Posts Tagged ‘Tech’

Mother Angry After School's Robocall Keeps Mispronouncing Daughter's Name As A Racial Slur

Posted by Carl on 4th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Nicomi Stewart, a mother in Rochester, New York, is “disgusted” after an automated call sent to her phone from the city’s school district mispronounced her daughter’s name as a racial slur.

Stewart’s daughter is named Nicarri. Stewart told WHAM TV the message clearly began, “This is Edison Career and Technology High School. Your daughter, N****r, has missed period one on…”

The call came after Nicarri missed a day of class at Edison Career and Technology High School.

The racially insensitive robocall came more than once so Stewart was able to record the message.

“I was like, wow, am I really hearing you correctly, did the machine just say this?” Stewart told WHAM TV. “It was unbelievable. I was shocked. I was disgusted. I was upset.”

Even stranger: Stewart said the robocalls correctly pronounced Nicarri’s name last year.

Although a school administrator told Stewart her daughter’s name would be removed from the automated calling system, she says she’s received at least two other calls that mispronounced her daughter’s name the same way.

“It’s disrespectful and it’s degrading. I don’t even use that word in my house, so why is my child being called this?” Stewart told WHAM TV.

Nicomi Stewart says her daughter's high school keeps sending robocalls that mispronounce the name of her daughter Nicarri asa racial slur.Nicomi Stewart says her daughter's high school keeps sending robocalls that mispronounce the name of her daughter Nicarri asa racial slur.

Lawrence Bo Wright, the deputy superintendent of administration for the Rochester City School District, publicly apologized to Stewart.

“Representatives from the district have talked with the family and apologized profusely, as we should,” he told WHAM TV. “We can’t say enough how sorry we are.”

He blamed the issue on a software error with Blackboard Connect, a vendor it contracts with to send out mass notifications.

“It’s very similar to technologies that you use that are centered around GPS, where sometimes the system will have mispronounced a name,” Wright told the station. “And that’s how that occurred.”

When HuffPost contacted Blackboard Connect to get more details on how the reported slur could happen, they responded with this statement:

“Blackboard Connect includes an automated text to speech [TTS] software feature that allows customers to place automated phone calls by entering text. The system automatically generates pronunciations based on typed text. In this case it appears that the system mispronounced the recipient’s child’s name, sounding like a racial slur.

“Blackboard takes this issue very seriously and we are working with the school district and our TTS vendor to correct the problem. We sincerely apologize for this very unfortunate technical issue.”

A company spokesman also expressed regret that WHAM TV bleeped out the supposed slur during its story. He pointed HuffPost to this page that uses the same speech software the company uses in its robocalls and suggested typing out the name of Stewart’s daughter.

Wright promised Stewart the district would only contact the family through a phone call or email until the problem is rectified, but Stewart said she’s still receiving those calls, including one earlier this week.

“They’re making me look like I’m slightly bananas and lying about this, when they’re saying they rectified something they haven’t rectified yet,” Stewart told WHAM TV.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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Twitter tests longer character limit

Posted by Carl on 29th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

You may soon get to say a lot more on Twitter.

The social media giant announced it is testing a longer character limit.

The change will extend the current 140 characters to 280 for all languages except Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

Users won’t see this change right away, though.

Only a small percentage will be testing it at first, and according to the company, it is just a test and there is no guarantee this change will be available to everyone.

Via Business Insider: 

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Mac OS High Sierra makes the Mac a teeny, tiny bit better — for free

Posted by Carl on 26th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

If you still want to do your editing in Photoshop (or any other external program), Apple has finally restored this fantastic feature (which was in iPhoto) to Photos. Better yet, the changes you make in that app are non-destructive—you can undo them at any time. In other words, you can use Photos for its superior organizational and sharing tools, but Photoshop for editing.

A new Imports view shows not just the latest batch of imported photos, but the batch before that, and the batch before that, and so on. And, inevitably, there are now Instagram-style filters.

You can now filter your view by Favorites, photos you’ve edited, only movies, only stills, and so on. The Faces feature, which knows who’s in each photo, has been improved, and the face-categorizing you’ve done on the Mac gets auto-synced to your phone.

The Photos feature, called Memories (automatically grouped and curated slideshows with music), is much smarter now. Instead of grouping photos only by event or location, they now auto-recognize and auto-build slideshows of your pets, babies, outdoor activities, performances, weddings, birthdays, and sports games.

Apple has opened up its “order your photos printed on mousepads, books, calendars, etc.” feature to other companies. Soon, you’ll be able to install Photos extensions that permit all kinds of photo-product ordering.

Finally, Apple introduces some editing options to Live Photos: weird, three-second video clips that the iPhone can capture. You can now shorten a Live Photo, mute its audio, or extract a single frame to use as a still photo. Photos can also suggest a “boomerang” segment (bounces back and forth) or a loop (repeats over and over). And it has a new Slow Shutter filter, which (for example) blurs a babbling brook or stars moving across the sky, as though taken with a long exposure.

My one gripe: You hit the Space bar to open a video’s thumbnail to play it. So what do you hit to play the open video? In every other video-playback program on the ever-lovin’ planet, the Space bar starts and stops video. But not in Photos. Best I can tell, you have to reach for the mouse and click the Play button.

A new file system

The file system is the underlying, invisible software that controls the management of files and folders on your Mac. For almost 20 years, Mac fans have been using one called HFS+. And now, there’s the Apple File System, or APFS. It’s designed for the new era of solid-state drives and increased security threats.

Most of its benefits are under the hood: Far better security (for example, more sophisticated FileVault encryption for your whole hard drive); better crash resistance; more efficient storage; and faster operation. (If you’re technically inclined, here are the details.)

The two aspects of APFS you’ll probably notice first are:

  • You know the column that shows you how big the files and folders in a window are? Now, those numbers don’t need time to appear. They’re instantly there.
  • You can now duplicate a file or a folder instantly, no matter how big it is.

APFS is what Apple uses on iPhones and iPads already, so it’s already had some time in the field—and now it’s on the Mac, too.

(Well, at least it’s on Macs with solid-state drives like MacBook laptops. APFS doesn’t yet auto-convert traditional spinning hard drives, Apple Fusion drives, or external drives. You can manually convert spinning hard drives in the Disk Utility program, though.)


The Notes app has continued to improve:

  • Pin your best Notes. In the Notes app, you can now pin your most used notes (to do lists, grocery lists, etc.) to the top of the list, so they don’t get sorted down chronologically as they do now. They show up on your iPhone like that, too.
  • Tables. Yes! You can now add a table to a Note. Great for bake-sale assignments, sports scores, and so on.


  • Smaller multimedia. In both iOS 11 and Mac OS High Sierra, Apple offers new file formats that permit your photos and videos to look the same as before, but to consume only half the space. This is a huge deal for anyone whose phone or Mac is constantly filled up. For photos, it’s called the High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF); for videos, it’s the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC, or h.265). In theory, when you export these photos and videos, they convert to standard formats like JPEG and h.264.
  • Mail enhancements. When you search in Mail, a Top Hits section presents the messages Mail thinks are the best matches (based on Read status, senders you’ve replied to, your VIPs, and so on). Mail also offers a split-screen view when composing new messages in full-screen mode. And it stores your messages in 35 percent less disk space. More space is always welcome.
  • A new voice for Siri. The new male and female voices sound much more like actual people. (They’re the same ones that just appeared in iOS 11.)
  • iCloud file sharing. Finally, you can share files you’ve stored on your iCloud Drive with other people, just as you’ve been able to do with Dropbox for years. To do so, right-click an icon; from the shortcut menu, choose Add People. Now you can send an invitation to anyone by message, email, or whatever, and you can specify how much editing control they have. The catch, of course, is that the recipient must be using iOS 11 (on an iPhone or iPad) or Mac OS High Sierra (on a Mac).
  • Capture a FaceTime moment as a Live Photo. You can snap a 3-second snippet of a video chat—a Live Photo—for later sharing. (You can’t do so secretly, however; the other person knows. In fact, the other person can block your ability to capture altogether, in FaceTime Settings.)
  • Messages in iCloud. When you sign into any new Mac, iPhone, or iPad with your iCloud credentials, your entire texting history gets downloaded automatically. (As it is now, you can’t see the Message transcript history with someone on a new machine.) Saving the Messages history online also saves disk space on your Mac.
  • Family storage sharing. You can now share an iCloud storage plan with family members.
  • More Spotlight wisdom. The Spotlight search feature can now provide flight arrival and departure times, terminals, gates, delays, and flight maps when you type in a flight number. It can also return multiple Wikipedia results on a single screen.
  • Developer goodies. Apple now offers development kits for virtual reality and augmented reality, hoping to jump-start new apps in an area where Apple is now way behind. There’s a new version of Metal, too, the Mac software that addresses your graphics card.

Hi-ho, High Sierra!

Two tiny things may annoy you in Mac OS High Sierra:

  • The Messages app no longer works with AOL Instant Messenger and Bonjour accounts.
  • Remember that smaller-photo-format business? Unfortunately, Photoshop doesn’t yet recognize the new formats, and I ran across a few frustrating times when I took a photo with my iPhone and couldn’t then edit it in Photoshop. (Exporting them a different way—texting them to myself instead of using AirDrop, for example—solved it.)

On the other hand, there are some features you’ll notice multiple times a day, including the new per-site Safari settings (like “don’t auto-play video!”), the better battery life (if you use Safari), and the fantastic Photos overhaul.

As always, the fearful of heart should wait for any glitches to be ironed out in the 10.13.1 update that will come along, no doubt, in October. But whether you upgrade now or then, you’ll find that Mac OS High Sierra is a teeny, tiny upgrade—that makes Mac life a teeny, tiny bit better.

More from David Pogue:

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, is the author of the upcoming Mac OS High Sierra: The Missing Manual. On the Web, he’s On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s You can read all his articles here (, or you can sign up to get his columns by email ( 

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MIZUHO: Here's why Facebook has 'a realistic opportunity' to enter China in 2018

Posted by Carl on 21st September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Facebook has a “realistic opportunity” to enter China in 2018, Mizuho analyst James Lee wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Lee came to the conclusion after meeting “various industry contacts” in China during a recent trip. He outlined a few factors that he believes increase the likelihood of Facebook finally entering the country next year:

  • Facebook’s recent appointment of an executive to manage relations with China will help the company “understand the regulatory requirement and negotiate Facebook’s operating structure in China,” said Lee in the note, a copy of which was obtained by Business Insider. Facebook recently tapped William Shuai from LinkedIn to lead government relations in the country, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Facebook’s current approach of helping Chinese advertisers sell ads overseas “appears to

    be aligned with Chinese government’s policy to globalize local companies,” and could finally lead to the company securing the coveted Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence needed to officially do business in China. Lee estimated that Facebook already makes more than $US1 billion per year from Chinese marketers that use its platform to advertise outside of China.

  • The recent approval that Airbnb and Linkedin received to operate in China is a sign that the government is “more open to internet companies that can help Chinese companies gain global recognition,” according to Lee.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping will begin his second term in November 2017. “Historically speaking, media scrutiny and sensitivity are much less during an administration’s second term,” said Lee, who noted that Google was able to successfully negotiate its ICP licence during the previous president’s second term.

Facebook has been officially banned from doing business in China since 2009, and parts of its WhatsApp service were recently blocked within the country’s borders. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has courted Chinese officials for years, and even spent one year learning to speak Mandarin.

When Facebook eventually does crack into China, Mizuho’s Lee thinks the social network will first likely operate an Instagram-like app or gaming platform for Oculus VR in the country. The New York Times recently reported that Facebook has been covertly testing a photo-sharing app in China and is also on the hunt to find a Shanghai office for its fledgling consumer hardware division, Building 8.

China, the world’s largest market of internet users, is an attractive but challenging region for American tech companies to break into. Google famously shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, blaming the country’s strict censorship rules and hacking attacks it had suffered in the region.

One way Facebook has experimented with getting back into China is by creating a censorship tool that automatically suppresses certain posts in specific geographic areas, The New York Times reported last year. Facebook has never confirmed the existence of the tool.

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Pogue's Basics: Access YouTube's free music and sound effects

Posted by Carl on 20th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Want to add some cool sound effects or music to your YouTube video (or any video)?

YouTube is there for you. It has a whole library of high-quality, 320kbps audio tracks and sound effects that you can download royalty-free and add to your videos. (Or listen to in your free time. We won’t judge.)

Adapted from “Pogue’s Basics: Tech” (Flatiron Press), by David Pogue.

More from David Pogue:

iPhone 8 reviewed: Nice, but nothing to buzz about

The $999, eyebrow-raising iPhone X: David Pogue’s hands-on review

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T-Mobile COO: Why we make investments like free Netflix that ‘seem crazy’ 

Pogue’s Basics: Link to a Facebook post

Ossia thinks it’s licked the problems with through-the-air charging

Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant is ambitious, powerful, and half-bakedIs through-the-air charging a hoax? 

Pogue’s Basics: The secret Start menu in Windows 10

The pizza-making robots that want to change the world

Electrify your existing bike in 2 minutes with these ingenious wheels

Marty Cooper, inventor of the cellphone: The next step is implantables 

The David Pogue Review: Windows 10 Creators Update

How a one-of-a-kind business has kept 5,000 kitchens out of landfills

Google’s Nest Cam IQ recognizes burglars’ faces—for a steep price

The 4 people Steve Jobs handpicked to review the iPhone reflect 10 years later

Study: A smartwatch app can detect the heart condition hiding in millions of Americans

Now I get it: Bitcoin

David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app

The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers

Article source:

The 5 best new features of this week's YouTube redesign

Posted by Carl on 18th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

This is a big week for YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL). It’s getting a new design and new features—all of which have been in the works, carefully and methodically, for a very long time, and all of which, as far as I’m concerned, are welcome!


It’s time. As the YouTube blog points out, “When YouTube launched 12 years ago, it was a single website that supported one video format, 320×240 at 4:3 aspect ratio.” 320×240 pixels? Man, that’s not even big enough for the YouTube logo these days.

Which, by the way, is new, along with new fonts and new colors. The logo plays down the TV-ness of the old one, since, you know—who watches TV sets anymore?

On the desktop, you get four juicy new features:

  • The weird Theater Mode button, which never really did much, now does something great. It makes the video fill the screen except for the menu bar and YouTube controls. It’s one stop short of Full Screen, and genuinely useful.
  • No more “Load More” buttons! The Comments scroll forever, loading more comments or videos automatically. Same thing with the thumbnails page.
  • You can now preview a thumbnail by pointing to it without clicking.
  • The new Dark Theme is meant for nighttime viewing so all that white isn’t so blinding. It makes all the white areas of the screen black. To turn it on, click your avatar (your little account icon in the upper-right corner of the screen), click “Dark Theme,” and, in the resulting panel, turn on “Activate Dark Theme.”

There are some changes in the phone app, too. The big one: You’ve always been able to control the playback speed of a video on your computer, using the little sprocket menu. But now, finally, you can speed up or slow down playback on the app, too! The trick is to tap the three dots in the upper right, and then hit “Playback Speed.”

It’s hard to redesign something as huge and popular as YouTube. But you know what? They’ve done it. Today’s YouTube update is a big bundle of good stuff.

More from David Pogue:

Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant is ambitious, powerful, and half-baked

Is through-the-air charging a hoax?

Electrify your existing bike in 2 minutes with these ingenious wheels

Marty Cooper, inventor of the cellphone: The next step is implantables 

The David Pogue Review: Windows 10 Creators Update

Now I get it: Bitcoin

David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app

The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes nontoxic comments in the comments section below. On the web, he’s On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email

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The most important iPhone features ever

Posted by Carl on 17th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

While it may be difficult for Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android fans to admit, Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone has become one of history’s most influential consumer electronics devices.

Today’s iPhone 7 and the upcoming iPhone 8 — or iPhone 10, or whatever it’s going to be called — is an amalgamation of the best aspects of its predecessors, as well as a number of ideas the company “borrowed” from its competitors.

But the additions Apple has made to its iconic handset don’t all carry equal weight. These are the most important iPhone features to date.

The Home button

The Home button has been with the iPhone since Apple launched its first handset in 2007. A simple circle designed to cup your thumb, the Home button has evolved significantly over the years. Today, the Home button is a solid-state button with an adjustable pressure sensor. Apple also did away with the small square located at the center of the Home button, and could kill off the circle entirely with the iPhone 8.

According to rumors, the next iPhone might use an on-screen Home button thanks to the handset’s edge-to-edge display. It’s not exactly a new idea, though. Samsung started using on-screen Home buttons with its Galaxy S8, and Google’s Pixel, as well as other Android phones, only use on-screen Home buttons.


Apple’s EarPods are technically an add-on to the iPhone, but the clean, all-white design of the in-ear headphones were hugely popular during the iPhone’s early days and continue to be used to this day. Apple’s decision to include the EarPods with every iPhone ensured consumers could show off how hip they were by letting them subtly show off the fact that they owned an iPhone without waving it in the face of every stranger they passed on the street.

Apple even included a pair with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, though it’s unclear if that tradition will continue with the iPhone 8, as Apple is pushing consumers toward its wireless AirPods.

The Retina display

When Apple’s late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off the original iPhone, the most impressive feature was its display. While other manufactures were still slapping physical keyboards on their devices, Apple decided that you’d only be able to use a multi-touch panel to interact with the iPhone. And while physical keyboard traditionalists turned their noses up at Apple’s handset, the iPhone ended up the ultimate winner.

Over the years, Apple has steadily improved the iPhone’s panel, first by developing the high-resolution Retina display, then by stretching the screen’s size from 3.5 inches to 4 inches and finally to 4.7 inches with the iPhone 6 and 5.5-inches with the massive 6 Plus.

The iPhone 8 is expected to get an edge-to-edge display, which means its screens’ sizes could see significant increases. And who wouldn’t want a larger display to browse Snapchat?

Touch ID

The iPhone 5s was the first iPhone to feature Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The feature, which turned the Home button into a fingerprint reader, allowed you to unlock your phone without having to enter an annoying pin, and is, generally, more secure.

The following year Apple rolled out its Apple Pay mobile payment service, which allowed users to pay for items online and at cash registers using their fingerprints.

There is speculation that Apple might change up the implementation of the technology with the iPhone 8 by positioning the reader under the phone’s display. Doing so would allow the company to create a larger edge-to-edge screen without having to do away with the reader or move it to the rear of the handset.

The camera

Apple has always given special attention to the iPhone’s camera, and for quite some time it was easily the market leader when it came to overall quality. Samsung’s Galaxy family of smartphones and other competitors like Google’s Pixel have closed the gap over the years, but Apple pushed the boundary further with its iPhone 7 Plus and that handset’s dual-lens camera.

Apple is expected to make even greater improvements to its cameras with the iPhone 8, with rumors indicating the phone will get a 3D sensor for augmented reality apps and a super-fast facial recognition camera up front.


The first of the new breed of virtual assistants, Apple’s Siri started out with the ability to tell you the weather and check sports scores. Since then Amazon (AMZN) has successfully jumped into the virtual assistant arena with its incredibly successful Alexa and Echo speaker. Google’s own Assistant and Home speaker have followed with success of their own, but Siri started things off.

What’s more, Siri is available across Apple’s multitude of devices including the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Home Kit, and Car Play.

Apple will soon release updates to Siri via iOS 11 with a new voice, brighter information cards and further Siri Kit integration with additional apps. Then there’s the company’s own HomePod smart speaker coming later this fall. In other words, don’t sleep on Siri.

The App Store

Apple’s App Store wasn’t available on the first iPhone, but it arguably helped make the handset as important as it is today. Thanks to the App Store, we use our smartphones to do things like find dates, order food, play games, stream movies and, of course, download apps that make fart noises.

The App Store hasn’t been without controversy, though. Apple’s notoriously strict guidelines and its “walled garden” approach to how it allows apps to interact with the iPhone have been criticized throughout the years. But there’s no denying the App Store has been critical to the iPhone’s success.

For Apple’s iOS 11, the App Store is getting a new look and improved curation via the store’s own editorial team, as well as daily updates to the day’s hottest apps. The App Store could soon be its best yet.


It’s the foundation of Apple’s iPhone, not to mention the iPad, and helped launch the mobile revolution, so it goes without saying that iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, is the most important feature of the iPhone.

The operating system made it easy to navigate a supercomputer using your fingers and had a direct influence on Google’s Android — and vice versa. Through the years Apple has dramatically expanded iOS’ capabilities, and with iOS 11 the company will further broaden the scope of the operating system by adding additional capabilities for things like machine learning and AR Kit, which will enable augmented reality applications.

From the moment you turn on your iPhone to the moment you put it down at night — and then pick it up again to check Instagram one more time — you interact with iOS. Without it, the iPhone wouldn’t be anything close to the device it is today and will be in the future.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel at; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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4 amazing new gadgets you can't get in the US

Posted by Carl on 16th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

BERLIN — Living in the United States and seeing every other electronics-producing country try to sell its gadgets to us, it can be easy to think that the digital universe revolves around us. And most of the time that’s true.

But spending days touring dozens of halls of tech exhibits here at the IFA trade show proved that sometimes manufacturers will decide that our money is no good.

Electrolux’s camera-equipped oven

Fridge cameras have become an old-school technology — even if you opt out of buying some fridge-computer hybrid like Samsung’s Family Hub, you’ll soon be able to buy aftermarket fridge cams — but the Swedish firm AB Electrolux is a bit ahead of the industry in adding a camera to an oven.

In a demo, a rep showed how the camera, mounted on the inside of the handle to see through a pane of glass to that protect its electronics, transmits a view of what’s cooking to a companion smartphone app. That, in turn, frees you to run errands around the rest of the house while occasionally checking on the state of your pot roast, soufflée or whatever.

You can’t, however, use this app to monitor your meal’s progress while away from your house. That’s because European Union regulations requires manufacturers to limit this feature to use on the same home network as the oven.

It’s unclear whether anybody actually needs this. It’s also unclear what other appliances would benefit from built-in cameras, but I have one idea: a washing-machine camera to capture the last moments of the smartphone you forgot to remove from a pants pocket.

Yale’s delivery-friendly smart lock

Lock manufacturer Yale, founded in the U.S. and now a subsidiary of the Swedish firm Assa Abloy, showed off a model for the Danish and Swedish markets with an unusual feature: guest access to a nameless delivery person. In a partnership with the partially state-owned firm PostNord, Yale’s Doorman lock, which can also be unlocked via fingerprint or a smartphone app, can be opened with a one-time code sent to a PostNord driver.

The company emphasizes that this is an option customers can select; once the package has been dropped off and the door locked, they’ll get a notification of the completed delivery on their phone.

Would Americans be keen on a smart lock with this feature? Well, Amazon (AMZN) is already anxious to dispatch delivery drones to our backyards, and a year ago the well-sourced tech-news site The Information reported that it’s been testing just such a smart-lock solution for in-home delivery. I can’t wait to see an in-store display for it at Whole Foods

Heat and light from a household fuel cell

Panasonic’s sprawling exhibit featured one oddball bit of hardware: a home-scale fuel cell not much bigger than a traditional furnace or heat pump. The Vitovalor 300-P, built by the German firm Viessmann in partnership with the Japanese conglomerate, runs on natural gas but doesn’t burn it.

Instead, it puts that fuel through an electrochemical reaction to generate both heat and electricity at considerably greater efficiency than fossil-fuel plants can manage. It’s not cheap though, starting at €19500, or roughly $23,000. But an €11,100 (about $13,000) subsidy from the German government cuts that cost dramatically and should allow a homeowner to recover the upfront cost in energy savings in about 10 years.

Fuel cells — a technology once reserved for such edge cases as NASA’s space shuttles — are seeing growing experimentation in the U.S. as a power source for vehicles. But the picture for in-home use looks less positive: The Trump administration wants to end the “war on coal” first, so I would not expect a comparable federal incentive before 2021, if ever.

TCL’s high-touch TVs

In the States, the Chinese firm TCL is best known for its line of affordably-priced TVs that feature built-in Roku media players. But at IFA, it revealed plans to go considerably upscale in other markets, with its flagship line of TVs called “XESS.” Yes, you pronounce it like “excess.”

These giant Ultra High Definition sets — they top out at 85 inches — feature sound systems by Samsung’s newly-acquired audio subsidiary Harman, walnut and copper accents, and even a fabric covering on the back to shield your eyes from the sight of any potentially ugly electronics. TCL didn’t talk pricing, but you would be mistaken to expect them to cost anything close to its Roku-equipped U.S.-market sets.

TCL also showed off a conversational artificial-intelligence interface that designer Tiago Abreu demonstrated by speaking his way through a menu of on-demand movies, then choosing an action flick and asking “who is this guy?” when the lead actor appeared onscreen. After a brief hiccup, the system correctly responded by IDing Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and reading out his biography.

The software behind it didn’t come from Google (GOOG, GOOGL) or Amazon; instead, TCL worked with the Chinese web giant Baidu, which has not exactly been a champion of privacy rights. Something tells me that if TCL ever ships this feature on a U.S.-market TV, it’ll be one Chinese tech import that American customers will have no trouble declining.

Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering most of my travel expenses and those of a group of U.S. journalists and analysts.

More from Rob:

Email Rob at; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.


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The best alternatives to Apple's new iPhone

Posted by Carl on 15th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Apple’s (AAPL) much-hyped 10th anniversary iPhone is nearly upon us, and we’re as excited as the next person to see what the Cupertino, California-based company has cooked up this time around. Will the 8 match up with all of the rumors we’ve read over the past few months? Will it be the greatest iPhone yet? Will it give you the power of heart like that one kid from “Captain Planet?” God, I hope not.

If you’re an Android user, though, you probably don’t care about any of that. In fact, you’re probably wondering what the best alternatives to Apple’s upcoming handset are. Well lucky you, because that’s exactly what we’re serving up.

A camera that’s better than the iPhone 7 Plus’s

Galaxy Note 8

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 is the follow-up to the company’s Galaxy Note 7, which was not only a great smartphone, but also doubled as a hand grenade thanks to its exploding batteries.

The Note 8 more than makes up for the 7’s issues and builds on the features the brand is known for: big screens and a slick stylus. But the standout feature of the Note 8 is its dual-lens camera. Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the Note 8 has one wide-angle lens and a second telephoto lens.

But Samsung ups that ante by adding optical image stabilization (OIS) to both of those lenses. Apple, on the other hand, only offers (OIS) on its wide-angle lens. That’s a problem because when you zoom in on a subject, every slight movement of your hand becomes drastically exaggerated. By adding OIS to the Note 8’s telephoto lens, Samsung ensures that zoomed images will come out nice and clear.

A big screen without a big phone

Galaxy S8

The Galaxy S8 was one of the first of the new breed of phones to sport a gorgeous edge-to-edge display. It also doesn’t hurt that the S8 is just flat-out beautiful, either. From its exceptional 5.8-inch wraparound Infinite Display to its excellent camera that rivals the iPhone 7’s own shooter, the S8 is easily one of the best phones on the market.

What’s more, the S8 offers many of the same features as the Note 8, with the exception of the dual-lens camera and stylus, for a far lower price. So not only is it a great iPhone alternative, but it’s also the perfect Note 8 alternative.

A pure Google phone

Google Pixel

Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Pixel is the company’s first piece of hardware designed in-house and it’s one heck of a freshman effort. I used the Pixel XL, the larger 5.5-inch version of the 5-inch handset, for months and loved every minute of it. The Pixel’s display is vibrant, the camera is surprisingly impressive given the poor quality of older Google phones’ camera and, best of all, there is no carrier bloatware.

Yes, the Pixel is free of any of that nonsense your carrier throws on your phone, not to mention what other other phone makers add to your phone — I’m looking at you, Samsung and LG. And with your choice of 32 GB or 64 GB of storage and unlimited cloud storage for your photos, the Pixel is one wonderful smartphone.

A unique, all-Google phone

Essential Phone

If Google’s Pixel is just too mainstream for you, then you’ll want to opt for the new Essential phone. Created by the father of Google’s own Android operating system, Andy Rubin, the Essential is designed to be a third option in the smartphone wars outside of Apple and Samsung.

The Essential is unique because it’s made of ceramic and titanium, which the company says makes it sturdier and more durable than your average smartphone. Oh, and it’s got a full-length display. There’s basically no bezel on this thing, and it looks absolutely fantastic.

There’s just one negative: The Essential’s camera isn’t all that good. Don’t get me wrong — you’ll be able to take photos, but they will never look as good as those taken with the Pixel or Samsung’s handsets. So basically, if you’re interested in a slick phone and the camera isn’t all that important to you, the Essential is a solid pick.

A more durable phone

Motorola Droid Z2 Force

Lenovo’s Motorola Droid Z2 Force, my god that’s a bad name, is the rare smartphone that you can feel safe carrying without having to cover it in 12 layers of bubble wrap. That’s because the handset sports an impressive “shatterproof” display that won’t crack when you drop it. I’ve literally thrown this phone across the room and nothing happened.

It’s definitely worth noting that the Force’s screen will get scratched, which is a bummer, but hey, at least it won’t break.

Outside of that, the Z2 Force takes advantage of Motorola’s Moto Mods, which allow you to add things like projectors, speakers and battery packs to your phone. Here’s the thing, though. Some of those mods are expensive, like the $300 360-degree camera attachment.

Of course, if none of the above leap out at you, you can always just try Apple’s iPhone.

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Email Daniel at; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.


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Apple's App Store is about to get a lot better with iOS 11

Posted by Carl on 14th September 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Apple’s (AAPL) App Store doesn’t just boost the iPhone and iPad — it’s a boon for an entire subsection of the economy. Without the App Store, we likely wouldn’t have things like Uber, Seamless, Lyft, Snapchat (SNAP) or Tinder. Heck, even companies like Spotify, Facebook (FB) Messenger and Yelp (YELP) wouldn’t be nearly as popular if they weren’t available as apps.

In other words, the App Store is a hugely important piece of Apple’s pie. What’s more, App Store developers have pulled in more than $70 billion for themselves as of January 2017.

But, unfortunately for us, the App Store is a mishmash of different app categories and icons that make it difficult to navigate and tough to discover new apps, even for long-time iPhone users.

Thankfully, mercifully, Apple is updating the App Store in a big way for iOS 11. From a cleaner design to auto-playing video previews and editorial pieces on the making of apps, the App Store is about to become far better.

A more welcoming App Store

The current app store is a series of bland, lifeless lists of apps arranged based on different feature categories. It has all the character of an Excel spreadsheet. It’s not exactly attractive is what I’m saying.

Apple’s updated App Store, however, has a far better look. Fonts are bolder and easier to read and images are larger and clearly designed for the new space.

The home screen is one area that will see a big change: The new App Store has a Today page rather than the Feature page available in the old store. From here Apple will provide you with daily updates for things like new app premiers and collections of apps for occasions like date nights and the like.

Beyond that, the Today page will feature both a Game of the Day and an App of the Day. The apps aren’t just given a small mention, either. Apple has an entire editorial team talk to developers and pull stories out of them about how their apps came together complete with images. It’s a great way to present apps and could ensure people spend more time with new apps.

A home for games

Games is Apple’s most popular app category in the App Store. But right now, getting to them is a bit of a pain. So the iPhone maker is cutting out the middleman and adding a new Games tab at the bottom of the screen that you can access at any time.

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