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Apple Delays Launch of HomePod Smart Speaker

November 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc has delayed the launch of its HomePod smart speaker, pushing it to early next year from December, the company said, missing the holiday shopping season as the market for such devices becomes increasingly competitive.

“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod … but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018,” an Apple spokeswoman said via email.

 Apple introduced the voice-controlled HomePod in June. The speaker, which can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures, takes aim at Amazon.com Inc’s Alexa feature and Echo devices.

Apple has forecast between $84 billion and $87 billion in revenue for the holiday – mostly driven by sales of its $999 iPhone X – so it’s unlikely that missing a few weeks of sales of its $349 speaker will affect its financial results, Bob O‘Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research, said.

People use voice assistants more often on smart speakers than on phones, so even if owners of Amazon or Google speakers also have an iPhone, there’s a good chance that they’re talking to Alexa or Google Assistant as much or more than Siri.

“Last holiday season, smart speakers were huge, and this season they’re going to be huge,” O‘Donnell said. With Apple’s delay, “there will now be some people who make a different choice. The market’s getting more and more competitive.”

Apple is also counting on HomePod to boost subscriptions to Apple Music and block the rise of rival Spotify. Smart speakers from Google and Amazon let users give voice commands to play Spotify, but Apple Music does not work on the rival devices.

Apple’s main pitch for its HomePod smart speakers was superior audio quality, but that advantage appears to be slipping: Sonos, which also pitches its speakers’ audio quality for music lovers, now features support for the Alexa voice assistant.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced the Echo Plus, a smart speaker with better audio quality, and Google confirmed to Reuters that its Home Max speaker with improved speakers will ship in December, though it has not given a specific date.

 But Apple could still have a surprise or two in store. The company gave scant details about its speaker in June, leaving it room to announce exclusive music content or other unexpected features, said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner.

“When HomePod comes out, you’ll probably hear some great content from artists that are familiar and popular, and there’s probably going to be some other special aspects as well,” he said.

Google Disable Offensive Keywords

September 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google announced that it has disabled a “majority” of the offensive keywords that BuzzFeed found could be used by advertisers to target people searching for racist and anti-Semitic topics.

Google, the world’s biggest advertising platform, not only allowed advertisers to target searches such as “Why do Jews ruin everything” but also suggested the user to run ads next to searches such as “the evil jew” and “jewish control of banks”, a campaign by BuzzFeed discovered.

The ads were visible when such keywords were searched for and Google’s ad buying platform tracked the ad views, according to the internet media company’s report based on the campaign.

Google disabled the keyword searches used in the campaign after BuzzFeed’s inquiry, except an exact match for “blacks destroy everything”, the report said.

“We’ve already turned off these suggestions and any ads that made it through, and will work harder to stop this from happening again,” Google’s senior vice president of ads Sridhar Ramaswamy said in an email.

The news comes a day after Facebook Inc said it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers to target based on people’s self-reported education and job information after a report that those features allowed targeting based on anti-Semitic topics.

Are Smart TVs Vulnerable To Wireless Hacking?

April 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

A security hole in smart TVs which allows a hacker to take over devices using rogue DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting — Terrestrial) signals, get root access on the smart TV has worried a Swiss cyber security expert.

Rafael Scheel, a security researcher working for Swiss cyber security consulting company Oneconsult, said the attack is unique and much more dangerous than previous smart TV hacks.

It is nasty because the attacker can execute it from a remote location, without user interaction, and runs in the TV’s background processes, meaning users won’t notice when an attacker compromises their TVs.

The hack is similar to one found in the CIA’s Weeping Angel toolkit, but apparently was developed without it.

Scheel says that “about 90% per cent of the TVs sold in the last years are potential victims of similar attacks”, highlighting a major flaw in the infrastructure surrounding smart TVs all over the globe.

The hole is in the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), an industry standard which is supported by most cable providers and smart TV makers. It “harmonizes” classic broadcast, IPTV, and broadband delivery systems. TV transmission signal technologies like DVB-T, DVB-C, or IPTV all support HbbTV.

Scheel says that anyone can set up a custom DVB-T transmitter with equipment priced between $50-$150, and start broadcasting a DVB-T signal.

Courtesy-Fud

Google Adds Australian Accents And Slang To Its Software

February 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Internet search giant Google has finally added Australian slang and language recognition to its applications, addressing complaints that its software had difficulty in understanding thick local accents and complex place names.

Long accustomed to having their distinctive slang misunderstood, Australians can now substitute “footy” for football, “arvo” for afternoon and find directions to Mullumbimby or Goondiwindi, a spokesman told Reuters.

The extended vocabulary came after Google, which is now part of holding company Alphabet Inc, added an Australian accented voice to its Google Maps and search applications last week.

“People are starting to talk to their phones much more regularly now. Mobile voice searchers have doubled in the last year,” Google Australia spokesman Shane Treeves said.

“Particularly all those tricky Aussie place names, they just sound much better in an Aussie voice that can get them right.”

Google and its chief competitor, Apple Inc, have saturated the United States and Western Europe with their devices, leaving foreign language markets as some of the prime places to grow.

In December, Apple released a version of its virtual personal assistant, Siri, for Arabic speakers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Google’s Android phones’ search function already offered some support in Arabic.

Google’s Android operating system was used by roughly 54 percent of mobile devices sold in Australia in December, placing it ahead of Apple iOS at 38 percent, according to data published by research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

The addition of Australian language features to Google’s software could carry with it a sense of vindication for local users, who have long groused about its inability to understand them.

 

Can Robots Replace Bus Drivers?

December 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Computing

Japan is on the fast track to have a 50 percent robot workforce in the next two decades, while the UK will make do with a third.

Japan is tipped to be at the top of a robot underling revolution in a report produced by analyst firm Nomura Research Institute (NRI), which suggested that the UK and the US will not be far behind.

Japan is primed for robots and already has a hotel staffed by them, but the UK, where we protest at talking car park ticket machines, may find adoption harder, particularly after the death of a worker in a Volkswagen factory. The UK will have to lump it and welcome the automated way of doing things.

People most likely to fall to a robot include receptionists, metal polishers, factory workers, bus drivers and cleaners.

NRI researcher Yumi Wakao said that this will happen over the next 20 years. Hopefully we will all be retired by then anyway. Wakao compared this against other research, which looked at the advance of artificial intelligence in the UK and US, and found that Japan is the market leader.

The US will be the closest rival with a 45 percent no-toilet-break-taking workforce, while the UK will replace around 35 percent of workers with a piece of hardware that has no interest in things like X Factor and celebrities in jungles.

We have had to automatically translate the original NRI statement on this, which makes everyone involved look like an idiot.

“In this study result, art, history, archaeology, occupations that use knowledge to organize and create an abstract concept such as philosophy and theology, requires co-ordination with others, understanding of others, persuasion, negotiation, professional services. Intentionality is required as an alternative in artificial intelligence,” NRI said.

“There is a difficult trend. On the other hand, the special knowledge and skills cannot be obtained in the profession. Orderly and systematic manipulation of data is required in artificial intelligence and the like.”


Courtesy-Fud

 

Google Upgrades Voice Search

September 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google said it has constructed a better neural network that is making its voice search work faster and better in noisy environments.

“We are happy to announce that our new acoustic models are now used for voice searches and commands in the Google app (on Android and iOS), and for dictation on Android devices,” Google’s Speech Team wrote in a recent  blog post . “In addition to requiring much lower computational resources, the new models are more accurate, robust to noise, and faster to respond to voice search queries.”

In 2013, Google brought the same voice recognition tools that had been working in Google Now to Google Search.

Along with being able to find information on the Internet, Google Voice Search also was able to find information for users in their Gmail, Google Calendar and Google+ accounts.

At the 2013 Google I/O developers conference, Amit Singhai, today a senior vice president and Google Fellow, said the future of search is in voice. For Google, he said, future searches will be more like conversations with your computer or device, which also will be able to give you information before you even ask for it.

The company went on to make it clear that it would continue to focus on voice search.

And this week’s announcement backs that up.

Google explained in its blog post that it has updated the neural network it’s using for voice search. A neural network is a computer system based on the way the human brain and nervous system work. It generally uses many processors operating in parallel.

The improved neural network is able to consume the incoming audio in larger chunks than conventional models without performing as many calculations.

“With this, we drastically reduced computations and made the recognizer much faster,” the team wrote. “We also added artificial noise and reverberation to the training data, making the recognizer more robust to ambient noise.”

 

 

SoftBank’s Personal Robot With Emotions Already Sold Out

June 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Any lingering doubt about whether people were excited to get their own personal robot has been removed.

SoftBank Robotics Corp., an international company based in Japan, put 1,000 personal robots, priced at $1,600, on sale last Saturday. Within one minute, they were sold out. Customers also must pay a $120 per month cloud connection fee and and monthly insurance of $80.

It was the first time that SoftBank had allowed people to put in orders for the robot, dubbed Pepper.

There has been high interest in the robot’s launch because its creators say Pepper not only can read and respond to human emotions but it will have its own emotions. According to SoftBank, the robot can autonomously generate emotions by processing information from its cameras and sensors.

SoftBank said more sales will be announced next month.

“With this emotion function, Pepper’s emotions are influenced by people’s facial expressions and words, as well as his surroundings, which in turn affects Pepper’s words and actions,” the company said in a statement. “For example, Pepper is at ease when he is around people he knows, happy when he is praised, and gets scared when the lights go down.”

The robot is designed to raise its voice or can sigh depending on its emotions at the moment. Pepper also will show its emotions – based on different colors and motions – on a chest display.

The robot also has an ecosystem of more than 200 apps.

Last week, SoftBank announced a deal to team deal to team with Foxconn Technology Group, an Apple manufacturer, and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group to build and sell robots for the home and enterprise worldwide.

SoftBank will retain 60% of its company but for an investment of $118 million U.S. each, both Foxconn and Alibaba will receive 20 percent stakes in the robotics maker.

 

 

 

Chat Tool Slack Admits To Being Hacked

March 31, 2015 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The popular group chat tool Slack had its central database hacked in February, according to the company, potentially compromising users’ profile information like log-on data, email addresses and phone numbers.

The database also holds any additional information users may have added to their profiles like their Skype IDs.

The passwords were encrypted using a hashing technique. There was no indication the hackers were able to decrypt the passwords, Slack Technologies said in a blog post. No financial or payment information was accessed or compromised, it said.

The unauthorized access took place over about four days in February. The company said it has made changes to its infrastructure to prevent future incidents.

Slack was contacting a “very small number” of individual users who had suspicious activity tied to their accounts, or whose messages may have been accessed. Slack did not say how many users it thinks may have been affected in this way. A company spokeswoman declined to comment further.

There’s been strong interest in Slack’s business chat app since it launched last year, and its user base now tops 500,000.

To beef up security, Slack added a two-factor authentication feature on Friday. If it’s enabled, users must enter a verification code in addition to their normal password whenever they sign in to Slack. The company recommends that all users turn it on.

Slack has also released a password kill-switch feature, to let team owners and administrators reset passwords for an entire team at once. Barring that, users can reset their passwords in their profile settings.

 

 

Samsung Refutes Claims Of Smart TVs Eavesdropping

February 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

People can speak freely around Samsung smart TVs without fear that their conversations will be recorded and sent to a data center, the company has said in response to privacy concerns related to its devices’ voice recognition capabilities.

Samsung TVs don’t monitor conversations, the company said in a blog post that clarified how its smart TV handle voice command data.

Voice commands are handled by a microphone embedded in the TV remote control, which triggers interaction with a server for things such as recommending movies or searching for certain TV programs.

Samsung said it collects interactive voice commands only when a person makes a search request, which requires deliberately pressing a button on the remote control and speaking into the remote control’s microphone.

Language in the company’s privacy policy stoked fears of digital spying in recent days. The policy originally cautioned people against sharing personal information around its voice-controlled TVs. But Samsung has now removed this sentence, which triggered the concerns: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Samsung’s amended privacy policy also identifies the third party as Nuance Communications, a Massachusetts company that builds speech recognition software. Nuance handles translating “interactive voice commands” into text enabling the request to be fulfilled, Samsung said.

In addition to the voice data, Nuance receives other information, including “device identifiers.” Neither Samsung nor Nuance immediately replied to questions on what specific information is shared and how the data is kept private.

 

 

Facebook To Promote Posts Tied To Trendy Or Popular Topics

September 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook users begin to see more posts higher in their feeds tied to popular events or topics of conversation, with less popular posts getting pushed further down.

The change comes courtesy of an update to Facebook’s news feed algorithm announced Thursday, focused on giving users “more timely stories.” It affects posts both from users’ friends and from pages to which they’re connected.

Facebook wants more of its users to engage on the site when they might be watching the same sports game or TV show — something that already happens on Twitter — and then brush their posts under the carpet when the event is over or the topic fizzles out.

Facebook routinely tweaks its news feed algorithm, but this update has the potential to advance the company’s efforts in the area of news delivery. It’s a departure from the site’s roots as a means for solely keeping in touch with family and friends.

The update is built around two changes. First, posts that are related to trending topics will appear higher and faster in the feed, Facebook said. When a friend or a Page to which you’re connected posts about something that’s currently a hot topic of conversation on the site, the post is more likely to appear higher in the feed.

Facebook users can already get a sense of what’s popular on the site by looking at the “trending” topics section in the right-hand column, which Facebook rolled out earlier this year. On Thursday, some of the topics listed included Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, pop singer Gwen Stefani and the video game Final Fantasy XV.

Posts that aren’t as relevant to what’s hot, in other words, will get less priority.

Secondly, Facebook said it would be considering not just the number of likes that posts receive in determining their placement, but when people choose to like, comment and share. If a lot of people are interacting with a post right after it was posted, but the activity drops off a few hours later, “this suggests the post was most interesting at the time it was posted,” Facebook said. As a result, that post would get promoted higher early on and less later.

 

 

Apple’s Hands-Free CarPlay Coming To Automobiles

March 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Mobile

Apple is introducing its next move in hands-free smartphone technology for drivers when it rolls out a new, integrated iPhone voice-control system at the Geneva Motor Show later this week.

The U.S. company’s CarPlay makes its debut in Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles at the show, demonstrating the software system that allows drivers to control their iPhones via touch and voice, Apple revealed on Monday.

Carmakers have already enabled some access to smartphones via Bluetooth technology, but Apple’s latest offering aims to integrate iPhone functionality more seamlessly with dashboard-mounted display and speaker systems.

CarPlay enables drivers to access to contacts stored on the iPhone, make calls, return missed calls or listen to voicemails without taking their hands from the steering wheel.

Drivers can also use maps, listen to music and access messages “with just a word or a touch”, Apple said. Drivers will also be able to read messages and dictate responses via Apple’s voice-activated Siri software.

Apple said that CarPlay will also be available in cars from manufacturers including BMW,Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota Motor Corp.

 

 

BlackBerry Asks Court To Block Sales Of Typo Keyboard

January 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry has requested that a California court block U.S. sales of the Typo keyboard, an add-on keyboard for the iPhone that BlackBerry says is an “obvious knock-off” of the keyboards on its phones.

The move,intensifies a battle between the two companies that began in January this year when BlackBerry accused Typo of patent infringement. The lawsuit garnered considerable attention, in part because Typo was co-founded by popular U.S. radio and television personality Ryan Seacrest.

The keyboard is designed to slip onto an iPhone 5 or 5S to provide a physical keyboard. The $99 device is currently available for pre-order through the company’s website, which advertises it has already sold out of an unspecified number of keyboards for January and February delivery.

Such keyboards have been a main selling point of BlackBerry devices since the company was making radio pagers and despite the recent popularity of on-screen virtual keyboards, there remains many users who value a physical keyboard.

BlackBerry alleges infringement of two patents: U.S. Design Patent 685,775and U.S. Patent 7,629,964. The former covers the design elements of a “handheld electronic device” and the latter “an electronic device with keyboard optimized for use with the thumbs.”

BlackBerry is asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to prohibit Typo from “making, using, offering to sell, or selling within the United States, or importing into the United States, the Typo Keyboard.”

“Typo’s blatant copying of BlackBerry’s keyboard presents an imminent threat of irreparable harm to BlackBerry, and that threat is magnified in combination with the significant market power of the iPhone,” BlackBerry said in a proposed motion to the court.

Seacrest comes up in the BlackBerry motion. The company notes he was a well-known, long-time user of BlackBerry devices and cites interviews where he said that the inspiration for the keyboard was trying to bring together the best of the BlackBerry typing experience with everything else an iPhone had to offer.

The motion also cites several reviews that note the visual similarity between the Typo and BlackBerry keyboards.

In response to BlackBerry’s proposed motion, Typo said it believes BlackBerry’s claims “lack merit and we intend to defend the case vigorously.”

The comment repeats, almost word for word, a portion of a statement the company issued earlier in January when the lawsuit was first filed.

For BlackBerry, the issue is perhaps about more than just the visual similarities.

The company has been struggling to keep up with the fast pace of change being driven by Apple and Android phones and recently regrouped to focus more tightly on the government, military and enterprise customer.

That’s the company’s core business audience and the users that value a physical keyboard the most. If comparable keyboards become add-on accessories to Apple and Android phones, it would be more difficult for BlackBerry to compete.

 

‘Selfie’ Named International Word Of The Year

November 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Around The Net

If you posted selfies on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter within the past twelve months, you helped make “selfie” the Oxford Dictionaries’ international Word of the Year for 2013.

Selfie, which means a photo taken of oneself, usually with a smartphone, and posted on a social network, was called out this year because of its sheer popularity.

“Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research program, which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of selfie in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection as Word of the Year,” said Judy Pearsall, editorial director for Oxford Dictionaries, in a statement.

Actually, a study conducted by editors at Oxford Dictionaries showed that the frequency of the word “selfie” in the English language increased 17,000% since this time in 2012.

“Selfie can actually be traced back to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum,” Oxford Dictionaries noted in a blog .

According to the dictionaries’ editors, this was the first known usage of the word selfie, “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The word gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013, evolving from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand.

Dictionary editors also noted that the popularity of the word “selfie” can be seen in the number of “spin-off terms” that have cropped up. For instance, a helfie is a picture of one’s hair and a belfie is a picture of one’s posterior.

And a welfie is a workout selfie, while a drelfie is a drunken selfie.

Other contenders for the International Word of the Year included bitcoin, a digital currency, and showrooming, meaning to visit a store to see a product before buying it online at a lower price.

Also making the short list were twerk, which means to dance provocatively in a low, squatting position, along with binge-watch, which means to watch multiple episodes back to back of a television program; and schmeat, a derogatory term for synthetically produced meat from biological tissue.

 

 

Updated Gmail App Adds A Touch Of Color

June 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has completed and rolled out an update of its mobile Gmail app, and has added a color tile scheme that will look somewhat familiar to Windows 8 users.

The tiles integrate pictures of contacts and when a photo isn’t available it uses letters and coloring that may — or may not — offer up a fast, visual clue about the sender.

But the makeover has also raised concern. Users interested in deleting emails easily will have to go into their menu settings and change how emails are disposed of. Otherwise, the default is archive, not delete.

The need to manually restore the delete function has caused some confusion,evident in forums, and illustrates why change management remains a leading challenge for IT departments. In Google’s case, a user base of hundreds of millions of Gmail users ensures that just about anything it does to change its interface will provoke reactions, good and bad.

One mobile app provider and developer, Ferhan Hamid, CEO of Inadev, generally likes the redesign; when asked to rank it on a scale of one to 10, he gave it an eight.

Hamid said there is so much information coming at users that any effort to make an interface cleaner and easier is always welcome. “I think that’s what this new Gmail app attempts to do, and I think they’ve done a good job of it,” he said.

The color tiles help differentiate between emails, and including photos of the sender “is actually very helpful when you’re on the go,” said Hamid.

Hamid also said he’d like to see email delete process restored without requiring manual adjustments.

“Delete is going to be one of your most commonly used functions, and to not have that on your top bar menu is actually a problem,” said Hamid. To make it harder to delete emails, “was a bit surprising to me.”

The redesign reviews are mixed. Stephen Shankland at CNet calls the update dumb. Lifehacker says the layout is super confusing.

 

 

 

Twitter Archive Adds More Languages

March 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter is making available archives of tweets in 12 more languages as part of a global unveiling of the facility.

Users can now access their archives in Danish, Filipino, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Swedish, Thai, Turkish and Urdu, Twitter said in a press release.

Twitter introduced in December the ability for users to download an archive of their tweets and re-tweets going back to when they first started using the service. It said it was rolling out the feature slowly, starting with a small percentage of users whose language was set to English. It promised to make the archive feature available to all users around the world for all the languages it offers over the “coming weeks and months.”

In early March, the service had added support for 12 more languages, including Dutch, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Malay, Norwegian, Polish and Spanish.

With the Twitter archive, users can view tweets by month or search the archive for Twitter messages by words, phrases, hashtags or @usernames, the company said in December. “You can even engage with your old Tweets just as you would with current ones,” it added.

The option to download the Twitter archive can be activated from Settings on Twitter, which has a “Request Your Archive” option. Users receive an email with instructions on how to access their archive when it is ready for download.

 

 

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