Google

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos (theverge.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."
Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

Windows

Microsoft Is Now Selling a Surface Laptop With An Intel Core m3 Processor For $799 (windowscentral.com) 108

Microsoft has begun offering a lower specced Surface laptop running Windows 10 S and an Intel Core m3 processor. It's priced at $799, compared to the standard model's $999 price, and is only available in the platinum color configuration. Windows Central reports: The Intel Core m3 spec is paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB Storage. This is definitely not a high-end model of the Surface Laptop, but it's still a premium one, with the same Alcantara fabric and high-quality display found on other Surface Laptop SKUs. Microsoft offers an Intel Core m3 model of the Surface Pro priced at $799 also, however that SKU doesn't come bundled with a keyboard or pen. At least with the Surface Laptop, you're getting a keyboard and trackpad in the box, so perhaps the Intel Core m3 Laptop is going to be the better choice for many. If you're looking for a straight laptop by Microsoft, that is. Some other specs include a 2256 x 1504 resolution display, Intel HD graphics 615, 720p webcam with Windows Hello face-authentication, Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium, one full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack and Surface Connect port. The device measures in a 12.13 inches x 8.79 inches x 0.57 inches and weighs 2.76 pounds.
Android

LG Settles Bootloop Lawsuit With $425 Cash Or a $700 Rebate Toward a New LG Phone (androidpolice.com) 38

Early last year, a class-action lawsuit was filed against LG over bootloop issues affecting their G4 and V10 smartphones. Now, according to a settlement website set up by the law firm Girard Gibbs, members of the lawsuit have received a settlement offer. The only catch is that the settlement is only for plaintiffs of the initial case. Android Police reports: LG is offering plaintiffs either $425 as a cash settlement or a $700 rebate toward the purchase of a new LG phone. That's pretty generous, and it's clear that's going to help offset some of the anger LG's created with this whole incident. If you're one of the plaintiffs, you don't have to mail in your broken phone or anything, you just get the settlement offer, straight up. Members of the class will be contacted shortly with instructions on how to take advantage of the settlement. Payments will be distributed beginning in March.
Iphone

Apple Begins Selling Refurbished iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Models (macrumors.com) 75

Apple today has added refurbished iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models to its online store for the first time in the United States. MacRumors reports: iPhone 7 models are available in all three storage capacities, including 32GB for $499, 128GB for $589, and 256GB for $679, reflecting savings of 10 percent off Apple's current prices for brand new models. All five colors are currently in stock, including Black, Jet Black, Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold. iPhone 7 Plus models with 32GB or 128GB of storage are available for $599 and $689 respectively, which is also 10 percent off. There are no 256GB models in stock. Available colors include Black, Gold, and Rose Gold. Apple says all refurbished iPhone models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged with a new white box and all manuals and accessories. Apple also installs a new battery and replaces the outer shell, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between a refurbished and brand new iPhone. Any refurbished iPhone model comes with Apple's standard one-year warranty effective on the date the device is delivered. The warranty can be extended to up to two years from the original purchase date with AppleCare+, at a cost of $129 for the iPhone 7 and $149 for the iPhone 7 Plus in the United States.
Patents

Amazon Patents Wristbands Designed To Track and Steer Employees' Movements (nydailynews.com) 96

New submitter hyperclocker shares a report from NY Daily News: Amazon workplace employees may soon be guided by their wrists. The tech company this week received two patents for a wristband designed to guide warehouse workers' movements with the use of vibrations. The concept relies on ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions to detect the position of an employee's hand in relation to a series of inventory bins, GeekWire reported. Upon receiving product orders, warehouse workers are required to retrieve the requested item from such bins or shelves and pack it in a delivery box before moving on to the next order. If a worker's hands begin to move toward the wrong direction, the proposed "haptic feedback system" would cause the wristband to buzz and direct their hand in the correct direction. The wristbands, according to the patent documents, were designed as a means to keep track of products within Amazon warehouses as well as up day-to-day productivity. The proposed tech, however, could also provide Amazon management with a new means of workplace surveillance that would alert them to staffers who are wasting time or breaking for too long.
Software

Pocket-Sized DNA Reader Used To Scan Entire Human Genome Sequence (arstechnica.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A few years back, a company called Oxford Nanopore announced it was developing a radically different way of sequencing DNA. Its approach involved taking single strands of the double helix and stuffing them through a protein pore. With a small bit of current flowing across the pore, the four bases of DNA each created a distinct (if tiny) change in the voltage as it passed through. These could be used to read the DNA one base at a time as it wiggled through the pore. After several years of slow progress, Oxford Nanopore announced that its sequencing hardware would be as distinctive as its wetware: a USB device that could fit comfortably in a person's hand. As the first devices went out to users, it became clear that the device had some pros and cons. On the plus side, the device was quick and could be used without requiring a large facility to support it. It could also read very long stretches of DNA at once. But the downside was significant: it made lots of mistakes.

With a few years of experience, people are now starting to learn to make the most of the devices, as demonstrated by a new paper in which researchers use it to help sequence a human genome. By using the machine's long reads -- in one case, nearly 900,000 bases from one DNA molecule -- the authors were able to get data out of areas of the human genome that resisted characterization before. And they were able to distinguish between the two sets of chromosomes (one from mom, one from dad) and locate areas of epigenetic control in many areas of the genome. In light of all the distinct information it can provide, the machine's error rate is seeming like less of a problem.

IOS

There May Not Be An iPhone SE 2 After All (theverge.com) 58

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo issued a research note today that casts doubt on rumors about a second-generation iPhone SE launching in the second quarter of 2018. If there is a successor, customers can expect a minor update that amounts to a run-of-the-mill spec boost and no new features like wireless charging or Face ID. The Verge reports: According to Kuo, between the three phones Apple released last year (iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X) and the three phones rumored to be released this fall, the company may not have enough development resources for an SE follow up as a fourth phone for 2018. That said, Kuo also does acknowledge that a basic processor update could still happen, but it seems that SE fans should keep expectations low. The iPhone SE still fills an interesting place in Apple's lineup. It uses the same design as the iPhone 5, which was released in 2012, with the 2015 internals of an iPhone 6s. This means the current model would get a boost in processor speed -- something that will likely continue to get worse with the presumed release of iOS 12 this fall. But SE is still popular for its low price and smaller size among consumers. Compared to the giant 6-inch-plus phones Apple is rumored to be releasing this year, it could make sense to keep an updated version of the smaller SE around.
Operating Systems

Apple Prepares MacOS Users For Discontinuation of 32-Bit App Support (arstechnica.com) 180

Last year, Apple announced that macOS High Sierra "will be the last macOS release to support 32-bit apps without compromise." Now, in the macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 beta, Apple is notifying users of the impending change, too. "To prepare for a future release of macOS in which 32-bit software will no longer run without compromise, starting in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4, a user is notified on the launch of an app that depends on 32-bit software. The alert appears only once per app," Apple says in the beta release notes. Ars Technica reports: When users attempt to launch a 32-bit app in 10.13.4, it will still launch, but it will do so with a warning message notifying the user that the app will eventually not be compatible with the operating system unless it is updated. This follows the same approach that Apple took with iOS, which completed its sunset of 32-bit app support with iOS 11 last fall. Developers and users curious about how this will play out will be able to look at the similar process in iOS for context. On January 1 of this year, Apple stopped accepting 32-bit app submissions in the Mac App Store. This June, the company will also stop accepting updates for existing 32-bit applications. iOS followed a similar progression, with 32-bit app submissions ending in February of 2015 and acceptance of app updates for 32-bit apps ending in June of 2015.
Operating Systems

Fitbit Will End Support For Pebble Smartwatches In June (arstechnica.com) 93

Today, Fitbit announced that it will extend its support of the Pebble smartwatch ecosystem, including devices, software, and forums, until June 30, 2018. "During this time, we invite the Pebble community to explore how familiar highlights from the Pebble ecosystem are evolving on the Fitbit platform, from apps and clock faces to features and experiences," the company's blog post states. Ars Technica reports: Fitbit's invitation is a hopeful one for the company itself. After the buyout, members of the Pebble team helped Fitbit develop its own smartwatch OS that debuted on the $300 Fitbit Ionic last year. Fitbit is likely hoping that diehard members of the Pebble community, many of which developed apps and programs for the smartwatch platform, will try making similar programs for Fitbit's new wearable operating system. The Fitbit SDK is already quite accessible, allowing developers to sign up and start building programs using all-online tools. But in addition to the accessibility of the SDK, Fitbit wants to entice Pebble users with a discount: users with a valid Pebble device serial number can get $50 off a Fitbit Ionic smartwatch. It's currently the only device that runs Fitbit OS, and it's useful to have if you want to test out any apps made with the SDK. But for those who want nothing to do with Fitbit OS development and only care about how long their Pebbles will last, this news is bittersweet. According to Fitbit's announcement, Pebble devices will continue to work after June 30, but these features will stop working: the Pebble app store, the Pebble forum, voice recognition features, SMS and email replies, timeline pins from third-party apps (although calendar pins will still function), and the CloudPebble development tool.
Medicine

Apple Adds Medical Records Feature For iPhone (cnbc.com) 101

On Wednesday, Apple released the test version of a new product that lets users download their health records, store them safely and show them to a doctor, caregiver or friend. "We view the future as consumers owning their own health data," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in an interview with CNBC. From the report: It all works when a user opens the iPhone's health app, navigates to the health record section, and, on the new tool, adds a health provider. From there, the user taps to connect to Apple's software system and data start streaming into the service. Patients will get notified via an alert if new information becomes available. In June, CNBC first reported on Apple's plans, including early discussions with top U.S. hospitals. The company confirmed that it has contracts with about a dozen hospitals across the country, including Cedars-Sinai, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine and the University of California, San Diego. The medical information available will include allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals. The information is encrypted and protected through a user's iPhone passcode.
Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Wireless Networking

Google Releases Fix For Chromecast Wi-Fi Crashes (zdnet.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Google on Wednesday said it will release an update Jan. 18 to fix a bug in Cast software on Android phones that dramatically slows down WiFi networks. Reports have been circulating this week that the Google Home Max speaker can knock the TP-Link Archer C7 router offline. In a support page, Google explains a bug caused the Cast software that connects with Chromecast devices to send a large amount of network traffic routers can't handle. Google said the update will roll out via a Google Play services update. Until the update is released, Google advises users to try rebooting their Android phone, and check that their WiFi router is updated with the latest firmware. Google didn't list specific routers impacted by the bug, but reports have indicated routers from Linksys and Synology are seeing network crashes as well.
Operating Systems

Google's Fuchsia OS On the Pixelbook (arstechnica.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: Our early look at Fuchsia OS last May provided a glimpse into a number of new interface paradigms. Several months later, we now have an updated hands-on with Google's future operating system that can span various form factors. This look at the in-development OS eight months later comes courtesy of Ars Technica who managed to get Fuchsia installed on the Pixelbook. The Made by Google Chromebook is only the third officially supported "target device" for Fuchsia development. As our last dive into the non-Linux kernel OS was through an Android APK, we did not encounter a lockscreen. The Ars hands-on shows a basic one that displays the time at center and Fuchsia logo in the top-left corner to switch between phone and desktop/tablet mode, while a FAB (of sorts) in the opposite corner lets users bring up WiFi controls, Login, and Guest.

Only Guest is fully functioning at this stage -- at least for non-Google employees. Once in this mode, we encounter an interface similar to the one we spotted last year. The big difference is how Google has filled in demo information and tweaked some elements. On phones and tablets, Fuchsia essentially has three zones. Recent apps are above, at center are controls, and below is a mixture of the Google Feed and Search. The controls swap out the always-displayed profile icon for a Fuchsia button. Tapping still surfaces Quick Settings which actually reflect current device battery levels and IP address. Impressively, Ars found a working web browser that can actually surf the internet. Google.com is the default homepage, with users able to visit other sites through that search bar. Other examples of applications, which are just static images, include a (non-working) phone dialer, video player, and Google Docs. The Google Calendar is notable for having subtle differences to any known version, including the tablet or web app.

Privacy

Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data To the Government (zdnet.com) 105

Zack Whittaker reports via ZDNet of how Amazon still won't say whether or not it hands your Echo data to the government -- three years after the Echo was first released. From the report: Amazon has a transparency problem. Three years ago, the retail giant became the last major tech company to reveal how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders it received for customer data in a half-year period. While every other tech giant had regularly published its government request figures for years, spurred on by accusations of participation in government surveillance, Amazon had been largely forgotten. Eventually, people noticed and Amazon acquiesced. Since then, Amazon's business has expanded. By its quarterly revenue, it's no longer a retail company -- it's a cloud giant and a device maker. The company's flagship Echo, an "always listening" speaker, collects vast amounts of customer data that's openly up for grabs by the government. But Amazon's bi-annual transparency figures don't want you to know that. In fact, Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has -- and continues -- to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Security

Many Enterprise Mobile Devices Will Never Be Patched Against Meltdown, Spectre (betanews.com) 104

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: The Meltdown and Spectre bugs have been in the headlines for a couple of weeks now, but it seems the patches are not being installed on handsets. Analysis of more than 100,000 enterprise mobile devices shows that just a tiny percentage of them have been protected against the vulnerabilities -- and some simply may never be protected. Security firm Bridgeway found that just 4 percent of corporate phones and tablets in the UK have been patched against Spectre and Meltdown. Perhaps more worryingly, however, its research also found that nearly a quarter of enterprise mobile devices will never receive a patch because of their age. Organizations are advised to check for the availability of patches for their devices, and to install them as soon as possible. Older devices that will never be patched -- older than Marshmallow, for example -- should be replaced to ensure security, says Bridgeway.
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 152

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
Encryption

FBI Calls Apple 'Jerks' and 'Evil Geniuses' For Making iPhone Cracks Difficult (itwire.com) 348

troublemaker_23 shares a report from iTWire: A forensics expert from the FBI has lashed out at Apple, calling the company's security team a bunch of "jerks" and "evil geniuses" for making it more difficult to circumvent the encryption on its devices. Stephen Flatley told the International Conference on Cyber Security in New York on Wednesday that one example of the way that Apple had made it harder for him and his colleagues to break into the iPhone was by recently making the password guesses slower, with a change in hash iterations from 10,000 to 10,000,000. A report on the Motherboard website said Flatley explained that this change meant that the speed at which one could brute-force passwords went from 45 attempts a second to one every 18 seconds. "Your crack time just went from two days to two months," he was quoted as saying. "At what point is it just trying to one up things and at what point is it to thwart law enforcement? Apple is pretty good at evil genius stuff," Flatley added.
Cellphones

Future Samsung Phones Will Have a Working FM Radio Chip (androidpolice.com) 215

A few months ago, LG announced a partnership with NextRadio to unlock the FM chip in its smartphones. Now, Samsung is doing the same. Android Police reports: NextRadio made the announcement, rightly explaining that FM radio is essential in areas with low connectivity and in emergency and disaster situations where a connection might be difficult to obtain or maintain and where access to information could be a matter of life and death. With the chip unlocked, users will be able to listen to local radio on their phone using the NextRadio Android app. The press release mentions that "upcoming [Samsung] smartphone models in the U.S. and Canada" will have the FM chip unlocked, however I did find several existing Samsung devices with their FM chip enabled on NextRadio's site.
China

Apple To Transfer Chinese iCloud Operations To Chinese Firm (bbc.com) 72

Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month, the tech giant has confirmed, though Apple will still have access to all data stored on iCloud. The company said it had made the move to comply with the country's cloud computing regulations. iCloud accounts registered outside of China are not affected. BBC reports: The Chinese cyber security rules, introduced in July last year, include a requirement for companies to store all data within China. The firm, Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China. Guizhou is where Apple opened a $1 billion data center last year to meet the regulations. iCloud data will be transferred from February 28, Apple said. Customers living in mainland China who did not want to use iCloud operated by GCBD were given the option to terminate their account. Apple said the "partnership" with GCBD would allow it to "improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies." It added that Apple had "strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems." However, some on social media have said the step gives Beijing more opportunity to monitor its citizens and others living in the country.

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