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Update June 2017


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Update June 24, 2017

Siri, speakers and software: Highlights from the Apple show

Apple’s Greg Joswiak speaks about the iPad Pro during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Monday, June 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Jose, Calif. (AP) - Siri is getting a new voice, and the Mac is getting a new name.

Apple unveiled new hardware, including a Siri-powered speaker, and previewed upcoming iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch features at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Here are the highlights:

Siri-powered speaker

An internet-connected speaker called HomePod is coming in December for about $350. The speaker is similar to cheaper devices from Amazon and Google.

Apple says it’s giving more emphasis to sound quality, not just smarts. Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, says the price is good for a high-end audio device. Besides playing music, Apple’s Siri digital assistant will also respond to requests for information and other help around the house.

A new, smarter Siri

With an upcoming software update for iPhones and iPads, Siri will learn your habits based on what articles you might be reading, for instance. Or if someone texts you about owing money, it will ask if you want to pay using Apple Pay. Google already tries to be proactive with its Assistant on Android phones and Google Home speaker.

Siri, meanwhile, is getting a new voice. Or make that new voices, with a male version of Siri getting a refresh, too.

And Apple Watch is bringing Siri front and center. The smartwatch promises to learn about your routines to figure out what information to display. That could include a reminder to make a call or a flight reservation.

About your privacy

Apple says its Safari browser on the Mac will try to guard your privacy by identifying and blocking data files that track you as you move from website to website. Another Safari feature will stop video from automatically playing on websites. The features are part of the Mac software update this fall, to be called High Sierra. The current version is just Sierra.

As for HomePod, Apple says that while the speaker’s always listening, nothing will be sent to Apple’s servers until you say, “Hey, Siri.” The protection is similar to what Google Home and Amazon’s Echo speakers already offer. Even then, Apple says it won’t know who you are - it’ll just get an anonymous ID to help process a response.

A different reality

Apple is trying to make augmented reality a reality with new tools for iPhones and iPads. Augmented reality is the blending of the physical and virtual worlds. In one demo, Apple executive Craig Federighi pointed a camera at a table on stage and added a virtual coffee cup and a lamp on the real table. Although Apple is late to the game, CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber says the new tools come “as the technology hits an inflection point.”

Apple’s new iMacs are getting brighter displays and graphics capabilities, which Apple says makes the Mac a great platform for developing virtual-reality experiences. So far, interest in VR has been strongest among gamers, developers and hardware makers rather than everyday users. Apple’s entry into the market could change that.

New hardware

Apple is introducing a 10.5-inch iPad Pro in an attempt to revive interest in its once hot-selling line of tablets. That size offers room for a full-size keyboard, something the 9.7 inch model couldn’t. Yet it isn’t as bulky as the 12.9-inch model. The new iPad starts at $649 and will start shipping next week.

Apple also unveiled new Macs, addressing complaints that Apple has let its Mac lineup languish in favor of its better-selling products, namely the iPhone. New iMacs and MacBook laptops start shipping Monday. Apple also unveiled the high-end iMac Pro coming in December starting at about $5,000.

Updates for the iPhone and iPad

With the next version of the iOS system for mobile devices, messages will sync in the cloud. Only the most recent messages will be kept on the device to save storage space.

For photos, Apple is replacing JPEGs with a new format meant to reduce file sizes. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it’s not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG. Apple will also have new tools for organizing photos and creating sharable videos.

Apple is also bringing the ability to pay someone back through its payment service, Apple Pay, much as PayPal and other services already do. Before, Apple Pay transactions could be done only with businesses and institutions.

Apple Maps will get lane guidance for highways and floor plans for indoor malls and airports. Google Maps already does both.

And Apple will have a new “do not disturb” mode for driving. The phone will block most notifications to reduce temptations behind the wheel.

The free software, iOS 11, is expected in September, when Apple typically releases new iPhones.


Need cash? Facebook expands personal fundraising tools

New York (AP) - Facebook is expanding its fundraising tools that let users ask friends and strangers to give them money to help pay for education, medical or other expenses.

The company has been testing the tool, which is similar to online fundraising services such as GoFundMe, since March.

With the latest update unveiled Wednesday, it has added sports and community fundraisers as options. It’s also possible to raise money for medical expenses for pets, crisis relief, funerals, and a slew of other categories.

To start a fundraiser, scroll down the “menu” icon on mobile until you get to the “fundraisers” category. On desktop, visit facebook.com /fundraisers. Facebook says it will review all fundraisers within 24 hours.

There is a fee of 6.9 percent of the total amount raised plus 30 cents for payment processing, vetting and security.


Update June 17, 2017

Microsoft Surface gets battery boost, better viewing angles

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro laptop-tablet hybrid’s stylus will now mimic pencil shading when tilted, much like the Apple Pencil for iPad Pro tablets. Along with this, Microsoft plans upgrades to its popular Office software with new pencil-like features. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - Microsoft is refreshing its Surface Pro tablet with longer battery life and faster processors.

The new, fifth-generation device - simply called Surface Pro - won’t look or feel drastically different from its predecessor. But Microsoft is hoping its under-the-hood improvements will help it compete with newer laptop-tablet hybrids from Samsung and others. Not to mention Apple’s iPad Pro.

The Redmond, Washington, company made the announcement Tuesday in Shanghai, China, in its first Surface launch outside New York. It’s a reflection of the company’s expectations of growth among a population that prizes premium gadgets from American brands.

Microsoft pioneered laptop-tablet hybrids, also known as 2-in-1s, with the original Surface in 2012. A keyboard cover turns the tablet into a laptop. But innovation has slowed down since 2014, when the Surface Pro 3 got a fully adjustable kickstand to give the screen a broader range of viewing angles, similar to real laptops. Before, the kickstand was limited to just two angles.

Meanwhile, other companies have made their own 2-in-1 devices running Microsoft’s Windows 10. That success contributed to a 26 percent revenue decline in the Surface business in the most recent quarter. And competition is growing; Samsung released new Galaxy Book models this week, while Huawei announced one Tuesday in Berlin.

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, expects the new Surface will help revive sales.

“The external design isn’t dramatically different, but there are lots of changes inside,” Dawson said.

Microsoft promises about 13.5 hours of battery life, or about 50 percent more than the nine hours on the previous device, the Surface Pro 4. The processors inside will be faster, and lower-end models will ditch the fan.

The Surface’s stylus will now mimic pencil shading when tilted, much like the Apple Pencil for iPad Pro tablets. Along with this, Microsoft plans upgrades to its popular Office software with new pencil-like features.

Microsoft will sell the stylus separately for $100. The new Pro will start at about $800 and will be available June 15 in about two dozen countries, including the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and much of Europe. A keyboard cover starts at about $130, or about $170 for a version that feels like fabric rather than plastic. That brings the cost to more than $1,000.

Microsoft will have a version with cellular capabilities this summer, but didn’t immediately disclose the price. Samsung already has one out through Verizon in the U.S. for $1,300, a price that includes the keyboard and the pen. A comparable Wi-Fi-only model, out this week, costs $1,130.

Microsoft also recently announced a laptop - without a detachable screen - aimed at students. That also comes out on June 15, starting at about $1,000.

Huawei’s new 2-in-1 device, the MateBook E, will include a keyboard cover but not a pen, which sells for about $100. The European price is 999 euros ($1,120); the U.S. price will be released closer to the device’s availability in July.


Update June 10, 2017

Zuckerberg urges Harvard grads to build a world of ‘purpose’

Facebook CEO and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, center, smiles as he is introduced before being presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree as Baylor College of Medicine professor Huda Zoghbi, left, and actor James Earl Jones, second from left, applaud during Harvard University commencement exercises, Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Barbara Ortutay

New York (AP) - Mark Zuckerberg returned Thursday to Harvard, where he launched Facebook and then dropped out, telling graduates it’s up to them to bring purpose to the world, fight inequality and strengthen the global community.

“Change starts local. Even global changes start small - with people like us,” the Facebook CEO said. He shared stories about graduates such as David Razu Aznar, a former city leader who led the effort to legalize gay marriage in Mexico City, and Agnes Igoye, who grew up in conflict zones in Uganda and now trains law enforcement officers.

“And this is my story too,” Zuckerberg added. “A student in a dorm room, connecting one community at a time, and keeping at it until one day we can connect the whole world.”

Such lofty talk now comes naturally to Zuckerberg, a 33-year-old billionaire who has committed to giving away nearly all of his wealth. In February, he sketched out an ambitious, if vague, vision for Facebook that committed the company to developing “social infrastructure” that would help build a “global community that works for all of us.”

But it also strikes a sharp contrast with the criticism Facebook has taken recently - not so much for connecting the world (a big chunk of it, anyway) as for failing to anticipate how vulnerable that connectedness could be to those who abuse it.

Journey back

Zuckerberg, who like the graduates is a millennial, started Facebook in his dorm room in 2004. What began as a closed networking site for Harvard students is now a global communications force with nearly 2 billion members. Facebook’s founding was the subject of a Hollywood movie, “The Social Network,” in 2010.

Facebook’s effect has been profound. It has connected people who would have never met otherwise, letting them form supportive networks online and offline. And it has allowed people to communicate in developing countries even if they don’t have a phone number or a smartphone.

But it has also served to spread misinformation bordering on propaganda, hateful views and bullying, reflecting the worst parts of humanity back to us.

In his commencement speech, in interviews and in his February manifesto, Zuckerberg is decidedly optimistic about all that. He’s been saying he wants to make the world more open and connected for more than a decade now, and he doesn’t relent.

Higher purpose

He told the graduates how, when Facebook’s investors and executives wanted him to sell the company early on, he resisted. “You see, my hope was never to build a company, but to make an impact,” he said. But as a young CEO, he never explained this to his co-workers, and the subsequent fight “tore our company apart.”

“I wondered if I was just wrong, an impostor, a 22 year-old kid who had no idea how the world worked,” Zuckerberg said. “Now, years later, I understand that is how things work with no sense of higher purpose. It’s up to us to create it so we can all keep moving forward together.”

Later in the speech, Zuckerberg’s voice cracked with emotion as he talked about a high school student he mentors who is living in the U.S. illegally. When Zuckerberg asked him what he wants for his birthday, the student started talking about others he wanted to help, and asked for a book on social justice.

“Here is a young guy who has every reason to be cynical,” Zuckerberg said, his eyes welling with tears. “He wasn’t sure if the country he calls home - the only one he’s known - was going to deny him his dream of going to college. But he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. He wasn’t even thinking of himself.”

If he can do this, Zuckerberg said, “then we owe it to the world to do our part too.”

Zuckerberg isn’t all talk on this front. He signed the “Giving Pledge” commitment to donate the majority of his money in 2010; five years later, he upped that to 99 percent. Together with his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, he formed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization focused on advancing science and education.

Honorary degree

Zuckerberg follows another famous Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, who spoke before its graduates a decade ago. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College in Oregon, gave Stanford’s commencement speech in 2005, reminding students to “stay hungry, stay foolish.”

In addition to delivering the speech, Zuckerberg received an honorary degree, 12 years after dropping out of Harvard, and was subsequently introduced to graduates as “Dr. Mark Zuckerberg.” Others receiving honorary degrees included the actress Judi Dench, the composer John Williams (known for “Star Wars,” ‘’Harry Potter” and many other scores) and Somali human rights activist and physician Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe.

“If I get through this speech today it’ll be the first time I actually finish something here at Harvard,” Zuckerberg said. He did.


Update June 3, 2017

What Twitter’s privacy changes mean for you

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Barbara Ortutay

New York (AP) - Twitter’s new privacy policy suggests ambitions of becoming more like Facebook - more tracking of users and more targeting of ads to rake in more money.

Twitter recently reported its first quarterly revenue decline since going public. That should give you some clues about the reasons behind the policy changes, which take effect June 18.

What’s changing?

Twitter was already tracking users. For example, if you visited a webpage that had an embedded tweet or a button to share something on Twitter, you could be tracked and targeted.

With the changes, Twitter expands the pool of people it can track and lets the company collect more data about those people when they are visiting sites around the web, said Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-backed think tank in Washington.

For example, the company will now keep data about users’ web activities for 30 days instead of 10, which allows it to create more comprehensive profiles of people.

In addition, Twitter will no longer honor the “Do Not Track” option that lets people say no to being tracked by the likes of ad and social networks. Many such networks no longer honor that option anyway. Polonetsky said Twitter had been “one of the rare prominent brands that respected Do Not Track.”

Why is Twitter
doing this?

The short answer is money. A longer answer? Targeted ads that are tailored to your whims and tastes are more lucrative than generic ones. That’s the selling point of online advertising, and the reason why companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter offer their services for free. The implied understanding is that they will make money off you by showing you ads.

Research firm eMarketer expects worldwide digital ad spending to hit $224 billion this year. Google and Facebook will command a combined $110 billion of this. Twitter, though, is estimated to get just $2.3 billion, or about 1 percent. Twitter’s investors are hungry for a larger slice of the pie.

Is this bad for you?

That depends on whom you ask. Twitter, of course, is giving the impression that it’s a good thing, or at least not something many users will care about. In a pop-up notification telling users of the change, Twitter chirps that you will “soon start to see more relevant Tweets and ads based on your visits to sites with Twitter content.” It says that the tailored ads you already see will improve and that “we’ve given you even more control” over your data.

Your next option is to click a highlighted “sounds good” box, or choose “review settings,” which appears in less prominent type underneath. Sounds good? Not to privacy advocates.

“Twitter’s announcement is bad news for online privacy. The company dropped Do Not Track and gave advertisers access to more user data,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Also, all of the settings now default to disclosure, which means users have to go in and change their privacy settings.”

Your options

If you are in the U.S., move to Europe. Besides achieving your dreams of finally living in a tiny flat in Paris with a stray cat named Gaston and a mustached baker named Olivier, you will also have stronger online privacy protections.

Twitter will store data about your web activities for 30 days now instead of 10, but it won’t do this for users in the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), because it’s prohibited.

Barring that, go to http://twitter.com/personalization on a browser; from an app, click the settings wheel from your profile, then choose “Settings” and “Privacy and safety.” You can go through the permissions piece by piece and decide, for example, whether to turn off personalize ads (but still get non-targeted ads).

Or, you can disable all, prompting a warning that “Turning this off may make the Tweets and ads you see less relevant.”

Is that what you really want? Click “Yes, I’m sure” and that’s that.


Amazon’s streaming software powers new smart TVs

Amazon’s streaming TV software will appear on a new line of smart TVs designed to blend streaming TV services and over-the-air channels, but not cable packages. (Westinghouse Electronics via AP)

Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - Amazon’s streaming TV software will appear on a new line of smart TVs designed to blend streaming TV services and over-the-air channels, but not cable packages.

The TVs from Element Electronics will be sold under the Element and Westinghouse brands and will cost more than regular smart TVs from either brand. Officials say the TVs have better hardware for reliable streaming and aren’t designed for casual viewers who buy TVs only to never hook them up to the internet.

While Samsung and LG are still developing their own smart TV systems, many other manufacturers have abandoned in-house efforts and are turning instead to streaming TV companies such as Roku, and now Amazon. The in-house efforts have largely been weak because few streaming services bother designing apps for them, and they don’t have big teams to look for security threats.

For the new TVs, Amazon’s Fire TV remote is getting common TV controls such as volume, while the on-screen menu is being adapted to incorporate live TV. Besides the rows of icons for various apps and streaming content, there’s now a row just for shows currently available through an antenna. There’s also a row for connected devices, such as game consoles and DVD players.

Have cable? You can hook that up to the TV, but you won’t get the menu integration. You’ll also have to use the cable’s remote, as the Fire TV one lacks numbers for changing channels. With over-the-air broadcasts, you do that through the on-screen menu.

Though officials say cable integration may come, the decision to focus on over-the-air content reflects the growing practice of “cord-cutting” - ditching cable services in favor of online streaming services, including the ones offered on the Fire TV.

Prices range from $449 for a 43-inch TV to $899 for 65 inches. The new TVs, called Amazon Fire TV Edition, will be capable of displaying sharper video known as 4K resolution, though most TV shows and movies are available only in high definition, the standard on TVs today.
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Siri, speakers and software: Highlights from the Apple show

Need cash? Facebook expands personal fundraising tools


Microsoft Surface gets battery boost, better viewing angles


Zuckerberg urges Harvard grads to build a world of ‘purpose’


What Twitter’s privacy changes mean for you

Amazon’s streaming software powers new smart TVs


 



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