Plus Snap’s big push to stay relevant, Amazon’s Alexa-powered AirPods alternatives, more Android Q news, and a lot more. It’s time to talk about the biggest, coolest, or generally most interesting stories from the last 24 hours.
Amazon Wants to Send 3,236 Satellites into Low Earth Orbit to Bring Internet to the Masses
Last September, there were murmurs of Amazon working on some sort of space project. More details recently arose, showing that the plan is to launch a bunch of satellites to trickle down internet access to underserved communities.
Seriously though, how cool is that?
Amazon is calling this effort “Project Kuiper,” (named after astronomer Gerard Kuiper) and the details were recently uncovered by GeekWire in a series of three filings made by the FCC. The plan is to launch 3,236 satellites—784 at 367 miles, 1,296 at 379 miles, and 1,156 at 391 miles—to provide internet access in places around the Earth that are either totally unserved or generally underserved. Amazon wants to bring internet access to the globe.
In response to the findings, GeekWire reached out to Amazon for a statement, at which time the project was confirmed:
Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision.
The report goes on to state that the satellites would provide coverage ranging from 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south latitude, and that “about 95 percent of the world’s population lives within that wide swath of the planet.” Sorry, other five percent.
Unfortunately, Amazon didn’t provide a timeline for the launch of these satellites, nor did it speak about the logistics or economic aspect of the project.
There’s still a lot of work to be done here to make this project a reality, however, and these filings are just the beginning—mostly logistics. Amazon has to prove that its satellites won’t interfere with existing satellites (or, you know, anything else), for example. All the details will need to be finalized and approved before the project can begin to take a more realistic shape.
Apple News: Another AI Expert Moves from Google to Apple
Things have been quiet for Apple over the last day, with the biggest news being a move that aims to make the company’s AI tech better.
- Apple hired Ian Goodfellow, a former top Google AI expert. Goodfellow was named the Director of Machine Learning last month. Interesting stuff. [Engadget]
- MacWorld reviewed the 2019 iPad Mini, which is probably worth a read if you’re considering picking up this new pint-sized powerhouse. [MacWorld]
While people frequently move from one company to another and it’s generally not a big enough deal to talk about, Goodfellow moving from Google to Apple is notable for a few reasons.
First off, this is the man who invented GAN, or Generative Adversarial Network; a specific type of machine learning that uses dueling neural networks to create realistic photos and videos. This is the type of technology that is used to create deepfakes.
While it’s still unknown exactly what Goodfellow’s role will be at Apple, it is known that he’ll be part of Apple’s Special Projects Group. This is the team within Apple responsible for designing the tech that powers future products and services.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time Apple has taken a top AI expert from Google—former AI and Search Chief John Giannandrea joined Apple in December of last year and was quickly appointed to Senior VP of Machine Learning. It’s unclear if Goodfellow and Giannandrea will work together, but either way, it’s pretty clear that Apple is looking to take its AI tech to the next level.
Google News: More Android Q Details Emerge
Plus, Smart Compose is coming to subject lines, the dates for the Android Dev Summit were revealed, and Google Arts & Culture explores Kansas City.
- If you’ve ever had a hard time writing the subject line of an email (which, let’s be real here, is often the hardest part), Google has your back. Smart Compose is coming to subject lines. This was announced specifically for G Suite, but like with other Gmail features, we’ll likely see it in the consumer version of Gmail soon as well. [G Suite Update]
- The official Android Developers account sent out a tweet yesterday with a “Big Announcement” to “Save the date.” The thing is, it didn’t have a date. It was a fun little scavenger hunt that ultimately revealed the dates for the 2019 Android Dev Summit. It’s happening on October 23-24. [9to5Google]
- On to Android Q. In the latest beta, the “Install Unknown Apps” permission is disabled after every use. It’s unclear if this is a bug or intentional. Either would make sense. [9to5Google]
- There’s a “Notification Assistant” option buried in Android Q Beta 2’s settings, which is pretty interesting. We’ll talk more about it below. [Android Police]
- A few days ago, users started seeing ads on the home screen of their Android TV. There are more details available now, and apparently, it’s intentional. [Ars Technica]
- Go exploring the finer things in Kansas City in the Google Arts & Culture app. [Google Blog]
So this Notification Assistant thing. This is a new feature that does exactly what the name suggests: it allows an app to manage your notifications. Right now there’s only one option (the stock Notification Assistant), but the existence of the setting in its current form suggests that third-party apps will also be able to function as the Notification Assistant.
But as Android Police’s Rita El Khoury points out, when you disable and re-enable the Notification Assistant, you get a clear picture of how powerful this feature really is by way of all the permissions and access it requires:
The only option available is Android’s default Notification Assistant. That’s all good and redundant, until you try disabling then re-enabling it. You get the pop-up shown below that explains the powers that it has: read your notifications, modify or dismiss them, trigger action buttons in them, and turn Do Not Disturb on or off. That is a lot of control given to one app.
That really is a lot of control for one app to have, and I’m honestly not sure if I’d trust anything outside of the stock Notification Assistant with that much access. We’ll have to wait and see how the details for this interesting new feature unfold, but for now, it’s at least intriguing if not a bit unsettling to consider how it could be easily abused.
Microsoft News: More Integrations in the Game Bar
Plus Xbox Live Gold is getting a price bump, at least in the UK.
- The Game Bar in Windows 10 is getting a pretty decent update that brings Spotify and chat integration. [Thurrott]
- Xbox Live Gold is getting a price increase in the UK, bringing it up to the same amount as the rest of Europe. [TechRadar]
- It looks like Microsoft may be working on something called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, according to Windows leaker WalkingCat on Twitter. This will reportedly combine Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass for $14.99 a month. Interesting indeed. [WalkingCat]
The Game Bar update is a pretty sizable one—it doesn’t just bring Spotify and chat integration with Xbox Social, but also the ability to customize the overlay to hide specific widgets. Beyond that, the capture feature is getting the option to overlay text on capture images, which can only mean one thing: prepare for an onslaught of homebrewed memes (which, I guess all memes are homebrewed at some point) coming from game screenshots. I’m not sure how to feel about that.
But perhaps the bigger news here is the pairing of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. For $14.99 a month, it makes a lot of sense, especially for users who already subscribe to both services. It’s unclear when this will officially be available for everyone, but apparently, Insiders will be able to get access for $1 a month until that day comes. That’s really cool.
Other News: Snap Fights Back, and Amazon is Making AirPod Competitors
Plus Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild in VR, Jim Henson shows hit Prime Video (sort of), Twitter is making conversations easy to parse, and more.
- Snap announced a bunch of new stuff yesterday, starting with Landmarkers. This new feature uses Snap’s AR overlays to add corny effects to famous landmarks. Okay! [The Verge]
- Snap games are coming! Ad-supported games will be baked into Snapchat soon, allowing users to play in realtime with their friends. [TechRadar]
- Snapchat Stories are coming to third-party apps, starting with Tinder and Houseparty. [The Verge]
- Man, you guys remember Pokemon Go? I miss playing it. But apparently, it’s still big enough for Pokemon Go Fest to not only happen but become a four-day event. That honestly sounds like a lot of fun. That could be considered a business trip, right? [CNET]
- If you have a Fitbit and also love Bitmoji, you can use your little cartoon caricature as a watch face. Fitbitmoji. Heh. [Fitbit Blog]
- Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild will work with Nintendo’s Labo VR kit. But that also means the Joycons will be next to your ears, which can’t be a comfortable way to play. Like, at all. ;[The Verge]
- Twitter is testing labels on threads to make it easier to break down conversations when they involve multiple people. [Engadget]
- Jim Henson shows are coming to Prime Vidoe! Yay! But not for users in the US. Boo! [Engadget]
- Amazon not only wants to send satellites into space for internet rain, but it’s also working on an Alexa-powered AirPods alternative. [Bloomberg]
Truly wireless earbuds are the new thing, and every company on the planet—both those that are known for making headphones and those that aren’t—are looking to get in on the action. Apple truly innovated the earbuds scene with the AirPods, so it’s understandable that everyone wants to get in on that. That’s how innovation works!
And with the rise of digital assistants, the two are a match made to be together: your sleek, svelte wireless earbuds and your favorite digital assistant were made to be together. At least it makes sense to Amazon, who is always looking for new places to add Alexa. The interesting thing here, however, is that Alexa isn’t baked into a phone’s OS the way Siri and Google Assistant are, so Amazon’s upcoming earbuds will require a third-party app to activate Alexa.
That will surely prove to be a problem at some point, as these types of integrations often are. With third-party apps try to replicate or replace native functions—especially over a Bluetooth connection—things can get weird. Or just, like, not work at all.
Of course, the big question here is how much these will cost. Amazon is known for dramatically slashing prices over competing products, and with AirPods ranging from $159-199, that probably won’t be too hard to do. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of info about that yet, so we’ll have to wait for an official announcement to get those details.
Meta News: We’re Looking for an Android Writer
In a bit of site-related news, we’re looking for an Android writer. We want someone who knows Android inside and out, can explain things in a clear and concise manner, and generally just loves to talk tech. If that sounds like you, you can find all the details here.