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Samsung’s Note 10 is available today, starting at $949

By Brian Heater

Samsung’s settled into a nice little twice-yearly schedule for releasing flagships. That’s allowed the company double the opportunity to introduce some nice upgrades to their high-end Android handsets. Nearly six months after the release of the S10, the company just dropped the new Note line. Here’s a whole bunch of words I wrote about the 10+, the larger of the devices, which is helping distinguish the two lines with an utterly gigantic 6.8-inch screen.

Interestingly the Note 10 marks a rare (albeit very slight) step down in screen size over the last generation, to a still-large 6.3-inches. The company says it’s hoping that the smaller device will appeal to first-time Note users and maybe even convince Galaxy S buyers to transfer over to S-Pen Station.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The smaller size also helps keep the device just under $1,000, at $949. Which is becoming shockingly rarer amongst flagships these days. Even as fewer people are buying phones, they keep getting more expensive. That certainly applies to the $1,100 Note 10+ and the $1,299 Note 10+ 5G (also available now, as a Verizon exclusive).

[gallery ids="1869169,1869168,1869167,1869165,1869164,1869163,1869162,1869160,1869159,1869158,1869157,1869156,1869152,1869154,1869155"]

The TL;DR of last week’s review is that this is a very good phone that gets even better. Nothing particularly revolutionary, but it’s a nice design, great camera and just generally good stuff all the way around. If big and flashy is your thing, Samsung’s got you covered with the new Note.

DoorDash reveals details of its new tipping model

By Anthony Ha

DoorDash announced last month that it would be changing its controversial tipping model. Today it’s revealing the basics of how the new system will work.

Under the past model, Dashers (DoorDash drivers and other delivery people) were guaranteed a minimum payment per delivery, with DoorDash paying a $1 base, then providing an additional payment boost when a customer’s tip wasn’t enough to meet the minimum — a system that made it seem like tips were being used to subsidize DoorDash payments.

Under the new system, meanwhile, DoorDash will pay a base between $2 and $10 (the amount will depend on things like delivery distance and duration), with additional bonuses from DoorDash.

Most crucially, as CEO Tony Xu put it in a blog post, “Every dollar customers tip will be an extra dollar in their Dasher’s pocket.”

Now, you might think that’s how tips are always supposed to work, but Xu said the old system was developed “in direct response to feedback from Dashers,” while the new one will result in “greater variability in total earnings from order to order” (that variability several reasons why tipping is a flawed compensation model in general).

So why change?

“We thought we were doing the right thing for Dashers by making them whole if a customer left no tip, but the feedback we’ve received recently made clear that some of our customers who were leaving tips felt like their tips didn’t matter,” Xu said. “We realized that we couldn’t continue to do right by Dashers if some customers felt we weren’t also doing right by them. To ensure that all of our users have a great experience on DoorDash, we needed to strike a better balance.”

Plus, he said, “Dashers will [now] earn more money on average — both from DoorDash and overall.”

The company plans to roll out these changes to all Dashers next month.

Pew: Mobile and social media users in emerging markets have more diverse social networks

By Sarah Perez

The latest study from Pew Research Center takes a look at the impact mobile technology, including the use of smartphones and social media, is having on the diversity of people’s social network in emerging markets. For the purpose of the study, Pew surveyed mobile users in 11 key markets: Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, South Africa, Kenya, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon. It found that users in these markets had broader social networks than those without smartphones and social media.

In the U.S., we’ve been concerned with social media’s ability to create “filter bubbles” — meaning how we surround ourselves online with people who hold the same opinions as us, which is then reinforced by social media’s engagement-focused algorithms. This leads us to believe, sometimes in error, that what we think is the most correct and most popular view.

According to Pew’s study, emerging markets are experiencing a somewhat different phenomenon.

Instead of isolation, the study found that smartphone users in these markets, and particularly those who also used social media, were more regularly exposed to people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different religious preferences, different political parties and different income levels, compared to those without a smartphone.

In Mexico, for example, 57% of smartphone owners regularly interacted with people of other religions, while only 38% of those without a smartphone did. And more than half (54%) interact with people who supported different political parties. They were also 24% more likely to interact with people of different income levels, and 17% more likely to interact with people of different ethnic or racial backgrounds.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 0 01

These sorts of trends help up across the nations studied, Pew noted, with a median of 66% saying they interacted with people with different income levels, 51% saying they interacted with a those of different race or ethnicity, 50% saying they interacted with those having different religious views and a median 44% saying they interacted with those who supported a different political party.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 2 03 1

The use of social media and messaging apps was found to be a huge contributor here, as it made people more likely to encounter people different from them, the study also said.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 2 04

The report, however, isn’t claiming that smartphones and the related social media use are the cause of this increase in diversity in these people’s lives. There may be other reasons for that. Smartphone owners, in general, may have more resources and money — they own a smartphone, after all — and this alone could help expose them to a more diverse group of people.

That said, smartphones are helping people stay connected to distant family and friends, and build out online networks of people they don’t ever see in person.

More than half the people in most of the surveyed countries said they only see in person half — or fewer — of the people they call or text. Indeed, 93% said they keep in touch with far-flung contacts. And a median of 46% said they see few or none of their Facebook friends regularly.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 2 01

All this connecting isn’t seen as being fully positive, however.

An earlier Pew report found that users in these 11 countries believe the internet and social media are making people more divided in their opinions and only sometimes more accepting of different views. Exposure to diversity and acceptance of it are different things.

The new report also gets into how smartphones are used. For example, a median of 82% said they texted, 69% took photos or videos, 61% looked up health information, 47% looked up news and political information and 37% looked up information about government resources.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 0 03

It also examined smartphones’ impact on digital divides, noting that people with access to these devices and social media, as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education and men, were gaining more benefits than others.

PI PG 2019.08.22 Social Networks Emerging Economies 0 04

The study is based on in-person interviews conducted by D3 Systems, Inc. and the results are based on national samples, notes Pew.

The full report is available here, with deeper dives on activities and data by individual countries.

Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

By Jonathan Shieber
Omer Kaplan Contributor
Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.

By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated €50M of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

US cell carriers team up to combat robocalls — but no deadline set

By Zack Whittaker

Twelve cell carriers, including the four largest — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — have promised to make efforts to prevent spoofed and automated robocalls.

Announced Thursday, the pledge comes after 51 U.S. attorneys general brokered a deal that would see the telecom giants roll out anti-robocalling technologies, including a way of cryptographically signing callers to wipe out phone number spoofing. Known as STIR/SHAKEN, the system relies on every customer phone number having a unique digital signature which, when checked against the cell networks, validates that a caller is real. The carrier near-instantly invisibly approves the call and patches it through to the recipient.

Robocalls are illegal, but are a billion-dollar industry. Many of these automated, robot-dialed calls imitate a cell number area code to convince unsuspecting victims into picking up the phone. Often robocalls try to sell products they don’t need — or worse, try to con victims out of cash.

The hope is that STIR/SHAKEN would weed out most robocalls. The system would verify real callers while the billions of illegal or spoofed robocalls made every year would fail.

So far to date, AT&T and Comcast have tested the new anti-robocalling system, and AT&T and T-Mobile have also teamed up to use the technology to fight robocalls. But the system works best when every carrier uses the technology, allowing calls to be checked even as they traverse between networks. By getting Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), Sprint and the other cell giants on board, the attorneys general hope the cooperation will vastly reduce the number of robocalls each year.

CenturyLink, Charter and U.S. Cellular have also signed up to the pledge.

There’s a catch: No deadline was set, allowing the carriers to take as long as necessary to roll out the technology. That may not be good news for those seeking immediate relief. Although all of the major networks have already made some progress in testing the new anti-robocalling system, few have said exactly when their service will be ready to roll out to consumers across the country.

The Washington Post first reported the news ahead of Thursday’s announcement.

The pledge comes just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department took coordinated action against close to a hundred individuals and companies accused of making more than a billion illegal robocalls.

Daily Crunch: Apple plans Pro iPhones

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple reportedly launching new iPhone Pro and iPads with better cameras, 16-inch MacBook Pro and new AirPods

Here come the leaks around Apple’s fall hardware event (rumored to be scheduled for September 10). According to Bloomberg, we’ll get new iPhones — including a new Pro model that replaces the XS line and adds a third, wider angle rear camera.

Beyond 2019, Apple also reportedly has plans for iPhones that support 5G in the next year, plus a more affordable HomePod.

2. Google ditches desserts as Q becomes Android 10

Google’s official reasoning is more diplomatic than, “we couldn’t think of anything that started with ‘Q.’ ” Instead, it says that the desserts simply weren’t universal enough for the 2.5 billion active devices it has deployed around the world.

3. Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

Over the course of two days, the TechCrunch team witnessed more than 160 on-the-record startup pitches, spanning healthcare, B2B services, augmented reality and life extension. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

GWR UberIPO 050819 5

Image via Working Partnerships USA / Jeff Barrera

4. Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers to launch a protest caravan across California

Over 200 drivers in more than 75 cars plan to drive south to north — with more drivers joining along the way — to take dramatic action in advocating for California State Legislature bill AB5, and for a drivers’ union.

5. Eminem’s publisher accuses Spotify of copyright infringement in new lawsuit

Eight Mile Style has filed a lawsuit against Spotify, accusing the service of “blatant copyright infringement” in streaming “Lose Yourself” and other Eminem songs.

6. Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

SignalFx provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. The acquisition should make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space.

7. Google proposes new privacy and anti-fingerprinting controls for the web

If fully realized, this initiative will make it harder for online marketers and advertisers to track you across the web.

Verizon is teaming with Boingo to bring 5G inside

By Brian Heater

We’ve long known that 5G rollout wouldn’t happen overnight. But now that carriers have gotten things started, they’ve been confronted with pushback against the next-gen wireless technology’s limitations. Among the bigger issues is spotty coverage indoors — you know that place where most of us spend most of our time?

Verizon’s looking to address the issue by partnering with Boingo — a name that ought to prove familiar for anyone who’s attempted to get on WiFi at an airport. The carrier (which is, incidentally, also our parent company) says it’s teaming with the wireless provider to expand coverage in hard to reach spots, including stadiums, offices, hotels and those aforementioned airports.

“Verizon and Boingo are working together to architect a hyper-dense network designed for large and small indoor spaces as part of Verizon’s ongoing 5G network expansions,” per the carrier.

There are still plenty of questions, including how quickly and when those rollouts will start. One assumes they begin in cities where Verizon has already begun to deliver 5G in places. That list now includes 10 cities, with greater Phoenix joining the others. The usual caveats of 5G apply here, with the tech still be limited to certain areas/neighborhoods. Those are as follows,

Initially, Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband service will be concentrated in Downtown Phoenix around several well-known landmarks, including: Phoenix Convention Center, Talking Stick Resort Arena, The Orpheum Theatre, CityScape, and Chase Field. It will also be available in Tempe, on the Arizona State University campus.

Tomorrow Verizon also adds another 5G device to its portfolio with its limited time exclusive on the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.

Google ditches desserts as Q becomes Android 10

By Brian Heater

The dessert naming scheme was one of the best-loved legacies from Google past. Every time the company got ready to release a new version of the mobile operating system, speculation would mount about which sweet foodstuff on which the company would ultimately settle. But while P offered confections a plenty, Q has been far less straightforward.

Quiche was questionable, at best — ditto for quesadillas and quinoa. With that giant question mark waiting for it with the next release, the company’s opted instead to abandon the beloved naming scheme. Of course, Google’s reasoning is far more diplomatic than, “we couldn’t think of anything that started with ‘Q.’”

Instead, it says that the desserts simply weren’t universal enough for the 2.5 billion active devices it has deployed around the world.

[W]e’ve heard feedback over the years that the names weren’t always understood by everyone in the global community. For example, L and R are not distinguishable when spoken in some languages.

So when some people heard us say Android Lollipop out loud, it wasn’t intuitively clear that it referred to the version after KitKat. It’s even harder for new Android users, who are unfamiliar with the naming convention, to understand if their phone is running the latest version. We also know that pies are not a dessert in some places, and that marshmallows, while delicious, are not a popular treat in many parts of the world.

Apple reportedly launching new iPhone Pro and iPads with better cameras, 16-inch MacBook Pro and new AirPods

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is getting ready for its usual fall iPhone launch event, which is rumored to be happening September 10, though the event hasn’t been officially confirmed this year. A new report from Bloomberg offers a preview of the lineup of hardware products Apple is looking to debut this year. There are new iPhones, of course, including a new iPhone Pro model that replaces the XS line and adds a third, wider angle rear camera (which has been rumored previously), and a refreshed iPhone XR at the entry level that will also get a second, optical zoom camera.

These new iPhone Pros would pack a lot of other updates besides, though they’ll look visually similar beyond the changed camera module. They’ll offer wireless charging for AirPods with the Qi-enabled wireless charging case, for instance, for a quick top-up when you’re the road, and they’ll also get new matte finishes on some models versus the glossy look common to all iPhone models today. Updated Face ID will offer unlocking at more angles, and they’ll pack “dramatically” better water resistance, as well as improved shatter resistance to shrive drops.

Also new this year, though not necessarily debuting at the same event, will be a new MacBook Pro with a display size somewhere over 16 inches, which Bloomberg reports will still manage to be similar overall in physical footprint to the current 15-inch MacBook Pros, thanks to a new bezel. There are also plans to roll out new AirPods, with a higher price tag but also added water-resistance and noise-canceling features that the current AirPods lack.

On the iPad side, Apple will refresh its iPad Pro this year, with updated versions of the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models that will get spec bumps, plus better cameras, but otherwise remain the same in terms of form factor. The entry-level iPad will also get an update, with a screen size increase from 9.7 inches to 10.2 inches, which could mean that it also slims down its bezel and does away with the dedicated Home button, though Bloomberg doesn’t make mention of how it will actually change to accommodate the larger display size.

Apple Watch will also be updated, with the same case design introduced last year, but with at least new case finishes, which have leaked via the watchOS 6 update as coming in titanium and ceramic.

apple watch titanium ceramci

Other planned updates in the report include details about the iPhone to follow in 2020, which it says will offer a rear-facing 3D camera, as well as 5G network support. The HomePod will also apparently get a sequel next year — a smaller version that will likely be a lot more affordable versus the current $300 speaker.

T-Mobile hit by hours-long nationwide outage

By Zack Whittaker

T-Mobile customers across the U.S. said they couldn’t make calls or send text messages following an outage.

We tested with a T-Mobile phone in the office. Both calls to and from the T-Mobile phone failed. When we tried to send a text message, it said the message could not be sent. Access to mobile data appeared to be unaffected.

The outage began around 6pm ET.

Users took to social media to complain about the outage. Users across the U.S. said they were affected. A T-Mobile support account said the cell giant “engaged our engineers and are working on a resolution.”

In a tweet two hours into the outage, chief executive John Legere acknowledged the company was struggling to get back online but noted that the company had “already started to see signs of recovery.”

By 10:34pm ET, the issue had been resolved, tweeted T-Mobile chief technology officer Neville Ray, without saying what caused the four-hour long outage.

T-Mobile is the third largest cell carrier after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) and AT&T. The company had its proposed $26.5 billion merger with Sprint approved by the Federal Communications Commission, despite a stream of state attorneys general lining up to block the deal.

Updated with acknowledgement by chief executive John Legere, and later from Neville Ray.

Google denies reports of unannounced changes to Android app review process

By Sarah Perez

Multiple reports this week claimed Google had quietly rolled out a more in-depth app review process to all developers — changes designed to keep the Play Store safer from spam, malware and copycat apps. Those reports are inaccurate, Google tells TechCrunch. Instead, the company is giving itself more time to review apps from new, unestablished developers on the Play Store, as previously announced, but this hasn’t been extended to all developers.

Concerns about these so-called “unannounced changes” stemmed from a blog post by Choice of Games, which wrote that “all new apps” would be getting an additional review, slowing down app approvals. It claimed new apps would require at least three days for review, and this now included existing developers.

The post cited a conversation with Google Support as the source for its claims.

This led to a ton of confusion, as the development shop behind the post was well-established, having been on the Play Store since 2010 and would have been exempt from Google’s policy of increased reviews for new developers.

As it turns out, it appears there was miscommunication between Google Play Store developer support and the developer, according to the chat transcript that was published. The support person, “Liz,” was alerting the developer to the new policy Google announced in April, which detailed increased review times for Play Store newcomers. She didn’t appear to understand that she was speaking with a developer who had published on Google Play for nearly a decade.

Android Police also picked up the news, writing that Google had “quietly instigated a more involved review process that impacts every app and update.”

Reddit and Hacker News also weighed in. In addition to the reported changes, developers were concerned there was now no way to schedule new app releases through the Timed Publishing feature. (That’s also not true — developers can publish to a closed testing track, then use Timed Publishing to go live to the public.)

A Google Developer Relations team member stepped in to clear things up on Reddit, and we’ve confirmed with Google that his responses were accurate.

Google’s updated app review process, first announced in April, hasn’t changed.

At the time, Google said:

“We will soon be taking more time (days, not weeks) to review apps by developers that don’t yet have a track record with us. This will allow us to do more thorough checks before approving apps to go live in the store and will help us make even fewer inaccurate decisions on developer accounts.”

Google began notifying developers directly in the Play Console in June that new apps by developers without a track record will take a couple of days longer to review. Google says that, since this change, it’s already seen a meaningful increase in the number of harmful apps blocked by Play even before they are published.

It’s not clear why the developer relations support person miscommunicated this information to the developer in question, but it points to a training issue on Google’s part.

It’s also unclear why the established developer’s app was held up in app review, beyond it just being a mistake on Google’s part.

Unfortunately for Google, Play Store developers have come to expect a speedy review process, so any delays feel like unnecessary friction.

Unlike Apple, which employs a large team to carefully review app submissions and make hard calls on controversial apps, Google has more heavily relied on automation over the years. The company disclosed in the past how it uses software to pre-analyze apps for viruses, malware and other content and copyright violations.

That process doesn’t always work, though. Only days ago, dozens of Android apps disguised as harmless photo editors and games were discovered to actually be adware. This follows similar news from January, when 85 apps were found to contain adware… and in May, when adware was discovered in some 200 apps totaling 150+ million installs… and, news from last November, when malware was found across more than a dozen apps with half a million installs… and so on.

While it would make sense for Google to increase its review of all apps, given its inability to address this problem, that was not the case here.

The five technical challenges Cerebras overcame in building the first trillion transistor chip

By Danny Crichton

Superlatives abound at Cerebras, the until-today stealthy next-generation silicon chip company looking to make training a deep learning model as quick as buying toothpaste from Amazon. Launching after almost three years of quiet development, Cerebras introduced its new chip today — and it is a doozy. The “Wafer Scale Engine” is 1.2 trillion transistors (the most ever), 46,225 square millimeters (the largest ever), and includes 18 gigabytes of on-chip memory (the most of any chip on the market today) and 400,000 processing cores (guess the superlative).

CS Wafer Keyboard Comparison

Cerebras’ Wafer Scale Engine is larger than a typical Mac keyboard (via Cerebras Systems)

It’s made a big splash here at Stanford University at the Hot Chips conference, one of the silicon industry’s big confabs for product introductions and roadmaps, with various levels of oohs and aahs among attendees. You can read more about the chip from Tiernan Ray at Fortune and read the white paper from Cerebras itself.

Superlatives aside though, the technical challenges that Cerebras had to overcome to reach this milestone I think is the more interesting story here. I sat down with founder and CEO Andrew Feldman this afternoon to discuss what his 173 engineers have been building quietly just down the street here these past few years with $112 million in venture capital funding from Benchmark and others.

Going big means nothing but challenges

First, a quick background on how the chips that power your phones and computers get made. Fabs like TSMC take standard-sized silicon wafers and divide them into individual chips by using light to etch the transistors into the chip. Wafers are circles and chips are squares, and so there is some basic geometry involved in subdividing that circle into a clear array of individual chips.

One big challenge in this lithography process is that errors can creep into the manufacturing process, requiring extensive testing to verify quality and forcing fabs to throw away poorly performing chips. The smaller and more compact the chip, the less likely any individual chip will be inoperative, and the higher the yield for the fab. Higher yield equals higher profits.

Cerebras throws out the idea of etching a bunch of individual chips onto a single wafer in lieu of just using the whole wafer itself as one gigantic chip. That allows all of those individual cores to connect with one another directly — vastly speeding up the critical feedback loops used in deep learning algorithms — but comes at the cost of huge manufacturing and design challenges to create and manage these chips.

CS Wafer Sean

Cerebras’ technical architecture and design was led by co-founder Sean Lie. Feldman and Lie worked together on a previous startup called SeaMicro, which sold to AMD in 2012 for $334 million. (Via Cerebras Systems)

The first challenge the team ran into according to Feldman was handling communication across the “scribe lines.” While Cerebras chip encompasses a full wafer, today’s lithography equipment still has to act like there are individual chips being etched into the silicon wafer. So the company had to invent new techniques to allow each of those individual chips to communicate with each other across the whole wafer. Working with TSMC, they not only invented new channels for communication, but also had to write new software to handle chips with trillion plus transistors.

The second challenge was yield. With a chip covering an entire silicon wafer, a single imperfection in the etching of that wafer could render the entire chip inoperative. This has been the block for decades on whole wafer technology: due to the laws of physics, it is essentially impossible to etch a trillion transistors with perfect accuracy repeatedly.

Cerebras approached the problem using redundancy by adding extra cores throughout the chip that would be used as backup in the event that an error appeared in that core’s neighborhood on the wafer. “You have to hold only 1%, 1.5% of these guys aside,” Feldman explained to me. Leaving extra cores allows the chip to essentially self-heal, routing around the lithography error and making a whole wafer silicon chip viable.

Entering uncharted territory in chip design

Those first two challenges — communicating across the scribe lines between chips and handling yield — have flummoxed chip designers studying whole wafer chips for decades. But they were known problems, and Feldman said that they were actually easier to solve that expected by re-approaching them using modern tools.

He likens the challenge though to climbing Mount Everest. “It’s like the first set of guys failed to climb Mount Everest, they said, ‘Shit, that first part is really hard.’ And then the next set came along and said ‘That shit was nothing. That last hundred yards, that’s a problem.’”

And indeed, the toughest challenges according to Feldman for Cerebras were the next three, since no other chip designer had gotten past the scribe line communication and yield challenges to actually find what happened next.

The third challenge Cerebras confronted was handling thermal expansion. Chips get extremely hot in operation, but different materials expand at different rates. That means the connectors tethering a chip to its motherboard also need to thermally expand at precisely the same rate lest cracks develop between the two.

Feldman said that “How do you get a connector that can withstand [that]? Nobody had ever done that before, [and so] we had to invent a material. So we have PhDs in material science, [and] we had to invent a material that could absorb some of that difference.”

Once a chip is manufactured, it needs to be tested and packaged for shipment to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who add the chips into the products used by end customers (whether data centers or consumer laptops). There is a challenge though: absolutely nothing on the market is designed to handle a whole-wafer chip.

CS Wafer Inspection

Cerebras designed its own testing and packaging system to handle its chip (Via Cerebras Systems)

“How on earth do you package it? Well, the answer is you invent a lot of shit. That is the truth. Nobody had a printed circuit board this size. Nobody had connectors. Nobody had a cold plate. Nobody had tools. Nobody had tools to align them. Nobody had tools to handle them. Nobody had any software to test,” Feldman explained. “And so we have designed this whole manufacturing flow, because nobody has ever done it.” Cerebras’ technology is much more than just the chip it sells — it also includes all of the associated machinery required to actually manufacture and package those chips.

Finally, all that processing power in one chip requires immense power and cooling. Cerebras’ chip uses 15 kilowatts of power to operate — a prodigious amount of power for an individual chip, although relatively comparable to a modern-sized AI cluster. All that power also needs to be cooled, and Cerebras had to design a new way to deliver both for such a large chip.

It essentially approached the problem by turning the chip on its side, in what Feldman called “using the Z-dimension.” The idea was that rather than trying to move power and cooling horizontally across the chip as is traditional, power and cooling are delivered vertically at all points across the chip, ensuring even and consistent access to both.

And so, those were the next three challenges — thermal expansion, packaging, and power/cooling — that the company has worked around-the-clock to deliver these past few years.

From theory to reality

Cerebras has a demo chip (I saw one, and yes, it is roughly the size of my head), and it has started to deliver prototypes to customers according to reports. The big challenge though as with all new chips is scaling production to meet customer demand.

For Cerebras, the situation is a bit unusual. Since it places so much computing power on one wafer, customers don’t necessarily need to buy dozens or hundreds of chips and stitch them together to create a compute cluster. Instead, they may only need a handful of Cerebras chips for their deep-learning needs. The company’s next major phase is to reach scale and ensure a steady delivery of its chips, which it packages as a whole system “appliance” that also includes its proprietary cooling technology.

Expect to hear more details of Cerebras technology in the coming months, particularly as the fight over the future of deep learning processing workflows continues to heat up.

Mammoth Media introduces Choose Your Own Adventure-style storytelling to its chat fiction app Yarn

By Anthony Ha

The chat fiction stories offered in Mammoth Media‘s mobile app Yarn are about to get more interactive.

The branching narrative mechanic should be familiar to anyone who read Choose Your Own Adventure books when they were kids — you read a story, and at certain key moments, you choose from different options that determine where the plot will go next.

More recently, the “Being Beyonce’s assistant for a day” thread on Twitter reminded everyone how fun and stressful this kind of storytelling can be. In fact, Mammoth says it’s hired the thread’s author Landon Rivera as one of the writers for this new initiative.

One thing you probably won’t recognize from your childhood reading is the fact that some of these choices aren’t free — to select them, you’ll need to spend money in the form of Yarn’s new virtual currency, gems.

Mammoth founder and CEO Benoit Vatere explained that in those cases, there might be two choices that you can select for free, plus a third that you need to pay for. Usually, it will be something that accelerates the story or sends it off in a new direction — in a horror story, you could get the option to stab someone, or in a romance story, your character could get the option to go home with someone.

Vatere added, “It’s not only being able to have a different branch in the story, but being able to play as a different character lead … Instead of being the male character, would they like to be the female character and really see a different perspective?”

He acknowledged that some of Yarn’s paying subscribers might be cranky about being asked to pay more, but he said the goal is that those subscribers can have “a full experience” without having to buy additional gems.

Yarn is launching interactive stories with titles including “Blue Ivy’s Nanny,” where it’s your first day on the job as Beyoncé’s nanny (I’m going to go ahead and guess that Rivera worked on this one); a romance story called “Playing the Field”; a horror story called “Haunted Camper” and a drama called “Trapped.” Vatere also said there are plans for branched narratives tying into existing Yarn franchises, and set in the world of Archie Comics.

Overall, Vatere said he’s hoping that this will lead to more engagement from Yarn readers, while also opening up new opportunities for monetization.

“Subscription is a great model, but subscription has a cap,” he said. That’s why Mammoth is experimenting with virtual currency, and why it plans to make these stories available to non-subscribers.

Developers accuse Apple of anti-competitive behavior with its privacy changes in iOS 13

By Sarah Perez

A group of app developers have penned a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, arguing that certain privacy-focused changes to Apple’s iOS 13 operating system will hurt their business. In a report by The Information, the developers were said to have accused Apple of anti-competitive behavior when it comes to how apps can access user location data.

With iOS 13, Apple aims to curtail apps’ abuse of its location-tracking features as part of its larger privacy focus as a company.

Today, many apps ask users upon first launch to give their app the “Always Allow” location-tracking permission. Users can confirm this with a tap, unwittingly giving apps far more access to their location data than is actually necessary, in many cases.

In iOS 13, however, Apple has tweaked the way apps can request location data.

There will now be a new option upon launch presented to users, “Allow Once,” which allows users to first explore the app to see if it fits their needs before granting the app developer the ability to continually access location data. This option will be presented alongside existing options, “Allow While Using App” and “Don’t Allow.”

The “Always” option is still available, but users will have to head to iOS Settings to manually enable it. (A periodic pop-up will also present the “Always” option, but not right away.)

The app developers argue that this change may confuse less technical users, who will assume the app isn’t functioning properly unless they figure out how to change their iOS Settings to ensure the app has the proper permissions.

The developers’ argument is a valid assessment of user behavior and how such a change could impact their apps. The added friction of having to go to Settings in order to toggle a switch so an app to function can cause users to abandon apps. It’s also, in part, why apps like Safari ad blockers and iOS replacement keyboards never really went mainstream, as they require extra steps involving the iOS Settings.

That said, the changes Apple is rolling out with iOS 13 don’t actually break these apps entirely. They just require the apps to refine their onboarding instructions to users. Instead of asking for the “Always Allow” permission, they will need to point users to the iOS Settings screen, or limit the apps’ functionality until it’s granted the “Always Allow” permission.

In addition, the developers’ letter pointed out that Apple’s own built-in apps (like Find My) aren’t treated like this, which raises anti-competitive concerns.

The letter also noted that Apple in iOS 13 would not allow developers to use PushKit for any other purpose beyond internet voice calls — again, due to the fact that some developers abused this toolkit to collect private user data.

“We understand that there were certain developers, specifically messaging apps, that were using this as a backdoor to collect user data,” the email said, according to the report. “While we agree loopholes like this should be closed, the current Apple plan to remove [access to the internet voice feature] will have unintended consequences: it will effectively shut down apps that have a valid need for real-time location.”

The letter was signed by Tile CEO CJ Prober; Arity (Allstate) President Gary Hallgren; CEO of Life360 Chris Hullsan; CEO of dating app Happn Didier Rappaport; CEO of Zenly (Snap), Antoine Martin; , CEO of Zendrive, Jonathan Matus which; and chief strategy officer of social networking app Twenty, Jared Allgood.

Apple responded to The Information by saying that any changes it makes to the operating system are “in service to the user” and to their privacy. It also noted that any apps it distributes from the App Store have to abide by the same procedures.

It’s another example of how erring on the side of increased user privacy can lead to complications and friction for end users. One possible solution could be allowing apps to present their own in-app Settings screen where users could toggle the app’s full set of permissions directly — including everything from location data to push notifications to the app’s use of cellular data or Bluetooth sharing.

The news comes at a time when the U.S. Dept. of Justice is considering investigating Apple for anti-competitive behavior. Apple told The Information it was working with some of the impacted developers using PushKit on alternate solutions.

YouTube Originals become ad-supported and free after September 24th

By Sarah Perez

In an email distributed to YouTube Premium subscribers, the company confirmed that access to YouTube’s original programming will no longer be exclusive to Premium customers after September 24th, 2019. Instead, YouTube’s Original series, movies, and live events will be offered to all YouTube viewers for free, supported by ads. Premium members, however, can watch the content ad-free.

In addition, Premium subscribers will have access to all the available episodes in a series right when they premiere, says YouTube, and they’ll be able to download them for offline viewing.

There will also continue to be some exclusive subscriber-only content, in the form of things like director’s cuts and extra scenes from YouTube Originals.

YouTube had previously announced its plans to make its original programming available for free back in May, following a larger shift in strategy for the video platform. According to a Deadline report from last November, YouTube had been reassessing its scripted development plans with a goal of refocusing on unscripted shows and specials. It had also stopped taking new scripted pitches.

The company had found some success with scripted content, the report noted — like Cobra Kai which at the time had 100 million views and a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. But the company was also finding success with celebrity content, like Katy Perry: Will You Be My Witness and Will Smith’s Grand Canyon bungee stunt, for example.

This is the direction YouTube may be aiming to pursue next, Deadline had said.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Variety recently reported on a new crowdfunding service for YouTube creators, Fundo, which allows start to invite fans to virtual meet & greet sessions and other paid online events. However, this project is not from YouTube or Google itself, but rather its in-house incubator Area 120, which operates more independently. That said, it reflects YouTube’s larger interest in the creation of new revenue streams for creators beyond ads and subscriptions.

Along with the news of the changes to YouTube Originals, the email to Premium subscribers also alerted them to the addition of a “Recommended Downloads” feature on the Library tab, which lets them browse and download videos from YouTube’s algorithmic suggestions. And it noted YouTube Music changes, like the ability to switch between video and audio and the launch of “smart downloads” which automatically download up to 500 songs from Liked Songs and other favorite playlists and albums.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

By Brian Heater

It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.”

In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line.

Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back.

Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any.

So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD.

The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8.

That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much.

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The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there.

The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9.

The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera.

The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array.

The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters.

On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block.

One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago.

Courage.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung.

As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back:

The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time.

There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box.

Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether.

Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them.

Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant.

Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows:

  • Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel
  • Wide: 12 megapixel
  • Telephoto: 12 megapixel
  • DepthVision

Samsung Galaxy Note10

That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible).

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The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right)

Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right)

Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect.

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Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that.

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The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers.

For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down.

3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely.

It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life.

The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly.

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That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow.

Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel.

Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing.

If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch.

Note 10

You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so.

The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset.

There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat.

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Google discloses its acquisition of mobile learning app Socratic as it relaunches on iOS

By Sarah Perez

Google publicly disclosed its acquisition of homework helper app Socratic in an announcement this week, detailing the added support for the company’s A.I. technology and its relaunch on iOS. The acquisition apparently flew under the radar — Google says it bought the app last year.

According to one founder’s LinkedIn update, that was in March 2018. Google hasn’t responded to requests for comment for more details about the deal, but we’ll update if that changes.

Socratic was founded in 2013 Chris Pedregal and Shreyans Bhansali with the goal of creating a community that made learning accessible to all students.

Initially, the app offered a Quora-like Q&A platform where students could ask questions which were answered by experts. By the time Socratic raised $6 million in Series A funding back in 2015, its community had grown to around 500,000 students. The company later evolved to focus less on connecting users and more on utility.

It included a feature to take a photo of a homework question in order to get instant explanations through the mobile app launched in 2015. This is similar to many other apps in the space, like Photomath, Mathway, DoYourMath, and others.

However, Socratic isn’t just a math helper — it can also tackle subjects like science, literature, social studies, and more.

In February 2018, Socratic announced it would remove the app’s social features. That June, the company said it was closing its Q&A website to user contributions. This decision was met with some backlash of disappointed users.

Socratic explained the app and website were different products, and it was strategically choosing to focus on the former.

“We, as anyone, are bound by the constraints of reality—you just can’t do everything—which means making decisions and tradeoffs where necessary. This one is particularly painful,” wrote Community Lead Becca McArthur at the time.

That strategy, apparently, was to make Socratic a Google A.I.-powered product. According to Google’s blog post penned by Bhansali — now the Engineering Manager at Socratic — the updated iOS app uses A.I. technology to help users.

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The new version of the iOS app still allows you to snap a photo to get answers, or you can speak your question.

For example, if a student takes a photo from a classroom handout or asks a question like “what’s the difference between distance and displacement?,” Socratic will return a top match, followed by explainers, a Q&A section, and even related YouTube videos and web links. It’s almost like a custom search engine just for your homework questions.

Google also says it has built and trained algorithms that can analyze the student’s question then identify the underlying concepts in order to point users to these resources. For students who need even more help, the app can break down the concepts into smaller, easy-to-understand lessons.

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In addition, the app includes subject guides on over 1,000 higher education and high school topics, developed with help from educators. The study guides can help students prepare for tests or just better learn a particular concept.

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“In building educational resources for teachers and students, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about challenges they face and how we can help,” writes Bhansali. “We’ve heard that students often get ‘stuck’ while studying. When they have questions in the classroom, a teacher can quickly clarify—but it’s frustrating for students who spend hours trying to find answers while studying on their own,” he says.

This is where Socratic will help.

That said, the acquisition could help Google in other ways, too. In addition to its primary focus as a homework helper, the acquisition could aid Google Assistant technology across platforms, as the virtual assistant could learn to answer more complex questions that Google’s Knowledge Graph didn’t already include.

The relaunched, A.I.-powered version of Socratic by Google arrived on Thursday on iOS, where it also discloses through the app update text the app is now owned by Google.

The Android version of the app will launch this fall.

 

YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

By Manish Singh

Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges.

These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021.

Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages.

But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC).

Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview.

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There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said.

Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional news and also includes an “information” stream that shows things like current price of vegetables, upcoming events and contact details for local doctors and police stations.

The platform has grown to cover 18 districts in South India and is slowly ramping up its operations to more corners of the country. The early signs show that people are increasingly finding Lokal useful. “In 11 of the 18 districts we cover, we already have a larger presence and reader base than other media houses,” Pasha said.

Before creating Lokal, Pasha and the other co-founder of the startup, Vipul Chaudhary, attempted to develop a news aggregator app. The app presented news events in a timeline, offering context around each development.

“We made the biggest mistake. We built the product for four to five months without ever consulting with the users. We quickly found that nobody was using it. We went back to the drawing board and started interviewing users to understand what they wanted. How they consumed news, and where they got their news from,” he said.

“One thing we learned was that most of these users in tier 2 and tier 3 India still heavily rely on newspapers. Newspapers still carry a lot of local news and they rely on stringers who produce these news pieces and source them to publications,” he added.

But newspapers have limited pages, and they are slow. So Pasha and the team tried to build a platform that addresses these two things.

Pasha tried to replicate it through distributing local news, sourced from stringers, on a WhatsApp group. “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of many as more and more people kept joining us,” he recalls. And that led to the creation of Lokal.

Along the journey, the team found that classifieds, matrimonial ads and things like birthday wishes are still driving people to newspapers, so Lokal has brought those things to the platform.

Pasha said Lokal will expand to three more states in the coming months. It will also begin to experiment with monetization, though that is not the primary focus currently. “The plan is to eventually bring this to entire India,” he said.

A growing number of startups today are attempting to build solutions for what they call India 2 and India 3 — the users who don’t live in major cities, don’t speak English and are financially not as strong.

ShareChat, a social media platform that serves users in 15 regional languages — but not English — said recently it has raised $100 million in a round led by Twitter. The app serves more than 60 million users each month, a figure it wants to double in the next year.

8 million Android users tricked into downloading 85 adware apps from Google Play

By Zack Whittaker

Dozens of Android adware apps disguised as photo taking and editing apps have been caught serving ads that would take over users’ screens as part of a fraudulent money-making scheme.

Security firm Trend Micro said it found 85 individual apps downloaded more than eight million times from the Google Play — all of which have since been removed from the app store.

More often than not adware apps will run on a user’s device and will silently serve and click ads in the background and without the user’s knowledge to generate ad revenue. But these apps were particularly brazen and sneaky, one of the researchers said.

“It isn’t your run-of-the-mill adware family,” said Ecular Xu, a mobile threat response engineer at Trend Micro. “Apart from displaying advertisements that are difficult to close, it employs unique techniques to evade detection through user behavior and time-based triggers.”

The researchers discovered that the apps would keep a record when they were installed and sit dormant for around half-an-hour. After the delay, the app would hide its icon and create a shortcut on the user’s home screen, the security firm said. That, they say, helped to protect the app from being deleted if the user decided to drag and drop the shortcut to the ‘uninstall’ section of the screen.

“These ads are shown in full screen,” said Xu. “Users are forced to view the whole duration of the ad before being able to close it or go back to app itself.”

When the app unlocked, it displayed ads on the user’s home screen. The code also checks to make sure it doesn’t show the same ad too frequently, the researchers said.

Worse, the ads can be remotely configured by the fraudster, allowing ads to be displayed more frequently than the default five minute intervals.

Trend Micro provided a list of the apps — including Super Selfie Camera, Cos Camera, Pop Camera, and One Stroke Line Puzzle — all of which had a million downloads each.

Users about to install the apps had a dead giveaway: most of the apps had appalling reviews, many of which had as many one-star reviews as they did five-stars, with users complaining about the deluge of pop-up ads.

Google does not typically comment on app removals beyond acknowledging their removal from Google Play.

Read more:

Motorola has GoPro aspirations for its latest budget handset

By Brian Heater

Good on Motorola for keeping it interesting. At the end of the day, I’m not sure how large a market there is for a budget “action camera” phone, but in a world of samey electronics, at least the Lenovo-owned brand continues to shade in interesting corners.

Honestly, I’m surprised more phones didn’t attempt to position themselves as action devices in the heyday of the GoPro. For most consumers, that trend has largely blown over, and for GoPro itself, it’s become tough to compete with cheap knockoffs and the recent entrance of DJI into the market.

The “action” part of the Motorola One Action is largely a reference to the three-camera array on the rear — specifically the 117-degree, ultra side angle that offers a more GoPro-style shot. What’s really interesting here (and could have broad implications) is the decision to change the sensor’s orientation. Holding the phone vertically (wrong) results in landscape videos (right).

And listen, I realize that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to shoot phone video, but come on, let’s be real for a minute. Those bars a really awful way to watch a YouTube video.

The handset is pretty much a standard budget Moto device in every other way. It arrives in Brazil, Mexico and parts of Europe today. The U.S. and Canada will get their hands on it in October. Expect it to be priced under $300.

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