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Apple and Google on Wednesday released long-awaited smartphone technology to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The companies said 22 countries and several U.S. states are already planning to build voluntary phone apps using their software. It relies on Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus.
Many governments have already tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to roll out their own phone apps to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those apps have encountered technical problems on Apple and Android phones and haven’t been widely adopted. They often use GPS to track people’s location, which Apple and Google are banning from their new tool because of privacy and accuracy concerns.
Public health agencies from Germany to the states of Alabama and South Carolina have been waiting to use the Apple-Google model, while other governments have said the tech giants’ privacy restrictions will be a hindrance because public health workers will have no access to the data.
The companies said they’re not trying to replace contact tracing, a pillar of infection control that involves trained public health workers reaching out to people who may have been exposed to an infected person. But they said their automatic “exposure notification” system can augment that process and slow the spread of COVID-19 by virus carriers who are interacting with strangers and aren’t yet showing symptoms.
The identity of app users will be protected by encryption and anonymous identifier beacons that change frequently.
“User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps,” the companies said in a joint statement Wednesday.
The companies said the new technology — the product of a rare partnership between the rival tech giants — solves some of the main technical challenges that governments have had in building Bluetooth-based apps. It will make it easier for iPhones and Android phones to detect each other, work across national and regional borders and fix some of the problems that led previous apps to quickly drain a phone’s battery.
The statement Wednesday also included remarks from state officials in North Dakota, Alabama and South Carolina signaling that they plan to use it.
“We invite other states to join us in leveraging smartphone technologies to strengthen existing contact tracing efforts, which are critical to getting communities and economies back up and running,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican.
North Dakota had already launched a location-tracking app that about 4% of state residents are using, higher than other U.S. states with similar apps but falling far short of the participation rate that experts say is needed to make such technology useful.
Tim Brookins, the CEO of ProudCrowd, a startup that developed North Dakota’s app, said Wednesday that North Dakotans will now be asked to download two complementary apps — his model, to help public health workers track where COVID-19 patients have been, and the Apple-Google model, to privately notify people who might have been exposed to the virus.
Source: Tech – TIME | 20 May 2020 | 2:09 pm
Thanks to COVID-19, many people are spending a lot more time inside with their fellow housemates, be they spouses, children, or just friends they’re splitting the rent with. That also means more sharing, both of the chores and of the TV.
But just because you’re all stuck inside with one TV to share among yourselves, doesn’t mean you’ve got to sit there and fume while your significant other watches fan-free German soccer when you’d rather be watching movies or gaming. Thanks to some clever streaming technology embedded in your gadgets, you’ve got options to enjoy the content you want while letting others keep their fun going, too.
Here are three ways to share your TV and other tech without letting the stress of quarantine overwhelm you.
Turn your laptop into a lap TV
While Netflix is usually best enjoyed on a big screen, let’s not forget that you can watch your favorite shows on devices with smaller screens. That includes your smartphone, laptop, and tablet. Of course, your favorite streaming service (be it Spectrum, Crunchyroll, CBS All Access, Amazon Prime Video, or myriad others) can stream media whether you’re using an app or just your web browser. But a consequence of streaming your favorite shows during the workday or weekend is reduced bandwidth for everyone else at home, an unnecessary hobbling of your internet connection when the alternatives can leave everyone satisfied.
A little proactive planning goes a long way to keeping everyone satisfied, online, and occupied. If you know you’re gonna spend a few hours watching your current television obsession, why not download the episodes to your device beforehand? Not only will it spare you the lamentations of your spouse or kid over what a terrible internet connection they’re dealing with, it’ll give you instant access to high-quality episodes instead of the variable quality associated with streaming content. Downloading episodes or films to your device usually requires you to use your streaming service’s app of choice, so be sure to download it from your operating system’s respective App Store.
Stream your video games
Thanks to the prevalence of streaming games and media, both locally and over the web, gamers can have their cake and eat it too, preferably in the other room while someone else watches TV. Depending on your console, you’ve got yourself a compromise waiting to happen.
PlayStation 4’s Remote Play, which basically streams your PS4 game to the device of your choice, is perfect for letting someone else binge something on the big screen while you enjoy some much-needed gaming time either in another room or right next to them on the couch.
To run Remote Play, you’ll need a PC, Mac, iOS, or Android device running the PS4 Remote Play app, your PS4’s controller, and either a steady wired or wireless internet connection. You need to enable Remote Play on your console, which you can do from the Settings app. In the Remote Play app, you’ll need to login with your PlayStation account, and locate your console on your home network. You’ll be able to adjust settings like resolution and frame rate from the app, while you can modify the remote play settings on your PlayStation to instantly play remotely just by opening the app (which starts your console without you touching it). One caveat: Your PlayStation will be tied up while using Remote Play, meaning your housemates will need to use another device to watch Netflix or anything else.
More of an Xbox player? Well, you can still avoid hogging the TV, you’ll just need to jump through a few more hoops. Currently, Microsoft’s Console Streaming service is in beta, and rolling out to select members of Microsoft’s Xbox Insider program. You’ll need to sign up for the company’s (free) Xbox Insider program and download the Xbox Game Streaming app. You’ll also need a Bluetooth-friendly Xbox Wireless controller, a 5GHz Wi-Fi or LTE mobile connection, and a compatible Android device, the only platform currently supported.
Free up your PC (or at least your monitor)
What about PC game streaming? It works a little differently, especially if you’re using Valve’s Steam, a marketplace and library for PC and Mac games. On a PC or Mac, you just need to download the Steam app from Valve. If you’re using a mobile device or Apple TV, you’ll need to use the Steam Link app. From there, you can log in to your Steam account, enter the code to link your primary gaming computer to the streaming client device, and get going.
While streaming using Steam Link lets you game while socially distancing from your PC, it takes over your computer during use, meaning you can’t hand it off to your kids or spouse to use while you stream to another device. For PC gamers who simply can’t give up their monitor so their partner can be productive, here’s a clever workaround: You can get Steam Link up and running on your gaming PC and client device, then — if your monitor has multiple input options — simply connect their laptop to the monitor, leaving you free to play in another room while your PC continues to stream your game to your laptop or tablet and they use your monitor to get some work done.
For a more streamlined and polished version of streaming PC games to your devices, check out Nvidia’s GeForce Now streaming service, a subscription service that allows you to stream your library of owned games to a laptop, Mac, Android device, or the big screen using Nvidia’s SHIELD TV. If you sign up for the free version, you’ll be limited to an hour of playtime, while the $4.99 per month option nets you unlimited playtime and improved streaming quality.
Source: Tech – TIME | 18 May 2020 | 5:08 pm
For years, Jennell Lévêque has been getting up early and swiping through her phone in the hope that Amazon Flex would drop some shifts for delivery drivers and that she’d be quick enough to nab one. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, even with six apps open for various delivery platforms, Lévêque has gotten barely any jobs delivering packages, meals, or groceries. The Facebook group she runs for Instacart workers, meanwhile, is deluged with requests from new shoppers who want to join.
Before the pandemic, there were millions of people like Lévêque who could make a living, or at least earn decent pocket money, off gig work: driving people from the airport to distant homes, delivering dinners, designing logos for strangers half a world away. But as the U.S. unemployment rate approaches 15% and as the International Monetary Fund predicts a 3% contraction in the global economy, people who have relied on gig work for income are seeing their earnings plummet as more people compete for jobs.
“Each week is getting worse and worse with every platform,” says Lévêque, whose lament is borne out by company numbers. Upwork says it has seen a 50% increase in freelancer sign-ups since the pandemic began. Talkdesk, a customer service provider that has launched a gig economy platform, got 10,000 new applications for gig work in 10 days. Instacart hired 300,000 additional workers in a month and said in late April it planned to add 250,000 more.
Though more people are having food delivered, receiving packages from Amazon and searching online for their graphic design and customer service needs, the surge of new workers has upended the law of supply and demand in the gig economy. Put simply, with at least 36 million newly jobless people in America alone as of mid-May, there are now too many would-be workers to make the gig economy viable for many of them, and this may be irreversible as companies adapt to the reality of a global recession. By keeping head counts low, they’ll drive more desperate people into the gig economy, expanding the potential labor pool for jobs and driving down the prices that workers can command.
“The rates on DoorDash and Uber Eats are the lowest I’ve ever seen, but they’re all bad right now,” says Lévêque, who’s watched the trend unfold in recent weeks. Apps like Amazon Flex, whose drivers use their personal vehicles to make deliveries for the company, “drop” or release jobs at a certain time, and Lévêque and other drivers say that these jobs are snapped up within seconds. Some Amazon Flex drivers have taken to sitting in parking lots near Amazon warehouses in hopes this will help them beat the competition.
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Apps like Instacart send “offers,” which let workers see how many groceries a customer has ordered, how much they’ll get paid, and what the tip will be. On some apps, these offers are lower than ever, Lévêque says. (Instacart says its shoppers are earning 60% more per batch of orders they complete in part because tips have nearly doubled, and that while they may not see the same volume of orders as they did before, the average number of batches has stayed essentially the same.) As we talked, Lévêque turned down a food delivery offer for $3 because it wasn’t worth the gas she’d have to use. Another driver named Kevin, 43, who didn’t want his last name used because he doesn’t want his full-time job to know that he drives on the side, says Amazon Flex shifts now pay around $18-20 an hour, down from $28-$32 an hour before the pandemic.
As more workers rush to apps, there’s also a rise in people trying to take advantage of their desperation. Hustlers are launching bots that use algorithms to grab jobs before humans can and then charge potential workers to use these bots, says Matthew Telles, a longtime Instacart shopper who has been outspoken about the platform’s flaws. The so-called “grabber bots” take a bunch of jobs as soon as they come out, which means only people who have the bots installed can find work. Instacart shoppers pay a fee to use the bots, which are also a problem on services like Amazon Flex. Instacart in particular “has become a target for these exploitative apps that force laborers to pay just to get them access,” Telles says. (Instacart says that using unauthorized third parties in an effort to secure more batches is not permitted and that anyone found to be doing so will be deactivated.)
Delivery drivers like Lévêque have one advantage—they are only competing for jobs with people from their own geographic area. On sites like Fiverr and Upwork, where people can sell services as diverse as logo design, digital marketing and voice acting, workers are competing with others from around the world. Anyone with an internet connection can vie for these gigs, and the worse the global economy gets in the wake of COVID-19, the more people will stream on these sites looking for work. The World Bank estimates that COVID-19 will cause the first increase in global poverty since 1998.
“It’s a race to the bottom, honestly,” says Melanie Nichols, a 40-year-old marketer who has been freelancing for tech startups in Los Angeles for seven years. With business slowing in the wake of the pandemic, Nichols created an Upwork account from England, where she was staying with family, and tried to earn some extra money. Before the pandemic, she could charge between $100 to $150 an hour to clients, whom she’d meet in person or through referrals. On Upwork, she says, clients advertise jobs that require the same amount of work but pay $50 an hour, or less. Getting those jobs is nearly impossible—Nichols says she’s applied for 20 since March and heard back from four. One led to an actual paying gig, which ended up being more work than she was pitched, and so Nichols did 25 hours of work for 10 hours of pay. “Upwork seems to be such a good idea,” she says, “but I’d be curious to find people who are actually making money from it.”
Steven Lee Notar, 24, is in the same situation. He worked as a graphic designer at a media agency in Germany until the company first reduced his hours and then laid him off. He started advertising on Fiverr for services like designing online ads, posters and business cards, but says he has to set his prices low to get any orders. “A lot of people in my field have turned to the website,” Notar says. “It is a lot of supply but not a lot of demand.”
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr say the demand is still there. Adam Ozimek, the chief economist at Upwork, says that a third of Fortune 500 companies now use the platform, and that client spending has been stable since the pandemic hit. Upwork has not tracked whether freelancer pay rates have gone down, but Ozimek argues that Upwork’s borderless business model is good for gig workers because it gives them the freedom to find employers anywhere, not just in their city or country. “This is where the U.S. has the advantage,” he says. “The U.S. leads the world in skilled services, and our freelancers do find work all over the world.”
What worries some workers is that this scramble of competing with more people for lower-paying gigs is going to become the new normal as businesses try to stay lean by spending as little as possible. Twitter said Tuesday that going forward, employees could work from home forever if they so desired. But once people are working from home, what’s the incentive to keep them on as salaried employees? Arguably, companies could save money and balance their budgets by hiring overseas marketers or coders willing to work for less money and no benefits. Nearly half of the world is now connected to the Internet, up from just 15% in 2007.
Giant marketing companies like WPP and Omnicom have already talked about significant headcount reductions going forward and restructuring—they could turn to online freelancers once business starts up again. One survey found that as early as 2017, average hourly earnings on some platforms like Clickworker and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk were as low as $2 to $6.5 an hour.
There are signs this transition is already happening. Companies that are trying to grow online are hiring many gig workers on Fiverr, and Fiverr has seen an increase in demand for these workers, the company said on its earnings call in May. Fiverr hit all-time daily revenue records four times in April, CEO Micha Kaufman said. Nichols, the marketer, says she has seen big advertising agencies that have laid off hundreds of people hiring gig workers for marketing jobs on Upwork. Upwork said on its May earnings call that a multinational cybersecurity company used Upwork to find designers and developers, and a sports marketing agency hired software developers and animators on the site for projects. Aside from a moral obligation to treat workers well and pay them a living wage, there’s nothing to prevent more companies from jettisoning full-time employees and shifting to lower-paid gig workers.
They’d just be following what has been happening for decades in other fields. Just as manufacturing shifted overseas for cheaper labor and as gig economy apps drove down wages for taxi and delivery drivers, the pandemic has hastened the gig-ification of white-collar jobs. The gig economy might have been a crowded space before COVID-19, but the booming economy masked its workers’ struggles because many of them could find other jobs to supplement their income. Now, that extra work has dried up, and their desperation is more evident than ever. When gig work is the only pie that’s available to millions of people, sharing it means that some don’t even get crumbs.
Source: Tech – TIME | 15 May 2020 | 8:05 am
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing plans to spend $12 billion building a chip plant in Arizona, a decision designed to allay U.S. national security concerns and shift more high-tech manufacturing to America.
TSMC said Friday it will start construction of its next major fabrication facility in 2021, to be completed by 2024. While the investment falls short of its previous expenditure on cutting-edge factories, it’s a shift for a company that now makes semiconductors for major names like Apple and Huawei Technologies mainly from its home base of Taiwan.
As the world’s largest and most advanced maker of chips for other companies, TSMC plays a crucial role in the production of devices from smartphones and laptops to servers running the internet. Its decision to situate a plant in the western state comes after White House officials had warned repeatedly about the threat inherent in having much of the world’s electronics made outside of the U.S. TSMC had negotiated the deal with the administration to create American jobs and produce sensitive components domestically for national security reasons, according to people familiar with the situation.
The Asian chipmaker’s U.S. investment underscores the delicate balance it needs to strike between its huge roster of American clients and China, which views independently governed Taiwan as part of its territory. Beijing’s ambition of creating a world-class domestic semiconductor industry has unnerved Washington, which fears the country’s technological ascendancy may pose a longer-threat. Executives at TSMC, which operates plants in Nanjing and Shanghai and makes chips that go into everything from 5G networks to American fighter jets, have emphasized the company is neutral.
“The scale & technology is similar to what TSMC did in China, suggesting a balance between the U.S. & China,” Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analysts led by Mark Li wrote after the announcement. “Overall, this is probably the minimal price to stay neutral. TSMC needs both U.S. & China to maintain scale & stay competitive and this is probably the minimal cost to keep this strategy.”
The envisioned facility represents a small step in global industry terms. Upon completion, it will crank out 20,000 wafers a month, versus the hundreds of thousands that TSMC’s capable of from its main home base. And it will employ 5-nanometer process technology, a current standard that will likely become a few generations old by the time output begins in a few years.
The higher cost of operating in America may have been a factor ahead of the decision. A true cutting-edge fab is expensive to build: The company spent NT$500 billion ($17 billion) to build an advanced facility in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan that will supply new iPhones this year. It plans another $16 billion in capital spending in 2020. The Arizona plant still requires approval from TSMC’s board, which may hinge on incentives.
“There is a cost gap, which is hard to accept at this point. Of course, we have — we are doing a lot of things to reduce that cost gap,” TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said on a recent analyst conference call.
If the federal government provides cash for a U.S. plant, it’ll mark a shift in policy and rhetoric from a Republican administration. Trump’s White House has rarely supported such direct industrial intervention, favoring market dynamics. A similar government-backed effort with Foxconn — Apple’s main iPhone assembler — in Wisconsin has so far not created as many jobs as expected.
However, emerging trends may be forcing a reconsideration. The U.S. government is already giving or lending billions of dollars to keep companies afloat in the midst of a pandemic-fueled recession. The crisis has also highlighted how vulnerable global supply chains are to such shocks.
The White House may also be motivated by broader political factors. Trump has attacked international trade deals and tried to limit China’s access to semiconductor technology, seeking to contain the country’s technological ascent. TSMC said its Arizona facility will create 1,600 jobs and a deal to bring highly skilled work to Arizona may help Trump’s re-election prospects this year.
“TSMC’s plan to build a $12 billion semiconductor facility in Arizona is yet another indication that President Trump’s policy agenda has led to a renaissance in American manufacturing and made the United States the most attractive place in the world to invest,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
By producing chips for many of the leading tech companies, TSMC has amassed the technical know-how needed to churn out the smallest, most efficient and powerful semiconductors in the highest volumes. It manufactures important components designed by Apple and most of the largest semiconductor companies, including Qualcomm Inc., Nvidia Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and China’s Huawei. Shares of Applied Materials Inc., Lam Research Corp. and KLA Corp. rose on optimism that these U.S.-based providers of chipmaking equipment may face fewer export controls when supplying TSMC.
Concentrating such valuable capabilities in the hands of one company in Asia is a concern for the U.S., especially when, across the Strait of Taiwan, China is rushing to develop its own semiconductor industry.
TSMC’s local rival, GlobalFoundries Inc., has given up on advanced manufacturing and Intel Corp., the world’s largest chipmaker, mainly manufactures for itself. Its attempt to become a so-called foundry for external clients has failed to gain major customers. TSMC’s only other significant challenger is South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., which is investing more than $116 billion in its effort to keep up with the leader.
“TSMC welcomes continued strong partnership with the U.S. administration and the State of Arizona on this project,” the company said in a statement. “This project will require significant capital and technology investments from TSMC. The strong investment climate in the United States, and its talented workforce make this and future investments in the U.S. attractive to TSMC.”
–With assistance from Jenny Leonard, Daniel Stoller and Vlad Savov.
Source: Tech – TIME | 15 May 2020 | 3:41 am
Facebook has agreed to pay $52 million to its content moderators whose job has them viewing graphic and disturbing posts and videos on its platforms.
In a 2018 lawsuit, third-party contractors for the company said that Facebook failed to properly protect them against severe psychological and other injuries that can result from repeated exposure to graphic material such as child sexual abuse, beheadings, terrorism, animal cruelty and other disturbing images.
The settlement grants U.S. moderators who were part of the class action lawsuit $1,000 each. Those who have been diagnosed with conditions related to their work will be able to get medical treatment and damages of up to $50,000, according to the preliminary settlement filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Mateo.
In a statement, Facebook said it is “grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”
Source: Tech – TIME | 12 May 2020 | 6:56 pm
Microsoft’s done a good job when it comes to reclaiming its position as a contender in personal computers. What was once missing from its line of Surface notebooks, its creation-focused Surface Studio, and its tablet-adjacent Surface Pro convertible notebooks, was a more budget-friendly version, solved by the introduction of the Surface Go in 2018. Microsoft’s refreshed version, the new $399 Surface Go 2, is a welcome addition to the lineup. But that budget price comes with a few caveats — caveats that make its selling point feel too good to be true, and make you frustrated enough to abandon the tiny laptop entirely. The worst part? More Windows 10 confusion.
But it’s so cute it’s almost worth it.
The Surface Go 2, all sleek and silvery, looks and feels like a winner at first glance, starting with its 10.5-inch touchscreen display. With a 1920 x 1280 resolution, it’s got more than enough pixels to show off 1080p videos with ease, and leaves your text clear and crisp when cranking out words or browsing the web. That high resolution also makes drawing using the pressure-sensitive Surface Pen a real delight, with lines looking smooth and fluid on what could be the perfect size for a portable, pen-friendly tablet. That screen is also equipped with a front-facing five-megapixel and rear-facing eight-megapixel camera, both of which support 1080p video streaming, beating other devices like Apple’s own MacBook Pro and their 720p cameras. Furthermore, it supports Windows Hello, the company’s take on biometric security (using, in this case, your face) and what should be considered the gold standard in speedy logins. It’s a great device for someone who needs to show their mug while they work from home, at least if that’s all you need it for. It also has that sweet kickstand found on the Surface Pro, for adjusting the display’s angle from ramrod straight to nearly flat.
But the Surface Go 2 does a disservice to its potential customers by making the backlit keyboard cover another pricey accessory rather than a standard feature. While you can use it as a tablet, the Go 2’s tablet interface leaves a lot to be desired, and having a keyboard and trackpad really help. Even so, the keyboard might be more suited for smaller hands, as its cramped spacing makes long bouts of typing particularly frustrating.
When it comes to budget devices, you’re making sacrifices no matter how you slice it. While the Surface Go 2 has a pretty stellar display and camera setup, it has to take a hit somewhere. In terms of processing power, you’ll find an underpowered Intel processor paired with an abysmal 4GB of RAM, along with 64GB of internal storage. While an extra $150 doubles both the RAM and internal storage, you’re still stuck with a processor designed for efficiency and longevity rather than high performance.
At least you won’t have to worry about gaming, because you won’t be doing much of it. The innards of the Go 2 are not the most powerful, nor will they make activities with a focus on graphics particularly appealing. But its updated wireless connectivity options (including LTE support) make streaming games to the Go 2 a real cinch, using software like Steam.
Granted, the budget convertible notebook isn’t designed for high performance, but for staying alive for as long as you need it — up to ten hours, in this case. In order to achieve such stellar battery life, the Surface Go 2 runs Windows 10 S Mode, a variant of Windows 10 the company claims achieves more battery life, better performance, and improved security. The catch? You’re limited to using apps available exclusively in the Microsoft Store. The other catch? Should you choose to install an app outside the Microsoft Store, you’ll need to “switch out” of S Mode, without the option to return to the battery-saving, performance-boosting version.
The additional operating system variant, coupled with the inscrutable instructions, create a formula for confusion that benefits no one. In the Windows world, many popular or downright essential apps exist outside the boundaries of the Microsoft Store, including web browsers like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, communication and streaming apps, and utilities made by developers unwilling to participate in Microsoft’s marketplace. Many users will sooner or later realize that S Mode is more trouble than it’s worth. And the inability to return to S Mode, even when you’re done using the app in question, makes it all the more likely users will simply throw their hands in the air and forget about this nonsense entirely.
The Surface Go 2, like its Pro counterparts and Go predecessor, nails the looks that makes the Surface lineup so iconic. But that doesn’t mean its masquerade is worth the price of admission. It does manage to strike an unusual balance between budget tablet and lightweight laptop. It doesn’t feel thrown together; it’s solid as a rock, and the perfect size to carry around the house for some reading, watching, or general doodling. Its battery-friendly processors and Windows 10 S Mode software grant it pretty lengthy uptime for such a small laptop. Its USB-C port, headphone jack, MicroSD card slot, and delightfully modern cameras beat those on certain high-end laptops.
But to get a decent processor, be prepared to ditch that $399 price point. Want to do some actual typing? Get ready to add another $130 for a keyboard cover too essential to forego, yet too tiny for its own good. Doodling with a Surface Pen will tack on another $80 to $100 to the mix. Bundling all these in a slightly more expensive package would alleviate the issue without resorting to this nickel and dime approach on what’s marketed as a budget-minded device. Why not include the keyboard, bump the price up a few bucks, and call it a day so I can just grab it and, you know, go?
Source: Tech – TIME | 11 May 2020 | 1:54 pm
What reporters witnessed in a New York City auditorium on April 7, 1927 was a fundamentally startling notion: seeing someone speak—from hundreds of miles away—in real time. When then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover appeared on screen from Washington, D.C., he declared that “human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown.”
“It was as if a photograph had suddenly come to life and begun to talk, smile, nod its head and look this way and that,” the New York Times marveled.
In retrospect, we might deem that the moment video calling was born.
But few conceived of the technology being utilized by average Americans. Sure, it was a “phenomenal feat,” according to the Boston Globe—but one with “no definite purpose.” Nonetheless, AT&T president Walter Gifford, who received the call from Hoover, confidently predicted that “in due time it will be found to add substantially to human comfort and happiness.”
He likely could not have imagined just how right he was. The world has turned to modern iterations of that first video call to connect socially during COVID-induced quarantine. Daytime teleworkers transition seamlessly into happy hour revelers; birthdays are celebrated and lost ones mourned on virtual platforms. Zoom, the video-meeting platform that has come to symbolize this shift, says the company added 100 million participants in just the first three weeks of April. The pandemic has further entrenched our digital saturation.
“People were already incorporating these technologies into their everyday life before COVID-19 in a way that made everything seem kind of ready-made for the current crisis,” says Lisa Parks, a professor of media studies at MIT.
But the concept of video chatting has not always been embraced. In fact, most of its history is a story of failure.
After that public debut in 1927, work continued at AT&T’s Bell Labs. (The company had monopolistic control of the nation’s incipient phone services, giving it primacy in research and development.) But the research could only go so far. At the time, even if there had been demand for the product, networks lacked the carrying capacity needed to transmit visual calls with desirable resolution.
“The idea of visual communications was still alive at Bell Labs, but waiting for the right moment technologically, socially, culturally,” says Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.
That moment—or so researchers hoped—arrived in 1964, when AT&T introduced the Picturephone at the World’s Fair in New York City, complete with a promotional cross-country call to Disneyland. Streams of visitors could try the devices, while market researchers gauged interest.
Soon after, the company opened Picturephone rooms in New York, Washington and Chicago. Lady Bird Johnson did the inaugural honors, “with the smiling ghost of Alexander Graham Bell looking over her shoulder,” as the Palm Beach Post noted with flourish. Hoping to build on this momentum, the service was introduced into offices in select markets in 1970, but AT&T was unable to garner a sufficient number of users to make the idea work. The effort sputtered out in 1973.
“It was such a spectacular commercial flop, it’s almost kind of hard to imagine today,” says Gertner.
Why was such a novel product doomed commercially? One reason was what Sheldon Hochheiser, Corporate Historian at the AT&T Archives and History Center, calls “that chicken-and-egg problem: in a network technology, there’s a disincentive to be an early adopter, because your being able to use a Picturephone is dependent on people you wish to contact also having one.” The steep price tag—Hochheiser estimates device and minimal usage costs as equivalent to $1,000 today—put it out of reach for many consumers. High-cost, cumbersome calls yielded blurry images. In the end, the reward failed to outweigh the inconvenience.
But another reason came as a surprise, and it had nothing to do with technology: “It turns out people don’t want to be routinely seen on the telephone,” says Hochheiser. One columnist raised the specter of a call “every time we allowed ourselves to relax in our tired old bathrobe.” Such fears undoubtedly resonate with many quarantined teleworkers today.
“For an innovator, being early is pretty close to being wrong,” says Gertner. “To have an innovation that scales, that makes an impact on society or business, you really have to check a lot of boxes.”
In the 1980s, video phones—launched by domestic and international competitors getting in on the game—inched forward. In 1992, AT&T tried again with the VideoPhone 2500, which was compatible with existing phone lines. In 1995, it too was discontinued, seemingly vexed again by a reluctant market.
Yet despite years of defeats, “the idea, the lure of telephony endured,” says Hochheiser.
An accidental breakthrough hastened video calling’s trajectory—and shifted it to an entirely different medium.
In 1993, a University of Cambridge scientist was tinkering with a camera used to monitor coffee pot levels, and connected it to the fledgling world wide web. Surprisingly, it gained millions of fans. Commercial webcams followed soon after, paving the way for services such as Skype to connect PC users in the early 2000s.
Then in 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4’s FaceTime. “I grew up…dreaming about video calling, and now it’s real,” Jobs told an enthusiastic audience, recalling futuristic depictions of video calls on The Jetsons during his childhood.
The proliferation of smartphones and built-in cameras served as an accelerant. “A host of video-based platforms have all emerged along parallel tracks over the past 15 years, and they’ve had a way of reinforcing one another’s success by normalizing online video interactions,” says Parks. Once perceived as invasive, cameras in personal space became mainstream.
It may have taken longer than innovators of the pre-Internet era expected, but the ubiquity of visual calls proves—and perhaps exceeds—their audacious goals. “Every great fundamental discovery of the past,” Hoover predicted back in 1927, “has been followed by use far beyond the vision of its creator.”
Correction, May 11
Source: Tech – TIME | 11 May 2020 | 1:00 pm
When it comes to headphones, especially truly wireless versions, it’s hard to top those made by a certain Cupertino-based company named after a popular fruit. But that doesn’t stop competitors from trying.
Google’s own attempt to recreate the magic that is the Apple AirPods is here, and it’s safe to say the reboot of the Android-friendly Pixel Buds is a pretty good one. The $179 truly wireless earbuds ditch the connecting wire found on the previous model, but maintain all the features that made the last version so appealing. While issues like fit and minor quirks — especially with the AI-powered Google Assistant — still exist, the end result is a pair of truly wireless buds with the same high-end build quality as the competition, and a welcome addition to the Android ecosystem.
If only they didn’t chafe so much.
Google’s long-awaited Pixel Buds, announced in October, are truly wireless, touch-friendly earbuds that come in a slick, if not bland, white wireless charging case. The case itself, which supports both USB-C and wireless charging (your vertical wireless charger won’t work, sorry), has a soft plastic finish and opens and shuts with minimal effort. Two LEDs, one on the exterior and one visible when opened, indicate the device’s charging status via two inscrutable colors. It’s the same approach taken with Apple’s AirPods — one that leaves me confused as to why the cut corners on something as vital as battery indicators. A few extra LEDs can’t be that hard to add for the sake of improved clarity, can they?
The in-ear buds themselves (available in multiple colors) have an appealing aesthetic, with a circular, plastic exterior. Both earbuds are touch-sensitive, meaning you can simply tap them to control playback. They’re pretty responsive, if not a tad finicky when it comes to volume controls, adjustable by swiping your fingers left or right on either earbud.
Compared to that of the entry-level AirPods, the Pixel Buds’ in-ear fit makes audio quality significantly more enjoyable, and gets rid of the tinny quality earbuds typically produce at higher volumes. Still, they’re lacking in bass compared to competitors like Master & Dynamic’s MW07 buds, and don’t have augmented audio features like the AirPods Pro’s “transparency mode,” which lets outside sounds reach your eardrums, even while the music continues to play. The closest equivalent are the Pixel Buds’ adaptive audio feature, which raises or lowers the volume depending on environmental noise. But songs sound great, and podcasts are crystal clear.
The inclusion of Google Assistant functionality is a no-brainer, but perks like real-time translation put it over the top, highlighting how Google’s efforts in other product categories (in this case machine learning) serve to improve features in its other products.
Then there’s the fit, an experience that is, for the most part, unique to everyone. For some, the Pixel Buds might sit perfectly in your ear (you can choose between large, medium, and small silicone ear tips), with its rubbery ear hook meant to keep the buds in place and prevent jostling.
But two hours in, during a particularly strenuous run, I felt pain creeping up on my ear canal. The Pixel Buds’ ear hooks started to chafe. A few blocks later, its silicone tips started to ache inside my ears. Swapping sizes alleviated a bit of the pain, but after wearing them for a few more hours the next day, I felt the familiar ache return.
Another annoyance? Using Google Assistant when you’ve got more than one Google product already catering to your every whim. When I’d ask my Pixel Buds for the weather forecast while sitting in my living room, my Google Home Mini would respond instead, blaring the forecast for all to hear when it was meant for my ears only. It’s a small gripe that grows into a larger one the more you buy into Google’s ecosystem and attempt to rely on its AI. In short, if Google knows I’ve got Pixel Buds in my ears, why is it piping answers anywhere else?
When it comes to the competition, there’s plenty, especially for Android devices. Apple’s got iOS on lock with its line of AirPods: Apple-made, truly wireless earbuds. Third-party headphones from companies like Master & Dynamic, Jabra, and Samsung are all options for both iOS and Android users, but Google’s Pixel Buds are designed to play particularly well with the company’s Google Assistant, supporting features like voice-activated assistant activation, real-time Google Translate capabilities, and the useful-in-a-pinch Find My Earbuds location app.
In short, Google’s Pixel Buds are a must have for the Android faithful, especially if you want earbuds that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Finally, Google’s got its own AirPods equivalent, one that actually ditches the cables and goes truly wireless. Sure, there’s no noise-cancelling or augmented audio capabilities, but the Pixel Buds certainly serve as an improvement over its predecessor, and a sign that Google isn’t letting its competitors have all the fun.
Source: Tech – TIME | 6 May 2020 | 3:13 pm
For the millions of people largely stuck indoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to pass the time is half the battle. But what to do if you’ve binge-watched all the shows on your list, got sick of doing puzzles and you can’t stomach yet another classic sports rebroadcast?
Video games are here to help. Not only are they a great way to stay entertained, they can also be an excellent group activity, whether you’re playing “locally” on the couch with your immediate family, or online with friends to spend quality time together while social distancing.
If you’ve been thinking about getting into gaming as a new hobby, here are some tips on getting started, as well as some game suggestions.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is the glue that holds any gaming group together. If you’re playing a cooperative game — meaning, you’re all working together to fight the same enemy or solve the same puzzle — it’s much faster to speak than to type. If you’re playing a competitive game, like Super Smash Bros., then you need to be able to gloat and trash talk your friends or family.
Many video games have their own built-in chat services, but sometimes they don’t work very well, or can be difficult to navigate for first-timers. And it’s nice to have a way to connect before booting up a game, too. Text messages can work, and video chat apps like Skype and Zoom are just fine, but discerning gamers know that Discord is the easiest and fastest way to get everyone on the same page.
Discord is free and runs on a variety of platforms. Players can download the app on PC, run it in a web browser, or download an app on an iPhone or Android device. From there, the group can set up its own private room and invite friends simply by sending a link. Joining a friend’s server is as simple as clicking a hyperlink.
Let a schedule develop naturally
Gaming should be casual and fun. A group should have some direction, but let your habits develop naturally over time, rather than mandating a certain time of the week for “game night.” With few exceptions, strict schedules are anathema to the development of a healthy gaming group. Initiating a game should be like asking your friends to grab a beer after work.
Say, “You want to play some Call of Duty?”
Not, “Remember everyone, we’re getting together from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST to play through the next set of missions in Overcooked 2.”
Again, Discord is great because it allows you to establish an individual server for your group of friends. People can wander in and out, picking up games with whoever is around and looking to have fun.
What should you play?
Call of Duty: Warzone
Perfect for: Groups of two to four looking for a deep action game; people bad at building things in Fortnite.
Average match length: 30 minutes.
Available on, at what price: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the PC as a free download; the full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare costs $60.
Playing Call of Duty: Warzone is like a great game of pickup basketball. It comes together quickly, everyone has a good time, and no one needs to worry too much about their skill level. Like Fortnite, Warzone drops groups of two to four players into a large map with only a pistol. Players explore the map, gather new guns, and defend themselves against other players.
As the match continues, the map shrinks and forces players to fight to survive. If battle royale isn’t your group’s thing, Call of Duty has a traditional deathmatch option, co-op campaign missions, and a mode where players compete to collect and extract money.
One of the great advantages of Call of Duty is that it supports cross-platform play. That means PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One gamers can all play together.
Perfect for: Couples looking to digitally double date; chefs who miss the frenzied rush of the kitchen.
Average match length: 5 minutes.
In Overcooked 2, teams of up to four players run a kitchen. Players have to cook the order, combine the ingredients correctly, plate the order, serve it to customers, and keep the kitchen clean.
This is one of those games that’s easy to pick up and hard to master. Groups work through a series of levels with increasing difficulty. You start out cooking rice and serving it plain on a plate and graduate to intricate seafood dishes that need to cook in multiple stages and have to be put together just right. The levels get wilder and more difficult as the game progresses, too. Anyone can cook in a nice big kitchen, but when that kitchen is moving through the sky and staged on multiple hot air balloon platforms, things get trickier.
Great for: The group that’s ready for a hardcore experience; recovering World of Warcraft addicts.
Average game length: Anywhere from 30 minutes to “wait, is it really 2 a.m.?”
Available on, at what price: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. It’s free.
Warframe, which has been around since 2013, is one of gaming’s best-kept secrets. In this third-person action-RPG, players control a super suit called a Tenno. This Tenno turns the player into a hyper-competent space ninja that allows them to cast spells and deal damage. There’s more than 40 different Tenno suits, and each plays completely differently, so there’s a playstyle here for everyone. Want to sit at the back of the group and heal? There’s a Tenno for that. Want to sing songs that buff the group? Warframe has you covered.
Warframe has a little bit of everything—dungeons full of monsters and puzzles, big open worlds with quests and story, space combat, customizable spaceships and pets, and hundreds of hours of content. And it’s all completely free. Just make sure everyone’s on the same system, because it doesn’t support crossplay like Call of Duty.
If your group gets tired of these games or doesn’t like them in the first place, there are hundreds of other options. As long as you keep the Discord server running, it’s easy to get together and pick something else. Build your own planet in Minecraft, crew a pirate ship in Sea of Thieves, start a band of outlaws in Red Dead Redemption 2 Online, learn how to build towers and snipe rivals in Fortnite, or enjoy some ridiculous soccer-but-with-cars action in Rocket League. Your choices are nigh-endless, and there’s never been a better time to start.
Correction, May 6
The original version of this story misstated the price of Call of Duty: Warzone. Warzone is a free download, it does not cost $60. The full version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare costs $60.
Source: Tech – TIME | 5 May 2020 | 12:12 pm
Let’s just get this out of the way: the latest iPad Pro is still the best tablet you can buy, made even better by its improved camera and updated processor. Period. That being said, the newest addition to its list of Apple-made accessories, the $299-and-up Magic Keyboard, serves as both a sign of the iPad’s near-inexorable rise as the future of computing, as well as a bump in the otherwise fairly smooth road.
The newest accessory adds what many people have been clamoring for — a real trackpad — to the iPad Pro’s arsenal, and does a pretty good job of it. But for a tablet so versatile, its newest attachment is quite inflexible, and in so many ways. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its bright spots, but it would benefit from some much-needed design changes before it becomes a truly killer accessory.
It’s difficult to fault the refreshed iPad Pro, especially when you consider its heritage. The iPad has long established itself as a sort of platonic tablet, one that ditches cumbersome desktop software like macOS for iOS, and more recently for its tablet-specific spinoff, iPadOS.
In the new iPad Pro’s case, not much has changed. It’s still got its killer high-resolution “Liquid Retina Display,” and still eschews ports of all sorts save for a single USB-C connection. The biggest changes are actually minor: an improved A12Z processor based on the previous iPad Pro’s A12X chip, and an improved camera module that takes cues from its iPhone brethren, with both a wide-angle and ultrawide-angle lens available for you to snap away. Are you going to use the improved camera, with its integrated LiDAR rangefinder for improved portrait mode photos and better, more accurate augmented reality apps? Probably. But taking pictures with an iPad is not exactly a priority for most.
As for the new Magic Keyboard, the jury is still out.
The iPad Pro magnetically attaches to the top half of the Magic Keyboard and, when angled, gives the tablet the appearance of floating over the keyboard. Its USB-C charging port, integrated into the hinge, is useful, facing the opposite direction of the iPad Pro’s own USB-C port. It’s gorgeous to look at, but compromised in practice. The viewing angles are pretty good, but trying to adjust it for use anywhere other than a desk will leave you disappointed. And features like the option to flip the keyboard completely around are nowhere to be found, frustrating for when you want to carry the entire package while looking at the display.
Unlike Apple’s other iPad keyboard case, the Smart Keyboard Folio, the Magic Keyboard mimics the hard, plastic chiclet-style keys found on the company’s laptops and desktop keyboards, so it’ll feel instantly familiar to Mac users. It ditches the problematic “butterfly” keys used in older MacBooks, using the more reliable scissor mechanism. It’s a joy to type on and, if you also write for money, is worth the additional cost compared to the squishy keys in the Smart Keyboard Folio. The rectangular trackpad measures a little over four inches from corner to corner. There’s no doubt it’ll take some retraining when it comes to using the iPad Pro with the trackpad, but it’s a retraining many will come to appreciate.
The trackpad’s functionality on the iPad Pro is surprisingly user-friendly, and has a few tricks up its sleeve competitors should adopt on everything from Android tablets to desktop PCs. Small buttons like X icons for closing tabs are instantly selected when you move your mouse close enough, saving you the headache of hitting such a small target. When moved next to text, the faint gray orb signifying your mouse cursor transforms into a blinking editing variant, letting you highlight and copy or paste whatever you’re hovering over. The cursor itself floats around like a user-controlled sprite, lilting and melding with selectable apps, buttons to send messages, or other parts of the iPad’s software as though the cursor is magnetically attracted to them. It handles the tail end of navigating with a trackpad flawlessly, which makes it feel more refined than the cursors we’ve been using for, at this point, decades.
It also supports gesture controls, letting you swipe with multiple fingers to switch apps or return to the home screen. But its minuscule size makes getting all your fingers to play nice together in the space more trouble than it’s worth, leaving one wondering why they’re not just performing the same gesture on the generously large screen that’s right there in front of you. The Magic Keyboard is also missing an escape key (as well as function keys) — a frustration Apple has addressed in its newer MacBook laptops, but seemingly missed when developing the Magic Keyboard.
Am I being a bit nitpicky? Yes, but for good reason. Detachable keyboards have gone through a serious design renaissance, driven primarily by Microsoft jumpstarting the detachable laptop category with its Surface laptops. Microsoft’s renditions have steadily improved, with the latest version found on its (admittedly undercooked) Surface Pro X featuring a handy hidden indent for its slim Surface Pen and the ability to lay flat against the Surface device’s back.
When you compare the two, it’s clear Microsoft has the lead in the design department, with Apple’s version lending more to form than function. It’s somewhat disappointing, especially when attached to the increasingly functional iPad Pro.
Why no spot for the Apple Pencil? Why the ridiculously acute adjustment angle that forces you to live with what the company considers a “perfect viewing angle?” Why can’t you flip the keyboard like you can with its older Smart Keyboard Folio? Why does a keyboard cost as much as $299, or $349 for the 12-inch version?
Many Apple users have long wanted an iPad trackpad, myself included. Still, its addition somewhat compromises the ideals the iPad Pro was meant to convey. This tablet is supposed to be the future of computing, which is why it ditched everything from SD card slots to the headphone jack to the idea of a trackpad in the first place. But the keyboard is a welcome option nonetheless. Whether it’s worth the high price point and lack of flexibility when it comes to angle adjustment or day-to-day use depends on how much you love (or hate) touching your touch-friendly tablet.
The Magic Keyboard is certainly not perfect, but wordsmiths will grow to love the keyboard and trackpad, as well as the additional USB-C port. While it isn’t as refined as offerings from competitors, and still leaves the the Apple Pencil hanging onto the iPad like a forgotten coffee cup on the roof of a car, here’s hoping the welcome refinements are kept while the rough edges are sanded off in the next version.
Source: Tech – TIME | 3 May 2020 | 10:18 pm
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