Apple MacBook Lineup Refresh Expected at WWDC 2017 Next Week

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Apple has been tipped to upgrade MacBook Pro with new processors
  • MacBook Air has been suggested to be updated at WWDC 2017 as well
  • Apple might launch a MacBook model with 32GB of RAM as well

Apple has been rumoured to update its laptop lineup at its WWDC event early next month but now there are some strong indications, this time coming from company’s own official site, which suggest that it would be wise to wait before you buy your next MacBook. As per Apple’s online store, the delivery times of 15-inch MacBook Pro have now been delayed to June 5- June 6, which is one day after company’s WWDC keynote, from usual deliveries on same day or 3-5 business days.

While the delivery estimates for the 13-inch MacBook models have not been changed and the laptops are available for delivery as soon as the next day, the recent changes give credence to a report that suggested that Apple is planning to launch new MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook models on June 5, as pointed out in a report by MacRumors.

Apple MacBook Lineup Refresh Expected at WWDC 2017 Next Week

Usually when the delivery times are changed on Apple’s official website, they indicate that the company is planning to launch new products and as the Cupertino-based company’s event is right around the corner, we might be able to see new MacBook models. Conventionally, WWDC is associated with software but this time around, the event has been heavily linked with launch of new hardware products.

Earlier this month, a report suggested that Apple will be refreshing its MacBook lineup, with updates lined up for 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Pro, and the almost forgotten MacBook Air as well.

 

First coming to the MacBook Pro upgrade, Apple has been tipped to update the laptop with Intel’s Kaby Lake processor series, from the current SkyLake processors. Further, the company is expected to launch a 32GB RAM variant of the 15-inch MacBook Pro to cater to the need of professional users, as pointed out in a report by 9To5Mac. There are reportedly some price cuts to the existing models that can be expected to be announced at WWDC 2017.

The 12-inch variant of the MacBook laptop series has been tipped to be upgraded with new Kaby Lake processors as well as receive a new 16GB RAM option as per KGI, 9To5Mac points out.

Finally coming to the MacBook Air, while the upgrade rumours for the laptop are thin and hard to find, the laptop is expected to be refreshed with new processors at the very least.

As all of this talks is from rumour town, we will have to wait till the company’s official announcement next month to get any confirmation about the laptops.

 

Dell Launches New Inspiron AIOs and Gaming Desktop at Computex 2017

Dell Inspiron 27 7000

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Dell has launched two new Inspiron AIOs
  • It has also launched a new Inspiron Gaming Desktop
  • Dell has also refreshed the XPS 27 AIO

Computex 2017 is underway, and Dell has launched two new AIOs and one new Gaming Desktop updating its Inspiron lineup further. The new line-up includes Inspiron 27 7000 AIO, Inspiron 24 5000 AIO, and a new Inspiron Gaming Desktop. The company has also updated its XPS 27 AIO to make it more VR compatible.

Dell Inspiron 27 7000 and Inspiron 24 5000

AIOs Starting with the new models, the Inspiron 27 7000 and Inspiron 24 5000 both sport edge-to-edge displays with what Dell likes to call the InfinityEdge display technology, and they are VR ready. The Inspiron 27 7000 AIO sports a 27-inch 4K UHD display and offers the latest multi-core Ryzen AMD processors and AMD Polaris RX500 Series graphics. It runs on Windows 10 with Hello support, has a USB Type-C 3.1 port, and comes with Dual Drive options with SSD storage. The Dell Inspiron 27 7000 AIO is available in China on Dell.com and at select retailers starting at $999.99 (roughly Rs. 64,600). The all-in-one will be made available worldwide in the coming weeks.Dell Launches New Inspiron AIOs and Gaming Desktop at Computex 2017

Coming to the Inspiron 24 5000 AIO, the desktop offers a 24-inch Infinity Edge IOS full-HD display. it is powered by the latest seventh generation AMD processor and AMD Radeon R560 graphics. It also brings Windows Hello support, Cortana with far-field speech recognition, USB Type-C 3.1 and Dual Drive options with SSD storage. The device is available in China starting at $699.99 (roughly Rs. 45,200), and will be made available worldwide in the coming weeks. Both the devices are claimed to be VR ready.

Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop

The Inspiron Gaming desktop runs on Windows 10 and sports the latest AMD multi-core Ryzen processors featuring SenseMI, which is said to optimise power consumption, task routing, and clock speeds to deliver more responsiveness and performance whether it’s gaming, virtual reality, or streaming. For keeping the system cool, Dell has introduced thermally optimised airflow routing. It has Polar Blue LED lightning, and supports HTC and Oculus VR headsets. Discrete graphics card options include Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 and AMD Radeon RX 580, and the desktop offers up to 32GB DDR4 memory. Ports include USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port and up to six SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen one ports. Power supply options are up to 850 watts for supporting dual discrete graphics, and a selection of high-capacity hard drives with responsive SSD and dual-drive options plus up to five bays for future storage upgrades is also provided. The desktop is available in China starting at $599.99 (roughly Rs. 38,700), and will be made available worldwide in the coming weeks.

dellgaming main dell

Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop

Dell XPS 27 AIO

Lastly, Dell has also refreshed its XPS 27 AIO with new graphics and CPU to make it more VR compatible. The company brings support of up to Intel Core i7-7700 processors, and AMD RX 570 GPUs. The AIO has a 27-inch 4K UHD display and connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11ac, a GbE port, five USB 3.0 Type-A headers, one HDMI output, one DisplayPort 1.2, two Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB Type-C), an SD/MMC card reader, a 720p webcam with an IR sensor for facial recognition, and a microphone.

There’s a non-touch model priced at $1,999.99 (roughly Rs. 129,200) and it comes with a 2TB hard drive and 32GB of M.2 SATA SSD cache. The higher-end touchscreen model is priced at $2,649.99 (roughly Rs. 171,300), and it comes with a 512GB, PCIe SSD. Both the AIOs are packed with 16GB RAM that can be configured up to 64GB.

Asus ROG Zephyrus Launched as 'World's Slimmest Gaming Laptop With GeForce GTX 1080' at Computex 2017

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Oppo F3 is priced at 19,990
  • It was launched earlier this month in India
  • The Black Edition will be launched on June 4

Apart from a host of laptops and tablets, Asus has also amped up its Republic of Gamers product lineup at Computex 2017 in Taipei. This includes the “world’s slimmest gaming laptop with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080”, the Asus ROG Zephyrus (GX501VI), and a new ROG Swift PG35VQ gaming monitor as well. At the ROG Computex event, Asus also unveiled a colourful Strix Fusion headset and a slick USB monitor called ZenScreen as well.

Asus ROG Zephyrus Launched as 'World's Slimmest Gaming Laptop With GeForce GTX 1080' at Computex 2017

Starting with the big news, Asus’s ROG Zephyrus is a laptop built for gamers and is thinner than all the ROG laptops launched before. It boasts of high-end gaming hardware with support for Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics, seventh generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, an optional 120Hz wide-view display, and it ships with the latest Windows 10 Creators Update. During intensive gaming sessions, Asus claims the ROG Zephyrus maintains its temperature with a new ‘Active Aerodynamic System’ air-flow design crammed into a 16.9 -17.9mm chassis. Asus claims that this new flexible system allows for 20 percent more airflow than before. The laptop weighs only 2.2kgs, and sports of a RGB keyboard as well.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p01VA7qZnfE?ecver=2]

The ROG Zephyrus’ display is at 15.6-inch (1920×1080 pixels) and supports up to 24GB of DDR4 RAM. The laptop offers 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD storage options. Ports include a Thunderbolt 3 Type-C, four USB 3.1 Type-A, HDMI 2.0 (for VR), and a 3.5mm headset opening. With respect to the keyboard design, the buttons are moved up front for better cooling management and make it feel more like a desktop system. The keyboard, as mentioned, has RGB lightning, and features anti-ghosting keys that can support up to 30 keys pressed at the same time.

 

Asus has launched two variants of the ROG Zephyrus, however, it does not properly specify the differences in the two, though one variant is speculated to downgrade the graphics to a GeForce GTX 1070 card. The ROG Zephyrus GX501VI variant is priced starting at $2699 (roughly Rs. 174,200) and the ROG Zephyrus GX501VS variant is priced starting at $2299 (roughly Rs. 148,400). Both the variants will be available at the end of June in the USA and Canada.

At the ROG event, Asus also launched the ROG Swift PG35VQ gaming monitor that has a quantum dot 3440×1440 pixels LCD display with HDR support. The refresh rate is pegged at an impressive 200Hz and it comes with G-sync support. There’s no word on pricing or availability. Alongside, Asus also launched the Strix Fusion headset with lights that can be configured to blink in sync with your fellow gamer. This is expected to ship sometime in the third quarter.

Lastly, it also launched a 15.6-inch 1080p USB monitor called ZenScreen. It comes with a pen to prop up the monitor, but do note that the ZenScreen does not have a touchscreen display nor does it support stylus. The ZenScreen is priced at $249 (roughly Rs. 16,000), and will launch in Taiwan first, with other markets to follow eventually.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google refused to disclose the gender pay disparities
  • 69% of the company’s global employees are male and 31% females
  • But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men

For the second year in a row, shareholders of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, voted down a proposal asking the tech giant to publish a report on possible pay disparities between its male and female employees. The vote comes at a time when the company is grappling with a federal lawsuit tied to this very issue and as the tech industry faces heightened scrutiny over gender pay, a lack of diversity, and dysfunctional work environments.

Under the proposal, the company would measure and disclose how much its female employees make as a percentage of their male counterparts. The plan, put forward by Arjuna Capital, an investment firm, and other co-filers also called for the company to design a policy to tackle any gender pay disparity.

Google Withholds Gender Pay Details

“Gender pay disparity is not only one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, it poses a risk to companies’ performance, brand, and investor returns,” said Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, at the shareholder meeting. “This issue is particularly salient to the technology industry, which struggles to attract, retain, and move women into positions of leadership,” she said.

The board of directors told shareholders that approving the proposal would not be in the best interest of the company or its investors, according to Alphabet’s 2017 statement to stockholders. Management pointed to Google’s existing diversity reports and internal evaluations as sufficient measures to ensure pay equity among its staff. “Our board of directors does not believe that the proposal would enhance Alphabet’s existing commitment to fostering a fair and inclusive culture,” read the statement.

Like many of its peers in the tech industry, Google produces an annual report outlining the gender and ethnic makeup of its employees. A vast majority of Alphabet’s employees work for Google. But the report doesn’t outline gender pay disparities. Sixty-nine percent of the company’s global employees are male and 31 percent are female, according to Google’ 2016 diversity report, which captured data from the year prior. But it’s unclear how much women employees are paid relative to the men.

Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have each reported on their gender pay disparity, with each company claiming a discrepancy near zero. Lamb described Alphabet as a laggard, compared to its peers, when it comes to transparency over gender pay.

Alphabet declined to comment.

 

Arjuna Capital’s push for Alphabet to release its gender pay information is part of a broader campaign to address enduring gender discrimination in the American workplace. Within Silicon Valley, which generally views itself as a meritocracy, calls for improving diversity have only grown louder as yearly employment reports continue to show leadership teams being dominated by men.

The calls also come as accounts of workplace harassment continue to surface. In February, former Uber employee Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging episodes of sexual harassment that she said took place while she worked as an engineer at the company. Since her writing, Uber initiated several internal investigations to examine what Fowler and others described as a toxic work culture. But Uber’s sexual harassment controversy is viewed by some not as an outlier, but just the latest, prominent example of women facing discrimination at work in Silicon Valley.

The Mountain View, California, company is currently facing a lawsuit from the Labor Department related to unfair gender pay. The Labor Department filed the lawsuit against Google in January after the company refused to turn over compensation data as part of a “routine compliance evaluation,” according to a Labor Department statement released in the same month. Labor Department lawyers have accused Alphabet of underpaying women, finding evidence of “extreme” gender pay discrimination. Google has denied those accusations. In a hearing last month, Alphabet said that it couldn’t turn over internal wage data that the department requested because that would cost too much – $100,000 (roughly Rs. 64 lakhs) – and require hundreds of hours of work, according to the Guardian.

Alphabet is the third major tech company since 2016 to fall under Labor Department scrutiny. Palantir was accused of discriminating against Asian job applicants, and Oracle was sued for engaging in pay discrimination against women employees, as well as Asian and black workers, according to the Guardian.

At the -shareholder meeting, Lamb also presented a shareholder proposal for Google to analyse its role in the spread of misleading and fabricated news stories, so-called fake news. With management’s blessing, that proposal failed.

Another plan presented by NorthStars Asset Management would have given stockholders equal voting power.

That was defeated as well.

 

Google on Why It’s Keen to Enable Opportunities in India’s Online Education Sector

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google says the education market is set to grow to $1.96 billion by 2021
  • Success in the future is going to require a mix of online and offline
  • Faster and cheaper mobile data has been a key driver in this sector

Google has reported a huge increase in education-related queries on both search and on YouTube. According a study Google carried out with KPMG, the Indian online education sector will be a $1.96 billion (roughly Rs. 12,670 crores) industry by 2021. Gadgets 360 had a chance to catch up with Nitin Bawankule, Industry Director, Google India, to talk about the education industry in the country, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Bawankule tells us that while the overall number of Internet users in India is growing rapidly, contributing, in turn, to a growth in volumes of search queries, Google has seen a greater rise in interest in education and that’s why the company wants to focus on the sector and understand what the public wants.

Google on Why It’s Keen to Enable Opportunities in India’s Online Education Sector

Bawankule says that the online education sector is spread across a number of different areas – tutoring, test preparation, and higher education are all in the formal sector, while there are more informal areas such as re-skilling, corporate training, and language learning. Predictably, growth in mobile queries has far outpaced PC queries, as the number of users for the former shot up dramatically in India. Bawankule says that much of the growth acceleration has been in the last year, crediting it to the Jio-effect, as other providers have also cut data tariffs to stay competitive.

“A lot of the new net users are also coming from areas with low access to education,” he explains. “In those spaces, people are particularly keen to invest in education as it can open up opportunities.”

smartphone screen reading generic pixabay learning

“Online education has a lot of advantages,” says Bawankule. “It’s convenient, because offline, if there’s a class it will be at a fixed time. But online, you could take the class late at night, or early in the morning, or whenever suits you. It’s also more adaptable, and can be personalised for your requirements.”

He adds that the growth in queries has come from all over India, with Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities that have lesser access to offline coaching in particular showing great growth.

For the online education sector, Bawankule tells Gadgets 360 that important changes need to be made to meet the projected demand. He believes that better content models, with more video based instruction, is going to be critical. Better hiring linkages will matter a lot as well, as lack of recruitment possibilities is seen as a major issue with online education, he adds.

“Going forward, it will also be very important to have an offline and online, mixed model of education,” says Bawankule. “It’s obviously not going to be possible to have a centre in every village, but people need to have something accessible – like maybe in a 30km radius. This is because, if you’re studying something like physics for example, fine, you can learn a lot from theory, but at least once a month you need to be able to travel to a lab and learn the practical side of things as well.”

What is Google’s role?
Apart from carrying out activities such as this study, what other part can Google play in the education ecosystem, we asked Bawankule.

asus chromebook flip story winfuture

“The key role for Google is to enable the ecosystem,” he says. “There needs to be an understanding of the consumers and the ecosystem, and what we do with studies like this one is to provide the data that can help startups and established education providers to plan for the future.”

Beyond that, he adds that Google is providing tools for developers, and working with offline players to help them move online as well. “The market is huge, and we are helping in a number of different capacities,” he adds, pointing out that the Chromebook team has been doing very well in the education sector in India, as it is globally.

Beyond that, he says, there has been a “significant jump in niche players who are realising the importance of addressing specific problems in education, rather than trying to deliver a broad solution.”

Bawankule signs off from the conversation by saying, “learning and education is a very broad category that goes from do-it-yourself videos on YouTube, which can teach people useful practical skills, to Khan Academy, for example, and that’s why it’s important to have specialist players who address different parts of the issue.”

 

Google Pixel, Pixel XL Tipped to Receive Android O in August, Ahead of Nexus Devices

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The rollout is expected to happen in August
  • Nexus devices to get the update later
  • Android O update coming Nokia and OnePlus devices as well

Android O was one of the biggest highlights of Google I/O 2017 this year, and to test waters the search giant has also released Android O in a public beta. The timeline for a public release is usually at the same time as the launch of the new Pixel device in October. However, a new tip hints that the current Pixel devices will be the first to receive a stable update to Android O, as early as August.

Android Police’s David Ruddock tweeted this information claiming that the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL will be the first to receive Android O. The update will be rolled out in the first or second week of August, ahead of Nexus devices. This is way in advance from last year’s rollout timeline as well. This isn’t to say that Nexus devices won’t be receiving an update, but only a little later.

Ruddock claims that he got the information from a reliable source, but we recommend you to not get your hopes up until Google announces it officially.

Image result for Google Pixel, Pixel XL

Other smartphones that are confirmed to get the Android O update, whenever it arrives, include the Nokia 3, Nokia 5, Nokia 6, and OnePlus 3, OnePlus 3T. Users wanting to try the new operating system can do so by enrolling in the Android O beta. Do keep in mind that you’ll need to have an eligible Google smartphone. Currently, the only supported phones for the Android O beta are the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Google Pixel, and the Google Pixel XL.

Android O brings along redesigned settings, notifications, quick toggles, picture in picture mode, and much more. Check out our first impressions right here.

Google Pixel

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Millions of Kids Are Being Shaped by Know-It-All Voice Assistants

Kids adore their new robot siblings.

As millions of American families buy robotic voice assistants to turn off lights, order pizzas and fetch movie times, children are eagerly co-opting the gadgets to settle dinner table disputes, answer homework questions and entertain friends at sleepover parties.

Many parents have been startled and intrigued by the way these disembodied, know-it-all voices – Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana – are impacting their kids’ behavior, making them more curious but also, at times, far less polite.

In just two years, the promise of the technology has already exceeded the marketing come-ons. The disabled are using voice assistants to control their homes, order groceries and listen to books. Caregivers to the elderly say the devices help with dementia, reminding users what day it is or when to take medicine.

For children, the potential for transformative interactions are just as dramatic – at home and in classrooms. But psychologists, technologists and linguists are only beginning to ponder the possible perils of surrounding kids with artificial intelligence, particularly as they traverse important stages of social and language development.

Millions of Kids Are Being Shaped by Know-It-All Voice Assistants

“How they react and treat this nonhuman entity is, to me, the biggest question,” said Sandra Calvert, a Georgetown University psychologist and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center. “And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interactions with other people?”

With an estimated 25 million voice assistants expected to sell this year at $40 to $180 – up from 1.7 million in 2015 – there are even ramifications for the diaper crowd.

Toy giant Mattel recently announced the birth of Aristotle, a home baby monitor launching this summer that “comforts, teaches and entertains” using AI from Microsoft. As children get older, they can ask or answer questions. The company says, “Aristotle was specifically designed to grow up with a child.”

Boosters of the technology say kids typically learn to acquire information using the prevailing technology of the moment – from the library card catalogue, to Google, to brief conversations with friendly, all-knowing voices. But what if these gadgets lead children, whose faces are already glued to screens, further away from situations where they learn important interpersonal skills?

It’s unclear whether any of the companies involved are even paying attention to this issue.

Amazon did not return a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Partnership for AI, a new organization that includes Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies working on voice assistants, said nobody was available to answer questions.

“These devices don’t have emotional intelligence,” said Allison Druin, a University of Maryland professor who studies how children use technology. “They have factual intelligence.”

Children certainly enjoy their company, referring to Alexa like just another family member.

“We like to ask her a lot of really random things,” said Emerson Labovich, a fifth-grader in Bethesda, Md., who pesters Alexa with her older brother Asher.

This winter, Emerson asked her almost every day help counting down the days until a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida.

“She can also rap and rhyme,” Emerson said.

Today’s children will be shaped by AI much like their grandparents were shaped by new devices called television. But you couldn’t talk with a TV.

Ken Yarmosh, a 36-year-old Northern Virginia app developer and founder of Savvy Apps has multiple voice assistants in his family’s home, including those made by Google and Amazon. (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, whose middle name is Preston, according to Alexa.)

Yarmosh’s 2-year-old son has been so enthralled by Alexa that he tries to speak with coasters and other cylindrical objects that look like Amazon’s device. Meanwhile, Yarmosh’s now 5-year-old son, in comparing his two assistants, came to believe Google knew him better.

“Alexa isn’t smart enough for me,” he’d say, asking random questions that his parents couldn’t answer, like how many miles it is to China. (“China is 7,248 miles away, ” Google Home says, “as the crow flies.”)

In talking that way about a device plugged into a wall, Yarmosh’s son was anthropomorphizing it – which means to “ascribe human features to something,” Alexa happily explains. Humans do this a lot, Calvert said. We do it with dogs, dressing them in costumes on Halloween. We name boats. And when we encounter robots, we – especially children – treat them as near equals.

In 2012, University of Washington researchers published results of a study involving 90 children interacting with a life-size robot named Robovie. Most kids thought Robovie had “mental states” and was a “social being.” When Robovie was shoved into a closet, more than half felt it wasn’t fair. A similar emotional connection is taking hold with Alexa and other assistants – even for parents.

 

“It’s definitely become part of our lives,” said Emerson’s mother, Laura Labovich, who then quickly corrected herself: “She’s definitely part of our lives.”

The problem, Druin said, is that this emotional connection sets up expectations for children that devices can’t or weren’t designed to meet, causing confusion, frustration and even changes in the way kids talk or interact with adults.

Yarmosh’s son thought Alexa couldn’t understand him, but it was the algorithms that couldn’t grasp the pitch in his voice or the way children formulate questions. Educators introducing these devices into classrooms and school libraries have encountered the same issue.

“If Alexa doesn’t understand the question, is it Alexa’s fault or might it be the question’s fault?” said Gwyneth Jones, a librarian who uses Amazon’s device at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Md. “People are not always going to get what they are saying, so it’s important that they learn how to ask good questions.”

Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication, is among those who wonder whether the devices, even as they get smarter, will push children to value simplistic language – and simplistic inquiries – over nuance and complex questions.

Asking Alexa, “How do you ask a good question?” produces this answer: “I wasn’t able to understand the question I heard.” But she is able to answer a simple derivative: “What is a question?”

“A linguistic expression used to make a request for information,” she says.

And then there is the potential rewiring of adult-child communication.

Although Mattel’s new assistant will have a setting forcing children to say “please” when asking for information, the assistants made by Google, Amazon and others are designed so users can quickly – and bluntly – ask questions. Parents are noticing some not-so-subtle changes in their children.

In a blog post last year, a California venture capitalist wrote that his 4-year-old daughter thought Alexa was the best speller in the house. “But I fear it’s also turning our daughter into a raging a——,” Hunter Walk wrote. “Because Alexa tolerates poor manners.”

To ask her a question, all you need to do is say her name, followed by the query. No “please.” And no “thank you” before asking a follow-up.

“Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person,” Walk wrote. “At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.”

Jones, the librarian, has witnessed the digital equivalent of everybody asking a question at the same time.

“You all are being really pushy,” she’ll say, as Alexa declares over and over that she doesn’t understand. “You’re confusing her. One at a time, just like a person.”

The personal yet transactional nature of the relationship is appealing to children and teenagers. Parents (including this reporter) have noticed that queries previously made to adults are shifting to assistants, particularly for homework – spelling words, simple math, historical facts.

Or take the weather, particularly in winter. Instead of asking Mom or Dad the temperature that day, children just go to the device, treating the answer as gospel.

Upside: No more fights over what the temperature will really be and what’s appropriate to wear. Downside: Kids will go to their parents less, with both sides losing out on timeworn interactions.

“There can be a lot of unintended consequences to interactions with these devices that mimic conversation,” said Kate Darling, an MIT professor who studies how humans interact with robots. “We don’t know what all of them are yet.”

But most researchers, educators and parents – even some kids – already agree that these devices need to be put in their place, just like a know-it-all sibling.

Jones, the librarian, puts Alexa away for a couple of weeks at a time, so her students don’t rely on her too much. Yarmosh, who recently launched a project curating online videos for kids, is keeping the assistants out of his children’s rooms. Emerson and her brother take a school playground approach.

“Alexa,” they’ll say, “you’re such a butt.”

MEL Science Launches Daydream VR App for Chemistry Education

HIGHLIGHTS

  • MEL Science wants to bring together chemistry kits and VR
  • It wants students to explore the inside of atoms to understand reactions
  • It’s starting with Google Daydream, with Cardboard and Gear VR next

Virtual reality is slowly gaining steam, and although gaming takes up the lion’s share of attention, many experts believe that areas like education will be powerful drivers for growth when it comes to VR. This is steadily becoming reality, according to Vassili Philippov, Founder and CEO of MEL Science. In an emailed conversation with Gadgets 360, Philippov talks about why he believes virtual reality is going to become extremely important in the education sector, and gave us an early look at the company’s Chemistry VR application, which releases on Tuesday.

MEL Science is a London-based company that is building a technology-enabled approach to science education. It’s using educational videos, virtual reality explanations for the underlying science, and combining that with hands-on experiments using real chemistry kits.

MEL Science Launches Daydream VR App for Chemistry Education

Philippov says that the new VR application is being released as a subscription service – with the first six VR classes free – and each month, consumers will get two new chemistry sets to do experiments with their kids at home, alongside the VR and video experiences. Philippov says the chemistry sets are important, because he does not believe that VR alone can replace a chemistry set.

MEL build atom MEL

“Virtual reality can be used to simulate a real lab. So instead of using real chemicals, test tubes, and burners you will use virtual ones,” he writes. “Indeed, real hands-on experiments are more engaging for kids. Every time I do experiments with kids, I see their eyes light up. We do not want to take it away from our kids by replacing real hands-on experiments with a VR lab.”

VR is perfect for explaining how the science behind the experiments works, according to Philippov. “VR is perfect to place kids inside a chemical reaction where molecules fly all around them, where they see how these molecules interact with each other,” he writes. “We can let them play with atomic orbitals. We can encourage kids to touch them, build their own atoms and molecules and see what happens.”

“You can explain to kids what happens inside a chemical reaction or inside a cell,” Philippov continues. “You can also explain why. And you can show pictures. Imagine how much more they would understand if they were to find themselves inside a chemical reaction.”

The idea behind the MEL VR application is that it becomes easier for children to understand basic concepts by enabling them to visualise things that happen at a micro level in a very interactive manner. The free lessons that MEL will be releasing cover atoms in solids, atoms in gases, atoms in structure, electron orbitals, and create your own atom. This will enable children to learn about the structure of the atom, and the differences between the elements.

MEL in lab MEL

Starting with Google Daydream
One of the challenges with virtual reality is that there are too many platforms out there, which is a problem for those developing new applications. In the high-end VR space, we’ve got three systems: the Playstation VR, which is a closed system that only works with the PS4; and the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, which are both powered by high-end PCs. Software for the latter two has some degree of interoperability, with a raft of caveats.

Then there’s a whole range of mobile VR headsets as well – starting with Google Cardboard, the Samsung Gear VR developed wth Oculus, and most recently, Google’s Daydream.

MEL Chemistry VR is being launched for Google Daydream – coincidentally, just one day after the Daydream Viewer headset was launched in India on Monday – which is supported on only a handful of phones. As of now, Daydream is limited to the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, and Moto Z, and it is coming to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ soon. On the other hand, you can use Cardboard with almost every phone, including Apple’s iPhone.

MEL first person MEL

However, Philippov writes that MEL Science wanted to focus on Daydream first because it offers much more functionality than its cheaper, and more widespread cousin, Cardboard. That said, the company will release a Cardboard build, and then a Gear VR build as well, he adds. “Gear VR is a great platform, although most schools use Cardboard as it is much cheaper,” he writes.

On the other hand, Philippov is of the opinion that high-end PC VR setups are not likely to find much use in education, at least not at the school level. “We believe mobile based VR will be the way to go in schools,” he continues.

A concern we raised is whether it would be safe to use a VR headset for extended periods, particularly for children whose bodies are still developing. Philippov admits that there’s no data yet on this space, but he points out that Google has already been using VR for education, with some success.

“Google did quite large scale pilot program with Google Expedition in schools,” he writes. “More than one million students have tried this VR experience. I have not seen the official papers but what I heard that no big concerns were identified to use of VR in schools. It is still early days for VR technology, but I am sure that it will be a great tool in science education.”

Chrome 59 for Android Brings Faster Page Load Times and More

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Chrome 59 for Android will be available on Google Play
  • It brings full support for aPNG file format
  • It also introduces new Image Capture API

Soon after the release of Chrome 59 for Windows, Linux, and Mac users, Google has now released Chrome 59 for Android users as well. The update brings security improvements, faster page load times, and much more. The more notable change includes full support for animated PNG files and a new Image Capture API.

Chrome version 59.0.3071.92 release contains performance and stability fixes, loads pages faster and uses less memory with an updated JavaScript engine. In April, Google claimed to have improved average page load times on Chrome by tweaking the V8 JavaScript engine bringing improvements over the course of the past year which has helped Chrome to load pages 10-20 percent faster on average than it did a year ago. For those unaware, V8 is Google’s open source JavaScript engine has been written in C++ and is used in Chromium and multiple other embedding applications. This update furthers page load times on Chrome thanks to the updated JavaScript engine.

Chrome 59 for Android Brings Faster Page Load Times and More

Chrome 59 for Android also introduces full support for aPNG which is basically similar to GIF format but comes with additional support for 24-bit images and 8-bit transparency as well. It caught developers’ attention after Apple adopted it in iMessages with iOS 10. Android Police reports that there is also the introduction of image capture API that essentially gives web pages more control over your device’s camera. The new API lets webpages choose between multiple cameras available on your device, zoom, use flash, and even focus on an image. It takes photos in full resolution as well, and as is the norm, it asks for permission to access the camera before performing the task.

Chrome version 59.0.3071.92 for Android has been released and will be available on Google Play over the course of the next week.

 

Google Assistant for iPhone Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Google Assistant works on iOS 9.1 or later
  • It’s only available for now via App Store in the US
  • Siri has a few homegrown advantages

Google Assistant now lives on the iPhone. Its purpose lies in its name: to help you with your day-to-day life, be it set reminders, play music, fire off emails, give you directions, and tell you random facts, among other things. If you’re thinking that’s what Siri is for, you’re right. Except Google’s offering can actually hold a conversation.

Ask Siri and the Assistant the capital of Uruguay, and they’ll both give you the same response. (It’s Montevideo, if you were curious.) But when you ask a follow-up question, say “What’s the weather like?”, Siri gives you the weather at your current location. It has already forgotten the query that came before. Google Assistant, on the other hand, can handle context, which allows it to give you the weather for Montevideo, and not where you are. You can then move the conversation forward, querying the best time to visit, or the places you should see.

Google Assistant for iPhone Review

That’s one of the things that makes the Assistant slightly unique. The other is the way you communicate; you can chat with Google’s digital assistant by either talking or typing, the latter of which Siri doesn’t do. It’s probably worth a mention that you could do the same inside Google’s chat app, Allo, earlier but Assistant now available without that convolution, as a standalone app. The ability to type and interact means you can use the Assistant on the train, or in a meeting, without feeling like a dork.

At launch, the Assistant is capable of a lot. Apart from the functionality listed above, it can initiate calls, provide answers or translations, play games, fetch sports scores, set timers, look up stock prices, places nearby, or the definition of any word; get flight status, your next meeting, food nutrition, or the news; and remember little nuggets of information (such as your bike lock). A lot of that is made possible by Google’s Knowledge Graph or linking into other Google apps: Calendar, Gmail, News, and so forth. It doesn’t support all of Google’s apps though, as you can’t use Inbox for emails, or Play Music for listening to music on iOS.

google assistant siri iphone Google Assistant Siri iPhone

You can even set up shortcuts in the app settings, which helps you cut down on repeating long phrases over and over to achieve the same thing. As an example, if you love watching videos of Corgi dogs on YouTube as a pick-me-up, you can set up a shortcut phrase, say, “Cheer me up”, which will then trigger the Assistant follow the much longer and complex command – “Show me Corgi videos on YouTube”.

But at the same time, owing to Apple’s baked-in restrictions, there’s a lot it can also not do. For one, it can’t talk to other apps like Siri can. That means it can’t call an Uber, or send a message through WhatsApp. It’s also not allowed to talk directly to any system apps and services, so you won’t be able to make handsfree calls, or toggle the Bluetooth setting.

The Google Assistant also steps into puddles of its own making on iOS. Every now and then, it tends to suggest features it can’t actually do – like “Start watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix on the TV” or “Play workout music on Google Play Music” – probably because of its roots in the Google ecosystem, but this is something that needs to be fixed, as it’s needlessly confusing for inexperienced users.

The first time we asked the Assistant to play music, it suggested “Listen to Imagine on Spotify” in the line below. But upon selecting it, it ruefully reminded us that it couldn’t do that. Another time, after singing a short song (yep, it can sing), one of the suggestions read “Tell me a poem”. Again, the function completely failed, and it instead looked up “Song Poem” on Apple Music. And though you can play anything on YouTube, much like on Android, Assistant for iOS still hasn’t been integrated with Google’s Chromecast hardware, so you can’t ask it to play stuff on your TV, like you can with Google Home.

IMG 2143 Google Assistant iPhone

Of course it’s not as simple to bring up Google Assistant as holding down the home button for Siri. Google’s way around that has to been craft a widget that you can quickly get to in iOS 10’s new widget panel. If you’ve place it at the top, you can get it by swiping right from the lock screen, from the left of home screen, or by pulling down the notification drawer and swiping right. But it’s still nowhere as convenient as the single press of a button. Even more so if you have security (passcode/ Touch ID) turned on, as pressing the widget’s button on the lock screen prompts you to unlock the phone.

What’s worse, for now, Google Assistant is only available via the US App Store (and in turn, only in US English), so its availability is limited at best. And thanks to the single language support – the Google Assistant is available in English (India) on Android – the iOS counterpart isn’t obviously as good with picking up Indian names.

But there are ways the Assistant is also better on iPhone than Android, surprisingly. You can listen to the news on iOS, and even customise your preferred news sources in the settings. If you ask the Assistant to “listen to the news” on Android, it starts searching for music called “the news” on Play Music, funnily enough.

For what it’s worth, it’s a kink waiting to be resolved, and the Assistant will always be more helpful on Android, thanks to the deeper integration. And for as long as Siri gets priority override on the iPhone, Google Assistant can hang around on Apple’s turf, but this will never be its true home.