Android

Everything New In the Android 8.1 Oreo Developer Preview (theverge.com) 42

On Wednesday, Google launched the Android 8.1 Developer Preview. The new version of Android is available for Pixel and Nexus devices, and features a number of under-the-hood changes. The new version tests another change to notifications in which apps can only make a notification sound alert once per second. It also contains an Easter egg: the Android Oreo logo now looks like an actual cookie. The Verge reports that 8.1 is eventually supposed to activate the hidden Pixel Visual Core system-on-a-chip, which aims to make image processing smoother and HDR+ available to third-party developers.
Microsoft

Microsoft Is Working On a Foldable Device With a Focus On Pen and Digital Ink (windowscentral.com) 87

Microsoft is reportedly working on a foldable device with an emphasis on pen and digital-ink functionality that runs Windows 10, and it could be here as soon as next year. The company is looking to create a new category-defining mobile device that's aimed at an entirely new demographic, and that puts pen and digital inking at the forefront of the experience. Windows Central reports: At Windows Central, we've been covering two ongoing internal projects within Microsoft: CShell and Windows Core OS. Both of these projects play an important part in Microsoft's next rumored mobile device, which appears to be commonly referred to as "Andromeda" on the web. According to our sources, the Andromeda device is prototype hardware; a foldable tablet that runs Windows 10 built with Windows Core OS, along with CShell to take advantage of its foldable display. I imagine CShell plays an important roll in the foldable aspect of this device. Considering it's foldable, being a tablet doesn't mean much, and I'm told it's designed to be pocketable when folded, kind of like a phone. I make the comparison to a phone because I'm also hearing that it also has telephony capabilities, meaning you could replace your actual smartphone with it and still be able to take calls and texts. My sources make it clear, however, that this is not supposed to be a smartphone replacement but rather a device similar to the canceled "Microsoft Courier." In short, Andromeda is a digital pocket notebook.
Android

Roku Wants To Start Streaming To Third-Party Devices (variety.com) 25

According to Variety, Roku is looking to start streaming videos on devices made or controlled by competitors like Apple and Google. The company's first foray into streaming on third-party hardware will likely involve mobile devices. From the report: The move could further accelerate Roku's efforts to transition from a hardware-revenue-based to a services-based business model -- a transition that has been in progress for years. Now, it plans to also stream some content on devices that don't run its operating system, with mobile being a likely first step. Key to Roku's expansion into mobile video is going to be the company's existing mobile app, which has already been downloaded tens of millions of times on iOS and Android. The app's current primary function is remote control, as it allows owners of Roku streaming devices and Roku-powered TVs to control these devices directly from their phones. In fact, the app can't currently be operated if there is not a Roku device available on the same Wifi network. This could change soon, as Roku is looking to integrate video playback directly into its mobile app. A first step is likely going to be the integration of the Roku Channel, an ad-supported channel that the company launched last month. The Roku Channel currently offers free, ad-supported access to several hundred movies from major studios like Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. as well as smaller publishers like American Classics, Fandor, FilmRise, Nosey, OVGuide, Popcornflix, Vidmark, and YuYu. However, Roku has been asking publishers to also grant the company the rights to stream their titles on mobile devices, according to a source familiar with these stipulations.
Businesses

Why We Must Fight For the Right To Repair Our Electronics (ieee.org) 224

Kyle Wiens and Gay Gordon-Byrne explain via IEEE Spectrum how people in the United States can preserve their right to repair electronics, and why people must fight for the right in the first place. Here's an excerpt from their report: So how can people in the United States preserve their right to repair electronics? The answer is now apparent: through right-to-repair legislation enacted at the state level. Popular support on this issue has been clear since 2012, when 86 percent of the voters in Massachusetts endorsed a ballot initiative that would "[require] motor vehicle manufacturers to allow vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in Massachusetts to have access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturers' Massachusetts dealers and authorized repair facilities." Carmakers howled in protest, but after the law passed, they decided not to fight independent repair. Indeed, in January 2014 they entered into a national memorandum of understanding [PDF], voluntarily extending the terms of the Massachusetts law to the entire country. The commercial vehicle industry followed suit in October 2015. Now we need right-to-repair legislation for other kinds of equipment, too, particularly electronic equipment, which is the focus of "digital right to repair" initiatives in many states.

Similar to the Massachusetts legislation for automobiles, these digital-right-to-repair proposals would require manufacturers to provide access to service documentation, tools, firmware, and diagnostic programs. They also would require manufacturers to sell replacement parts to consumers and independent repair facilities at reasonable prices. The bills introduced this year in a dozen states have some variations. The ones in Kansas and Wyoming, for example, are limited to farm equipment. The one most likely to be adopted soon is in Massachusetts, which seeks to outlaw the monopoly on repair parts and information within the state. If it passes, electronics manufacturers will probably change their practices nationwide. Consumers would then have more choices when something breaks. The next time your smartphone screen cracks, your microwave oven gets busted, or your TV dies, you may be able to get it fixed quickly, affordably, and fairly. And you, not the manufacturer, would decide where your equipment is repaired: at home, with the manufacturer, or at a local repair shop that you trust.

Android

Some Pixel 2 Users Are Complaining About A High-Pitched Whine and Clicking Noises (arstechnica.com) 105

After dealing with all sorts of screen issues, another problem with Google's flagship smartphone is popping up. This time it's an audio issue: users on Google's official forums and elsewhere are reporting odd sounds coming from the Pixel 2 speakers. Ars Technica reports: Customers are complaining of "clicking" and a "high-pitched whine" coming from the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Most reports on the forums say the noises are coming from the top or bottom speaker on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Some reports say the sounds come through during calls, while other users say the speaker noises happen any time the screen is on. A user made a recording of the sound, which can be heard here. Most users are being told to return their devices after contacting support, but at least one person claims they were told this issue would be patched in an upcoming update. One possible workaround is to turn off NFC, which some users say stops or lowers the noises.
Robotics

Sony Reportedly Announcing New Robot Dog Next Month (wsj.com) 45

Zorro shares a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Sony Corp. is planning next spring to roll out a dog-shaped pet robot similar to its discontinued Aibo with updated components that could allow it to control home appliances, people familiar with the matter said. Sony is preparing for a media event in November to show off the product, the people said. It is unclear whether the new product will use the Aibo name and how much it will cost. Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said last year at a strategy briefing that the company was developing "a robot capable of forming an emotional bond with customers, and able to grow to inspire love and affection." He told The Wall Street Journal at the time that the company might make an Aibo-like dog robot. The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier this month that Sony was targeting spring 2018 for the release of a home robot.
Social Networks

Snapchat Reportedly Stuck With 'Hundreds of Thousands' of Unsold Spectacles (theverge.com) 63

According to The Information, Snapchat expected demand for its camera-equipped glasses known as Spectacles to continue after the holidays and ordered "hundreds of thousands" of additional units. But demand didn't pick up after the company opened up its sales to a wider audience, leaving those units to collect dust in warehouses. The Verge reports: It's not known exactly how many Spectacles have been sold so far, but from the sound of it, Snap may have dramatically over-ordered units of its debut hardware device. Earlier this month, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said the company had sold "over 150,000 units," which sounds pretty bad in the context of having hundreds of thousands sitting around waiting to be sold; although The Information says that figure includes unassembled units with parts that could potentially be used in other products. Spiegel has tried to paint Spectacles as both relatively successful and merely an early start in hardware. He claims they outsold Apple's first iPod -- a comparison clearly meant to suggest they could eventually have enormous success. But Spiegel also said hardware would really only be important to Snap a decade from now.
Android

ZTE Launches Axon M, a Foldable, Dual-Screened Smartphone (theverge.com) 61

ZTE's new Axon M is a full-featured smartphone with a hinge that connects two full-size displays, making the Axon M a flip phone of sorts. "Its front screen is a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, it has last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20-megapixel camera," reports The Verge. "But flip the phone over and there's an identical 5.2-inch display on the back, making the Axon M anything but run-of-the-mill." From the report: The M's hinge allows the rear screen to flip forward and slot right next to the main display, creating an almost tablet sized canvas. You can stretch the home screen and apps across the two displays for a larger working area, or you can run two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. You can also "tent" the phone, and mirror the displays so two people can see the same content at the same time. ZTE says that it is utilizing Android's default split-screen features to enable many of the dual-screen functions, and it has made sure the "top 100" Android apps work on the phone. In the "extended" mode, which stretches a single app across both screens, the tablet version of the app is presented (provided there is one, which isn't always a guarantee with Android apps). It's even possible to stream video on both screens at the same time and switch the audio between them on the fly, which might be useful if you want to watch a sports game and YouTube at the same time, I guess.
Google

Google Slashes Prices of Its USB-C Headphone Dongle Following Minor Outrage (mashable.com) 198

At its hardware event last week, Google unveiled its two new flagship smartphones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While these devices feature high-end specifications and the latest version of Android, they both lack headphone jacks, upsetting many consumers who still rely heavily on wired headphones. To add insult to injury, Google announced a USB-C adapter for a whopping price of $20 -- that's $11 more than Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This resulted in some minor outrage and caused Google to rethink its decision(s). As reported by 9to5Google, Google decided to slash the price of the dongle by over 50%. It is now priced at a more reasonable $9.
IOS

Latest iOS Update Shows Apple Can Use Software To Break Phones Repaired By Independent Shops (vice.com) 128

The latest version of iOS fixes several bugs, including one that caused a loss of touch functionality on a small subset of phones that had been repaired with certain third-party screens and had been updated to iOS 11. "Addresses an issue where touch input was unresponsive on some iPhone 6S displays because they were not serviced with genuine Apple parts," the update reads. "Note: Non-genuine replacement displays may have compromised visual quality and may fail to work correctly. Apple-certified screen repairs are performed by trusted experts who use genuine Apple parts. See support.apple.com for more information." Jason Koebler writes via Motherboard: "This is a reminder that Apple seems to have the ability to push out software updates that can kill hardware and replacement parts it did not sell iPhone customers itself, and that it can fix those same issues remotely." From the report: So let's consider what actually happened here. iPhones that had been repaired and were in perfect working order suddenly stopped working after Apple updated its software. Apple was then able to fix the problem remotely. Apple then put out a warning blaming the parts that were used to do the repair. Poof -- phone doesn't work. Poof -- phone works again. In this case, not all phones that used third party parts were affected, and there's no reason to think that, in this case, Apple broke these particular phones on purpose. But there is currently nothing stopping the company from using software to control unauthorized repair: For instance, you cannot replace the home button on an iPhone 7 without Apple's proprietary "Horizon Machine" that re-syncs a new home button with the repaired phone. This software update is concerning because it not only undermines the reputation of independent repair among Apple customers, but because it shows that phones that don't use "genuine" parts could potentially one day be bricked remotely.
Iphone

Apple To Ditch Touch ID Altogether For All of Next Year's iPhones (macrumors.com) 137

Earlier this week, a report said that Apple is planning to equip next year's iPad Pro with the hardware necessary for Face ID. Now, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it appears the company is taking that one step further with its 2018 iPhones. All of the iPhones Apple plans to produce next year will reportedly abandon the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in favor of facial recognition. Mac Rumors reports: According to Kuo, Apple will embrace Face ID as its authentication method for a competitive advantage over Android smartphones. Kuo has previously said that it could take years for Android smartphone manufacturers to produce technology that can match the TrueDepth camera and the Face ID feature coming in the iPhone X. Face ID, says Kuo, will continue to be a major selling point of the new iPhone models in 2018, with Apple planning to capitalize on its lead in 3D sensing design and production. Kuo's prediction suggests that all upcoming 2018 iPhones will feature a full-screen design with minimal bezels like the iPhone X, meaning no additional models with the iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus design would be produced. That would spell the end of the line for Touch ID in the iPhone, which has been available as a biometric authentication option since 2013.
Data Storage

Researcher Turns HDD Into Rudimentary Microphone (bleepingcomputer.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes from Bleeping Computer: Speaking at a security conference, researcher Alfredo Ortega has revealed that you can use your hard disk drive (HDD) as a rudimentary microphone to pick up nearby sounds. This is possible because of how hard drives are designed to work. Sounds or nearby vibrations are nothing more than mechanical waves that cause HDD platters to vibrate. By design, a hard drive cannot read or write information to an HDD platter that moves under vibrations, so the hard drive must wait for the oscillation to stop before carrying out any actions. Because modern operating systems come with utilities that measure HDD operations up to nanosecond accuracy, Ortega realized that he could use these tools to measure delays in HDD operations. The longer the delay, the louder the sound or the intense the vibration that causes it. These read-write delays allowed the researcher to reconstruct sound or vibration waves picked up by the HDD platters. A video demo is here.

"It's not accurate yet to pick up conversations," Ortega told Bleeping Computer in a private conversation. "However, there is research that can recover voice data from very low-quality signals using pattern recognition. I didn't have time to replicate the pattern-recognition portion of that research into mine. However, it's certainly applicable." Furthermore, the researcher also used sound to attack hard drives. Ortega played a 130Hz tone to make an HDD stop responding to commands. "The Linux kernel disconnected it entirely after 120 seconds," he said. There's a video of this demo on YouTube.

Businesses

The Real Inside Story of How Commodore Failed (youtube.com) 261

dryriver writes: Everybody who was into computers in the 1980s and 1990s remembers Commodore producing amazingly innovative, capable and popular multimedia and gaming computers one moment, and disappearing off the face of the earth the next, leaving only PCs and Macs standing. Much has been written about what went wrong with Commodore over the years, but always by outsiders looking in -- journalists, tech writers, not people who were on the inside. In a 34 minute long Youtube interview that surfaced on October 9th, former Commodore UK Managing Director David John Pleasance and Trevor Dickinson of A-EON Technology talk very frankly about how Commodore really failed, and just how crazy bad and preventable the business and tech decisions that killed Commodore were, from firing all Amiga engineers for no discernible reason, to hiring 40 IBM engineers who didn't understand multimedia computing, to not licensing the then-valuable Commodore Business Machines (CBM) brand to PC makers to generate an extra revenue stream, to one new manager suddenly deciding to manufacture in the Philippines -- a place where the man had a lady mistress apparently. The interview is a truly eye-opening preview of an upcoming book David John Pleasance is writing called Commodore: The Inside Story . The book will, for the first time, chronicle the fall of Commodore from the insider perspective of an actual Commodore Managing Director.
Google

Google Is Really Good At Design 187

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens. You could imagine them in your living room, your den, your bedroom. Your teleportation chamber. A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with. A VR headset in stunning pink. A phone with playful pops of color and an interface that seems to presage what you want, when you want it. It's weird. It's subtle. It's... good. It's Google? It's Google.

It was only a few years ago that Google was actually something of a laughing stock when it came to design. As an aggressively engineer-led company, the Mountain View behemoth's early efforts, particularly with its mobile software and devices, focused not on beauty, elegance, or simplicity, but rather concentrated on flexibility, iteration, and scale. These are useful priorities for a utilitarian search engine, but didn't translate well to many of the company's other products. Design -- the mysterious intersection of art and communication -- was a second-class citizen at Google, subordinate to The Data. That much was clear from the top down.

Enter Matias Duarte, the design impresario who was responsible for the Sidekick's UI (a wacky, yet strangely prescient mobile-everything concept) and later, the revolutionary (though ill-fated) webOS -- the striking mobile operating system and design language that would be Palm's final, valiant attempt at reclaiming the mobile market. Duarte was hired by Google in 2013 (initially as Android's User Experience Director, though he is now VP of design at the company), and spearheaded a complete reset of the company's visual and functional instincts. But even Duarte was aware of the design challenges his new role presented. "I never thought I'd work for Google," he told Surface Magazine in August. "I had zero ambition to work for Google. Everybody knew Google was a terrible place for design." Duarte went to work on a system that would ultimately be dubbed Material Design -- a set of principles that not only began to dictate how Android should look and work as a mobile operating system, but also triggered the march toward a unified system of design that slowly but surely pulled Google's disparate network of services into something that much more closely resembled a singular vision. A school of thought. A family.
Power

Driverless Cars Are Giving Engineers a Fuel Economy Headache (bloomberg.com) 208

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: Judging from General Motors' test cars and Elon Musk's predictions, the world is headed toward a future that's both driverless and all-electric. In reality, autonomy and battery power could end up being at odds. That's because self-driving technology is a huge power drain. Some of today's prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume two to four kilowatts of electricity -- the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars -- likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road -- will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone. A fully autonomous subcompact car like a Honda Fit, for example, will get 54.6 miles to the gallon in 2025 in the best-case scenario, more than 5 miles below the U.S. emissions target, according to BorgWarner. A small pickup or SUV would be at 45.8 mpg, versus a target of 50. Engineers don't have much time to resolve this, as companies are planning to deploy their first fully self-driving cars in the next couple of years. One way for automakers to meet the power-hungry needs of self-driving systems will be to use gasoline-electric hybrid models rather than purely electric cars, said Mary Gustanski, chief technology officer of supplier Delphi Automotive Plc's powertrain business.
Google

Google Permanently Disables Touch Function On All Home Minis Due To Privacy Concerns (bbc.co.uk) 48

Big Hairy Ian shares a report from BBC: Google has stopped its Home Mini speakers responding when users touch them. It permanently turned off the touch activation feature after it found that sensors primed to spot a finger tap were too sensitive. Early users found that the touch sensors were registering "phantom" touches that turned them on. This meant the speakers were recording everything around them thousands of times a day. Google said it disabled the feature to give users "peace of mind." Google's Home Mini gadgets were unveiled on October 4th as part of a revamp of its line of smart speakers. The intelligent assistant feature on it could be activated two ways -- by either saying "OK, Google" or by tapping the surface. About 4,000 Google Home Mini units were distributed to early reviewers and those who attended Google's most recent launch event. Artem Russakovskii from Android Police first discovered the issue with his unit, ultimately causing Google to "permanently [nerf] all Home Minis" because his spied on everything he said 24/7.
Privacy

DJI Unveils Technology To Identify and Track Airborne Drones (suasnews.com) 61

garymortimer shares a report from sUAS News: DJI, the world's leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, has unveiled AeroScope, its new solution to identify and monitor airborne drones with existing technology that can address safety, security and privacy concerns. AeroScope uses the existing communications link between a drone and its remote controller to broadcast identification information such as a registration or serial number, as well as basic telemetry, including location, altitude, speed and direction. Police, security agencies, aviation authorities and other authorized parties can use an AeroScope receiver to monitor, analyze and act on that information. AeroScope has been installed at two international airports since April, and is continuing to test and evaluate its performance in other operational environments. AeroScope works with all current models of DJI drones, which analysts estimate comprise over two-thirds of the global civilian drone market. Since AeroScope transmits on a DJI drone's existing communications link, it does not require new on-board equipment or modifications, or require extra steps or costs to be incurred by drone operators. Other drone manufacturers can easily configure their existing and future drones to transmit identification information in the same way.
Android

Is the Chromebook the New Android Tablet? (computerworld.com) 182

An anonymous reader shares a report from Computerworld, where JR Raphael makes the case for why it's time to call the Chromebook the new Android tablet: What does a traditional Android tablet do that a convertible Chromebook doesn't? No matter how long you mull, it's tough to come up with much. Nowadays, a Chromebook runs the same apps from the same Google Play Store. It has an increasingly similar user interface, with a new touch-friendly and Android-reminiscent app launcher rolling out as we speak. It's likely to have an Android-like way of getting around the system before long, too, not to mention native integration of the Google Assistant (which is launching with the newly announced Pixelbook and then presumably spreading to other devices from there). But on top of all of that, a Chromebook offers meaningful advantages a traditional Android tablet simply can't match. It operates within the fast-booting, inherently secure, and free from manufacturer- or carrier-meddling Chrome OS environment. The operating system is updated every two to three weeks, directly by Google, for a minimum of five years. That's a sharp contrast to the software realities we see on Android -- and if you think the updates on Android phones are bad, let me tell you: The situation with Android tablets is worse.

In addition to the regular selection of Android apps, a Chromebook also gives you a desktop-caliber browser experience along with a laptop-level keyboard and capable trackpad. (And, as a side perk, that means you've got a built-in multi-mode stand for your tablet, too.) It's the best of both worlds, as I've put it before -- a whole new kind of platform-defying, all-purpose productivity and entertainment machine. And while it won't immediately lead to the outright extinction of traditional Android tablets, it certainly makes them seem like a watered-down and obsolete version of the same basic experience.

Books

Amazon Finally Makes a Waterproof Kindle (theverge.com) 67

After 10 years of Kindles, Amazon has finally made a kindle e-reader with an IPX8 waterproof rating. The new Kindle Oasis features a 7-inch display and aluminum back. The Verge reports: Unlike last year's Kindle Oasis, which used a magnetic case you attached to the e-reader to extend its battery life, the new Oasis relies entirely on its built-in battery. It has a similar physical design, with one thicker side that tapers down on the other side, for one-handed reading. But Amazon has made a point of saying that it managed to fit in a bigger battery, while keeping the tapered side of the device at 3.4 millimeters. The resolution of the e-paper display is the same at 300 ppi, but it has a couple extra LED lights now for a brighter, more even-looking display. And it also has ambient light sensors that adjust the brightness as you move from room to room, or from outdoors to indoors. There are physical page-turn buttons, plus the touchscreen page-turn option; Amazon says it's worked on both the hardware and software side of things to make page-turning feel faster. The new e-reader has been tested in two meters of water for up to 60 minutes. It's also been tested in different water environments, like hot tubs, pools, and bubble baths.
Iphone

Apple Doesn't Deliberately Slow Down Older Devices According To Benchmark Analysis (macrumors.com) 163

According to software company Futuremark, Apple doesn't intentionally slow down older iPhones when it releases new software updates as a way to encourage its customers to buy new devices. MacRumors reports: Starting in 2016, Futuremark collected over 100,000 benchmark results for seven different iPhone models across three versions of iOS, using that data to create performance comparison charts to determine whether there have been performance drops in iOS 9, iOS 10, and iOS 11. The first device tested was the iPhone 5s, as it's the oldest device capable of running iOS 11. iPhone 5s, released in 2013, was the first iPhone to get a 64-bit A7 chip, and iOS 11 is limited to 64-bit devices. Futuremark used the 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Graphics test and calculated all benchmark scores from the iPhone 5s across a given month to make its comparison. The higher the bar, the better the performance, and based on the testing, GPU performance on the iPhone 5s has remained constant from iOS 9 to iOS 11 with just minor variations that Futuremark says "fall well within normal levels." iPhone 5s CPU performance over time was measured using the 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme Physics test, and again, results were largely consistent. CPU performance across those three devices has dropped slightly, something Futuremark attributes to "minor iOS updates or other factors."

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