Google Assistant on the iPhone is better than Siri, but not much

Google’s Assistant is finally ready to take on Siri on Apple’s own turf: the iPhone. Yes, you could already play around with the AI-powered chatbot if you downloaded Allo — Google’s mobile-only messenger app — but its functionality was limited. Today, that changes thanks to a new standalone Google Assistant app available on Apple’s App Store (though it’s US-only for now). Eager to check it out, we downloaded it right away and spent some time commanding our Google-branded phone butler around. After a few hours, I’ll say that while I find Google Assistant a lot friendlier and smarter than Siri, it doesn’t quite replace it. At least, not yet.

The first obvious barrier is that while Siri is baked right into iOS, you’ll need to download Google Assistant as a separate app. Plus, accessing Siri is as easy as holding down the iPhone’s home button — with Google Assistant (as with Cortana, Alexa and all other third-party assistants), you’ll need to take the extra step of launching an app. If you have an Android phone, Google Assistant is ready to go without having to download anything at all.

As you might expect, when you first launch Google Assistant on the iPhone, it asks you to log in with your Google account. After you do, it introduces itself to you and invites you to ask it anything you wish. Press the microphone icon at the center to offer a voice command, or if you’d rather not disturb the people around you, you can hit the keyboard icon to type your query.

The first thing you might wonder is if you can make a call or send a message on the iPhone with Google Assistant. The answer is: You can, but it’s not any easier than it would be with Siri. When I say, “Call Mom,” for example, it brings up her name and triggers a phone call, which you can then cancel or confirm. When I say, “Text Mom,” it asks me for my message and then kicks me over to the Messages app on my phone, where I can choose to send it off or not. At least Siri can send messages without me having to open the app.

I also tried to play music on Google Assistant to see how the experience compares to Siri. It was a little, well, uneven. When you first tell Google Assistant to play music, it’ll ask you to choose between Apple Music and YouTube as your default. I chose YouTube and then said, “Play LCD Soundsystem.” It kicked me over to the YouTube app, where it played a random song from the band. Then I went back and said “Play Radiohead,” and it would just give a list of albums. I then tried to switch the default choice to Apple Music, which I somehow was able to do so by saying “Play on Apple Music.” From then on, whenever I said “Play [name of song],” it would play the song on Apple Music. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that I can switch back to YouTube as the default, despite multiple attempts. Sometimes it says it’s playing a song, but nothing happens. Clearly, this feature is still pretty buggy.

As you might expect, Assistant plays particularly well with Google’s own apps. So sending email through Gmail is a snap — say who you want to send the email to, and it’ll kick you over to the Gmail app to follow through. Similarly, it’ll offer directions with Google Maps rather than Apple’s own.

What I found particularly intriguing about the Google Assistant app on iOS is that there’s a whole Explore page full of suggestions on what you can do with it. There’s a list of the usual suggestions, like “How many pounds in a kilogram?” or “What sound does a dog make?”

But interestingly, there’s also a slew of third-party chatbots you can try out. Examples include Genius, a bot that’ll guess the name of a song based on a lyric snippet, or the Magic 8 Ball, which will offer pithy responses to yes-or-no questions. Google Home users likely already know about some of these third-party chatbots, but to mobile users, this is new.

Aside from Explore, there’s also a Your Stuff tab that lists your Reminders, Agenda, Shopping List and quick Shortcuts that you can add to customize Assistant. So, for example, you can say “Late again” to trigger an automatic text to your best friend that you’re running five minutes late. “Cheer me up” will automatically bring up a list of kitten videos on YouTube.

I then tried to do a number of things on both Google Assistant and Siri to compare the two. I discovered that due to iOS restrictions, Google Assistant isn’t able to set alarms, take selfies, launch apps, post to Twitter or Facebook, call Ubers or Lyfts, or use third-party apps like Whatsapp for sending messages. Siri, however, was able to do all of these tasks without issue.

At the same time, Google Assistant was vastly superior when it came to translating languages (Siri often faltered) and remembering context clues. For example, when I asked, “Who’s the president of the United States” and followed it up immediately with “How tall is he?” Google Assistant immediately responded with “Donald J Trump” and “6-feet 2-inches tall.” Siri, on the other hand, could answer the first question, but not the second (it responded with “I don’t know”). Google Assistant also was smart enough to respond to set-a-reminder requests with the place and time in which I wanted to be reminded — Siri just placed them on a Reminders list. Siri was also sometimes just plain wrong — it erroneously said the population of Egypt was 85,800 (it’s actually 91.51 million).

In many ways, Siri pales in comparison to Google Assistant. It can’t understand voice commands as well as Google, and it doesn’t remember your preferences like Google can. Siri makes so many errors that there’s even a Reddit group called “Siri fails” that documents its many mistakes. But as long as it comes preinstalled in every iPhone out there and does a good-enough job, Google Assistant — and all other rivals — will have a hard time replacing it.

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iPhone 8 renders point to glass back and wireless charging

Rumor has it that we won’t be seeing the next flagship iPhone until much later this year, but we may have just the right thing to keep y’all entertained for the time being. Earlier this week, a reliable source in the accessory industry showed Engadget a highly detailed CAD file of the “iPhone 8’s” chassis, which allowed us to generate several renders for publishing. The most obvious takeaway here is the dual camera’s new orientation, and that both the microphone plus the flash will be part of the camera bump.

While the contour may look familiar, the back of the device will actually be covered in glass this time, which allows for the integration of wireless charging. This is hinted by what appears to be a carved out area for a wireless charging coil on the underside of the chassis, though we’re not at liberty to disclose related images.

Since this is the smaller of the two next-gen iPhones, these renders suggest that the dual camera plus wireless charging will become a standard feature. Speaking of, our source said both screen sizes will be getting bumped up: the 4.7-inch version will go up to 5 inches, and the 5.5-inch “Plus” version will be stretched to 5.8 inches. Alas, these renders don’t indicate whether the new displays will go from edge to edge as rumored, but the body measurements in the CAD file do point to a slightly taller, wider and thicker body than the iPhone 7.

As with all leaks, there’s always a possibility that these renders may turn out to be false (which we highly doubt given the nature of these files), or that Apple may give up on this design entirely. Either way, there’s still the rumored tenth anniversary iPhone to look forward to as well.

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‘How to shoot on iPhone’ videos explain why your pictures suck

The iPhone camera has been a consistently emphasized point by Apple, and for good reason. The quality of pictures it can take increases with each iteration, and for most people, smartphone cameras have become their primary way to take photos. Of course, not all of our pictures come out looking like those highlight shots Apple uses in its ad campaigns, but several videos and a website the company just posted may help close the gap.

Most of the videos in the “How to Shoot on iPhone 7” website are vertically oriented for viewing on your phone, perfect to learn about features it has that maybe you never quite figured out how to use. Portrait mode, shooting stills during or shooting a vertical panorama are fairly easy to do, if you can find the right setting. Some of them focus on things like composition, in case you need more basic photography advice.

So, is this enough information for you to become a festival-flogging “influencer”? Probably not, but no matter phone or app you use it could help your next picture look a little bit better.

Source: Apple ‘How to Shoot on iPhone 7’

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Senator confirms FBI paid $900,000 to unlock San Bernardino iPhone

In early 2016, Apple was embroiled in a battle with the FBI over privacy, specifically whether it could (or would) crack an iPhone 5C following the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Apple refused to specifically create a backdoor piece of software that would circumvent the security protections built into iOS, citing concerns for the privacy of the other millions of people out there using iPhones and iPads. Ultimately, it became a moot point: the FBI purchased software to crack the iPhone in question. The agency refused to say how much it spent, but now Senator Dianne Feinstein has revealed that it cost $ 900,000 to break into the shooter’s phone.

That’s less than the $ 1.3 million that was estimated before, though that estimate was a back-of-the-napkin calculation based on a statement from FBI director James Comey. He said that the cost to the FBI was greater than what he’d make in the seven years and four months leading up to his retirement. Reuters did the math based on his salary, but it looks like the figure wasn’t quite accurate.

Senator Feinstein noted the $ 900,000 figure this past Wednesday while questioning Comey at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. “I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $ 900,000 to hack it open,” Feinstein said (as reported by the AP). She would know — she’s the top the Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the FBI.

Until this statement, the FBI has refused to disclose either how much it spent to break into the San Bernardino iPhone; it also has protected the identity of the individual or company that broke into the phone. The agency has said both of those pieces of information are classified.

Via: Popular Mechanics

Source: Associated Press / CNBC

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Qualcomm might try to block iPhone shipments over royalty dispute

The Qualcomm vs. Apple licensing squabble had already gotten messy with lawsuits flying in both directions, but a report by Bloomberg says things could go to the next level soon. That’s because according to sources, Qualcomm plans to ask the ITC to block Apple from importing its phones from where they’re built in Asia to the US, ahead of new devices that we’re anticipating in the fall. We don’t know if it could be successful, although Qualcomm holds a number of patents in the space and Apple stopped making payments while the dispute is ongoing.

Qualcomm has cut its revenue outlook by $ 500 million because of the anticipated lack of licensing fees, so this is no small matter. It claims its patented technology is crucial to the iPhone even as it’s being manufactured by someone else, while Apple disagrees. We don’t know if there’s any chance the ITC will side with Qualcomm and actually ban any devices, but the threat puts billions of dollars in iPhone sales at risk.

Source: Bloomberg

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iPhone sales continue their slow and steady slide

Apple just released earnings details for the last quarter, and the company couldn’t quite keep iPhone sales growing for the second quarter in a row. The company sold 50.8 million iPhones in the last quarter, down a scant one percent from the 51.2 million it sold a year ago. It’s worth remembering that last year marked the first quarter where iPhone sales didn’t grow year-over-year, so this decline isn’t exactly a surprise. The iPhone 7 briefly managed to turn things around last quarter, but we’re now back to seeing sales decline, albeit very slightly.

Despite the iPhone slide, Apple’s revenue increased to $ 52.9 billion on the quarter, up five percent year-over-year. Some of that could be due to the Mac — Apple sold 4.2 million Macs in the quarter, a four percent increase over a year ago. That marks the second consecutive quarter of Mac growth, despite the grumbling coming from both fans and press about the lack of updates Apple’s computers have received in recent years.

Apple’s third major product category, the iPad, once again failed to turn around sales that have slumped for more than three years now. The company sold 8.9 million tablets, down nine percent from the 10.25 million it sold a year ago. But Apple’s services business keeps growing — revenues of $ 7.04 billion marked an 18 percent increase year-over-year. CEO Tim Cook said that App Store revenue grew 40 percent year-over-year and hit a quarterly high, and Apple Music also hit double-digit growth.

And the “other products” business, which includes the Apple Watch and Apple TV, jumped up a whopping 31 percent. Perhaps Apple’s wearable is doing better than people give it credit for. Indeed, Cook said on Apple’s earnings call that Watch sales nearly doubled year-over-year in the last quarter.

But things are likely not going to get any easier on the iPhone front for Apple any time soon. The company’s biggest rival Samsung just launched the Galaxy S8, a phone that gives Samsung a significant edge over what Apple currently offers. Naturally, loyal Apple fans aren’t going to be abandoning the ecosystem any time soon (and that growing services revenue is good evidence of their loyalty), but Samsung now likely has until September at least to press its advantage.

Source: Apple

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Apple threatened to drop Uber’s app over iPhone tracking (updated)

Uber is no stranger to trouble, but it may have landed in some especially hot water two years ago. New York Times sources claim that Apple CEO Tim Cook held a face-to-face meeting in early 2015 to call out Uber’s Travis Kalanick (and threaten to remove his app from the App Store) after learning that Uber was not only violating iOS app privacy guidelines, but was trying to cover it up. Reportedly, the ridesharing outfit had been “fingerprinting” iPhones with permanent identities so that it could prevent drivers from cheating by creating fake accounts and accepting rides from these bogus customers. The IDs would last even after the app was deleted or the entire phone was wiped. While this helped keep drivers honest, it was clearly a privacy violation — and it was made worse by Uber’s bid to hide the tracking from App Store reviewers.

Reportedly, Kalanick told staff to “obfuscate” the Uber app’s fingerprinting code for anyone operating from Apple’s current headquarters in Cupertino. As far as the people at Infinite Loop could see, it was business as usual. However, the trick didn’t work for long. Apple workers outside of the headquarters eventually spotted the shady behavior, leading to the meeting with Kalanick. The approach isn’t that uncommon for Uber (it recently admitted that it used location-based techniques to fool regulators), but it’s particularly brazen given the risk of being dropped from the App Store and losing millions of customers.

Apple isn’t commenting on the meeting with Cook, and we’ve reached out to Uber for its take on the allegations. However, it’s safe to say that Uber would like to leave an issue like this in the past. The company is trying to turn a corner, and Kalanick himself is looking for a second-in-command to keep his boundary-pushing tendencies in check. This revelation certainly won’t help matters, though. It reinforces the notion that Uber is all too willing to break rules in the name of money, even if it’s motivated by honest concerns like fraud.

Update: Uber has responded to Engadget, and maintains that its staff “absolutely do not” track individual users after they’ve deleted the app. The company adds that fingerprinting is a “typical way” of preventing people from using stolen phones for joyrides, and otherwise thwarting “known bad actors.” You can read the full statement below. It’s good to hear that the company isn’t tracking people, but the heart of the story revolves around hardware fingerprints — those still violated Apple’s privacy guidelines, even if Uber couldn’t definitively associate phones with specific customers.

“We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone—over and over again. Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users’ accounts. Being able to recognize known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users.”

Source: New York Times

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Qualcomm countersues Apple over iPhone and iPad royalties

For years, Apple and Qualcomm have worked together on technology that’ goes inside your iPhone and iPad. Qualcomm specifically handles a lot of the modem chips that connect devices to cellular or WiFi networks, and are crucial to any mobile hardware. Since Apple needed a lot of chips, Qualcomm supplied them, and everything seemed good — until January when Apple filed a $ 1 billion lawsuit claiming Qualcomm charged royalties on tech it had nothing to do with, and then followed up with two antitrust lawsuits in China. Tonight, Qualcomm has responded with a lawsuit of its own (you can grab the 139 page PDF here), claiming that Apple is in the wrong, and has breached its contract with the company.

Among a number of accusations, Qualcomm chose to highlight charges claiming that Apple “Chose not to utilize the full performance of Qualcomm’s modem chips in its iPhone 7, misrepresented the performance disparity between iPhones using Qualcomm modems and those using competitor-supplied modems; and
Threatened Qualcomm in an attempt to prevent it from making any public comparisons about the superior performance of the Qualcomm-powered iPhones.”

Further along in the document, it also says:

Qualcomm has been relieved of its obligation to make Cooperation Agreement payments to Apple because, among other reasons, Apple has misled government agencies around the world about Qualcomm’s business practices in order to induce regulatory proceedings against Qualcomm. As merely one example, on August 17, 2016, Apple told the Korea Fair Trade Commission (“KFTC”) that “Apple has yet to add a [second chipset] supplier because of Qualcomm’s exclusionary conduct”. But when Apple made that statement to the KFTC, it already had added Intel as a second baseband chip supplier and had purchased Intel chips to incorporate in the iPhone 7, which was only a few weeks away from its September release. Apple already knew that every iPhone 7 offered for sale in Korea would incorporate an Intel chip, not a Qualcomm chip. Apple’s statement to the KFTC was false

Apple started using Intel modems in some versions of the iPhone 7 in 2016. Qualcomm also claims that Apple encouraged regulatory attacks, and interfered with agreements it has with the companies that manufacture iPads and iPhones.

Source: Qualcomm

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Engadget giveaway: Win a Product Red edition iPhone 7 courtesy of Speck!

There’s been plenty of chatter lately about the new Product Red edition iPhone 7, which finally breaks free from the muted metallic lineup with its brilliantly colored exterior. From what I’ve seen around NYC, though, you’d be well advised to protect any new phone or suffer the all-too-ubiquitous cracked screen. Case and bag maker Speck has just the thing to protect and show off this brightly hued handset, its clear Presidio iPhone 7 case.

This protective shell cleared the 8-foot drop test with honors, offers scratch resistance and its custom-engineered material resists UV yellowing, since many users tend to walk around with their phones out and, you know, beach selfies. Speck has provided us with one of these enviable iPhone 7 handsets and a clear Presidio case to keep it safe for one lucky reader this week. You get up to three chances at winning this prize by entering in the Rafflecopter widget below. Don’t let that stop you from making a purchase, however, the Product Red edition profits go towards raising awareness and fighting HIV/AIDS.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Special Edition Product Red Apple iPhone 7 and one (1) Speck Presidio clear iPhone case.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
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  • Entries can be submitted until April 5th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

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Apple is building its own GPU for the iPhone and iPad

Imagination Technologies is famous for one thing: it’s the company that provides the graphics for the iPhone. But today, Imagination announced that its longstanding relationship with Apple is coming to an abrupt end. In a statement, the outfit has conceded that Apple will replace the PowerVR GPU at the heart of its iOS devices with a graphics chip of its own design.

When Apple started making the iPhone, it used a generic, Samsung-made ARM system that was paired with a PowerVR GPU. Over time, Apple began crafting more and more of its own silicon, thanks to its purchase of various chip design firms. These days, the PowerVR chip on the A10 Fusion is one of very few components that Apple didn’t have entire control over.

The decision to dump Imagination was probably inevitable given the company’s trend towards control, but there may be another story here. Third-party analysts The Linley Group spotted that the iPhone 7 used the same PowerVR GT7600 GPU that was used for the iPhone 6S. That piece of silicon, while powerful, couldn’t sustain its performance for very long and so throttles the component to avoid overheating.

Apple is well-know to be unsentimental when it comes to ditching chip makers when they can’t meet performance targets. After all, the company ditched PowerPC CPUs because — so the legend goes — Intel’s X86 silicon was getting faster while IBM and Motorola dragged their feet.

It’s clearly a massive blow for Imagination, which has already said that it’s planning to take the matter to the courts. After all, building a graphics platform from scratch is likely to involve using technology that other companies like Imagination has already patented. The famously-secretive Apple is also not going to look favorably upon one of its suppliers going public with this licensing dispute.


As TechCrunch explains, the split could spell doom for Imagination, since it relies upon Apple for the bulk of its cash. Even worse, is that the news has already caused Imagination’s stock to freefall, dropping between 60 and 70 percent in the last few hours.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Imagination Technologies

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