Apple’s iPhone design even more than Apple fanboys: Android phone designers. In 2018, Android handset designers around the world apparently decided to take the year off. Why bother putting all that time, effort, and money into designing your own phone when Apple can do all the heavy lifting for you? We’ve seen countless iPhone copycats over the years, but we’ve never seen quite so many Android phone makers all copy Apple at once.
The new OnePlus 6 wouldn’t have a notch in its display had it not been for Apple’s iPhone X. That said, we’ve seen some Android phones out there that are complete iPhone X copycats from top to bottom. The OnePlus 6 might have the iPhone X’s notch, but it’s one of the tamest examples we’ve seen among Android phones that swiped Apple’s display design. The rest of the phone doesn’t look like the iPhone X at all. Actually, it sort of looks like someone slapped the front of the iPhone X onto the back of the LG G7 ThinQ… which is a phone that also stole Apple’s iPhone X display design, so I suppose one might say the OnePlus 6 simply looks like an LG G7 ThinQ.
There is one other way OnePlus might have taken inspiration from Apple, actually, and it’s a bit bizarre. Smartphones with glass backs have existed for years, but Apple didn’t switch to a design with an all-glass back until 2017 when it added wireless charging support to the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. This was a design decision born of necessity since current wireless charging technology doesn’t work efficiently through aluminum.
Purely by coincidence, I’m sure, OnePlus decided to adopt a new design for the OnePlus 6 this year that also uses a glass back. What’s so bizarre about that? Well, OnePlus decided to switch from a metal back to a more fragile glass back on the OnePlus 6… but it didn’t add wireless charging support to the phone.
That particular decision was a bit odd, sure, but the end result is a new flagship smartphone that looks fantastic. And there’s one thing in particular about the OnePlus 6’s design that I actually believe to be a big improvement over Apple’s iPhone X. It’s something I’ve discussed several times in the past here on the site: The size.
The 5.8 inch display measurement on the iPhone X is somewhat misleading. Yes, the phone’s beautiful OLED does in fact measure 5.8 inches diagonally. But the iPhone X’s excessively narrow aspect ratio of 19.5:9 means the total surface area of the display isn’t very large at all. In fact, the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus actually has a bigger display than the 5.8-inch iPhone X.
OnePlus’ display on the OnePlus 6 measures 6.28 inches diagonally, and it’s sooooo much better. The aspect ratio is about the same at 19:9, but the added size makes all the difference in the world. The iPhone X can feel a bit cramped at times, and fonts can be a bit small on some pages. Meanwhile, everything is crystal clear on the OnePlus 6’s nice big display.
As I’ve mentioned a few times on the site — most recently in a post titled “2018 might be the first year I don’t buy a flagship iPhone” — this is going to be a tricky year for me and countless other iPhone users out there who are in the same boat. Finding the right balance between screen size and overall phone size is tough.
Apple’s upcoming “iPhone X Plus” is expected to have a 6.5-inch screen, and I think that’s going to make the phone too large to be used comfortably with one hand. There will supposedly be a 6.1-inch iPhone model as well, and it might end up being the perfect size. But that model will have an LCD screen instead of OLED, less impressive specs, and maybe even a “chin” bezel at the bottom (which would be a deal-breaker).
The OnePlus 6 is a great size with its 6.28-inch display. It’s narrower and a bit shorter than the iPhone 8 Plus, so it’s a bit more comfortable to use with one hand. I still wouldn’t mind a phone that’s a tiny bit narrower though, and the 6.1-inch iPhone will likely fit the bill. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to find out exactly what the tradeoffs will be for people who opt for Apple’s upcoming mid-range iPhone model."
OnePlus copied the iPhone X, but it also improved Apple’s design in one important way – BGR