DARPA wants to give you a glimpse inside the AI brain

A new DARPA project will attempt to show us the brains behind AI.
A new DARPA project will attempt to show us the brains behind AI.

Image: Shutterstock / Tatiana Shepeleva

Does the thought of giving Siri more power unsettle you? What about self-driving cars — do you feel uneasy about letting a computer take the wheel?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. As AI systems become more functional and widespread, a large segment of the public has been slow to trust the tech. A highly publicized study last year called the ethics of self-driving cars into question, concluding that most people wouldn’t want to ride in the cars because they don’t trust the systems making the decisions.

That’s one of the reasons why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently handed eight Oregon State University computer science professors a $6.5 million research grant to work on a project to help make robots, cars, and other tech powered by AI more trustworthy for doubters.  

The biggest issue behind the lack of trust is that programmers cede some aspects of control with automated learning as the neural networks train themselves, making them a so-called “black box” — in other words, they’re tough to understand. Rather than being programmed for specific responses to commands, there’s a potential that the system could act in ways no one can predict when asked to make a choice. 

The DARPA-funded OSU program aims to open up that box for more people. It will run for four years, with a focus on illustrating how machines make decisions. 

Alan Fern, the principal investigator for the grant, said that the project will aim to make the deep network decisions the software makes appear more natural for its human audience by translating them into visualizations and even sentences. That’s right: it’ll be like Inside Out for the AI brain. 

To develop the system, the researchers will plug AI-powered players into real-time strategy games like Star Craft. The bots will be trained to explain their in-game decisions to human players. 

It’s not clear exactly if or how and the research will be applied to consumer-facing tech like digital AI assistants and self-driving cars -but it’s early on in the process.    

Once the initial research establishes the groundwork for the project, its results will be applied to other DARPA projects dealing with everything from robotics to unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones. 

DARPA’s efforts are far from the only projects looking to humanize automated systems; some companies are working to build up their AI-powered platforms with an extra communicative layer to their tech. Drive.AI, for example, is working to develop a line of self-driving cars that can interact with other cars and pedestrians through obvious audio-visual cues.  

Once we trust decision making processes driving AI systems, it’ll be easier to accept its more blatant applications in our everyday lives. Then, we might even feel better about the potential longer term ramifications of the tech, like when it takes our jobs and overthrows human society.

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7 things we learned from Elon Musk’s Tesla shareholder meeting

Tesla’s shareholders voted this afternoon at their annual meeting against declassifying the electric car company’s board of directors. Critics have said that Tesla’s board is not independent enough, and that it’s filled with people who are incentivized to stay in CEO Elon Musk’s good graces. Declassifying would have made the directors subject to annual elections, but the outcome of the vote means the board will keep its staggered, three-year terms.

But, as is consistently the case with Tesla, Elon Musk stole the show when he came on stage to speak to the shareholders and answer questions from Twitter. Compared to how his loose lips have ignited some of his past speaking engagements, this one was surprisingly light on shock value. There were still a few interesting tidbits though.

Our first “look” at the Model Y

Musk first teased the Model Y in October of 2015 when he tweeted, and then deleted, a short mention of the company’s forthcoming all-electric crossover SUV. He’s been light on details ever since, as the company has been focused on launching the Model X and Model 3. At the meeting today, though, he flashed what is our first glimpse of the Y.

There’s very little to go off of in that image, I know, but it appears in line with what Musk has said about the car. It will be a crossover, one that’s sized smaller than a Model X but bigger than the Model 3. It will also be a much simpler car with respect to the electrical systems inside — Musk said last month that the Y will have far less wiring than its other cars as the company moves away from its standard 12-volt battery architecture.

Musk also said last month that the Model Y, which is targeted for 2019, would be built on an entirely new vehicle architecture platform, contradicting assumptions that it would be built on the Model 3’s platform as a cost-saving measure. Musk said today that “there are a number of really major manufacturing improvements that can be done that allow us to build a car in a way that a car’s never been built before” by building the Model Y on a new platform.

Building the Model X on the Model S platform was “a mistake”

In fact, Musk justified starting a new platform for the Model Y by trashing the platform-borrowing approach that it has taken with its cars so far. “I think actually we made a mistake in trying to derive the Model X from the model S platform,” he said. “It would have been better to just design an SUV the way an SUV should be designed, [and] design a sedan the way a sedan should be designed. Otherwise you’re just trying to shoehorn something in that doesn’t make sense.”

The first Model 3s will be “very simple”

The Model 3 is the car that’s supposed to bring Tesla to the masses, and yet it wasn’t discussed much — even though it’s launching this summer. Musk did say, though, that the configurator for those who have preordered the car will go live toward the end of next month, when the first Model 3s roll off the line.

But he added that those customers will have to deal with a very limited set of options — essentially color and wheel type — in order to make sure the company can ramp up production accordingly.

“I should say that we’ve kept the initial configurations of the Model 3 very simple,” Musk said. “A big mistake we made with the X, which is primarily my responsibility — there was way too much complexity right at the beginning. That was very foolish.”

Musk said he’s learned from the Model X rollout, which allowed for so much customization at launch that Tesla wound up hurting its own production timelines. “[Model X] is like a faberge egg of cars. It’s really an amazing product, but it has way too many cool things in it that should have really been rolled in with version two, version three,” he said. “We got overconfident and created something great that probably will never be made again. And perhaps should not be.”

Musk says Tesla’s own semi-autonomous software is almost better than it was before the Mobileye breakup

The tech provided by Israeli company Mobileye was a big part of what powered Tesla’s semi-autonomous capabilities in the early going. But the two companies argued mightily last year over who was to blame for the man who died while using the Autopilot system. When the collaboration disintegrated, Tesla had to rebuild Autopilot using its own hardware and software, and it’s only now that Musk feels Tesla’s version is about to eclipse the level of semi-autonomous driving Mobileye had made possible.

“It’s definitely been a tough slog transitioning from the Mobileye vision chip to Tesla’s internal vision system, but I think we’re almost there in terms of exceeding the ability of the hardware one cars,” he said. “I think with the next release of software, which is maybe as soon as next week, we will finally exceed the experience of the hardware one cars, and then it’s going to advance very rapidly from there.”

Tesla is letting customers of its upcoming semi truck help with design

Tesla is working on making an all-electric, heavy duty big rig that it plans to unveil at an event this September. We’ve known that for a while, but what’s new is that Musk said the company is collaborating with potential customers of the semi truck to help design it correctly.

“We’re getting them closely involved in the design process, so the biggest customers of the heavy duty Tesla semi are helping ensure that it is specified to their needs, so it’s not a mystery,” Musk told the shareholders. “They already know that it’s going to meet their needs, because they’ve told us what those needs are. So it’ll really just be a question of scaling volume to make as many as we can.”

Musk added that he hopes to reach production scale on the Tesla Semi in two years.

Something else could be announced at the Semi Truck event in September

Musk got cheeky when he was asked whether Tesla is working on anything else in addition to its road cars, semi truck, home battery storage service, and solar panel business. “There’s a few other things I haven’t mentioned here. I just like, really recommend showing up for the semi truck unveiling,” he said. “Maybe there’s a little more than we’re saying here. Maybe. Could be. Who knows?”

Musk finally explains his erratic Twitter behavior

Elon Musk is famous for his late night Twitter proclamations and, sometimes, rants. Asked a question about how he splits his time between his many companies, he said that “tweet frequency has no correlation with what I actually do for a work basis.” Meaning that, while he tweets a lot about the Boring Company — his effort to dig a massive tunnel system under Los Angeles — he still considers that “basically a hobby.”

Musk also admitted that he “sometimes goes crazy” on Twitter. “You know, [when] there’s a little red wine, a vintage record player, some ambien. Magic. Magic happens.”

iOS 11 will help you conserve precious iPhone storage

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

We’ve all been there: that dreaded pop-up letting you know you’re almost out of storage.

While there are a few tricks for freeing up a bit of extra space without deleting anything, ultimately, the only way to deal with the issue is to start deleting.

Soon, however, that process could be a lot easier. A new feature, spotted in the developer preview for iOS 11, makes it much easier to figure out what to delete to free up that extra space. 

A new setting in the iPhone storage menu in the main Settings app provides a list of tailored suggestions for how to free up extra space. The recommendations highlight areas where you could gain a lot of potential storage with minimal impact.

You might see a suggestion to empty your “recently deleted” album in photos or to delete large attachments or iMessage threads, for instance. You can act on each recommendation directly from the Settings app.

Additionally, there are new settings that can help ensure you don’t run out of space in the first pace. A new “offload unused apps” feature can automatically remove apps (while preserving documents and data associated with them) that you’re no longer using and an “auto delete old conversations” feature will automatically get rid of messages that are a year old.

That may not be enough to prevent you from ever running out of space to begin with (especially if you have a 16GB iPhone) but the new features should help people learn more about how their storage works and how to fix things a little less painfully if they do run out. 

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Apple will likely expand NFC features beyond Apple Pay with iOS 11

Apple yesterday took the wraps off iOS 11 and detailed a healthy chunk of new features set to arrive for iPad and iPhone owners some time this fall. One aspect of the new mobile OS that wasn’t talked about during the keynote was a new “Core NFC” framework that could expand near-field communication features for Apple devices beyond just its mobile payments support.

The change in how iOS makes use of NFC is detailed in a documentation webpage for the beta version of iOS 11, and it was reported by Engadget earlier today. (Apple did announce on stage yesterday that its upcoming watchOS 4 release would let the Apple Watch communicate with supported gym equipment using NFC.)

As it stands today, NFC is used on the iPhone solely to transmit payment requests between a mobile device and a card reader. This is because Apple restricts how the chip is used at a system level within iOS. With the new Core NFC framework, however, Apple could let third-party developers make use of NFC in novel ways, or it could simply expand NFC functions beyond Apple Pay for use in its own apps and services. The documentation page says, “For example, your app might give users information about products they find in a store or exhibits they visit in a museum.”

As Engadget points out, there are more useful NFC use uses that go beyond holding your phone up to a museum exhibit or movie poster to get bombarded with an ad. You could make use of “tap-to-pair” functionality for linking Bluetooth speakers and other accessories to your iPhone, something Android allows and a big workaround to obnoxious wireless pairing woes. Apple could also let the iPhone’s NFC chip support transit passes or workplace keycards. You could imagine Apple releasing a general-purpose app, or build new features into the existing Wallet app, that let you manage NFC data exchanges as if they were just like airline boarding passes, movie tickets, or coupons.

Of course, this is all speculative. But it’s promising news for those eager to turn their iPhone into a kind of one-stop-shop for all their mobile wallet and authentication needs. If Apple can get developers and others — even companies trying to promote new movies and attractions or even just sell ads — to come onboard, NFC could take on a larger role in the iOS ecosystem.

Cardboard augmented reality goggles? Please, no. We’ve done this dance before.

No. Just, no. We do not need a series of “Google Cardboard meets HoloLens” devices to help usher us into the age of augmented reality

But yes, that’s exactly what at least two companies are trying to do: Sell you cardboard devices that use your smartphone to create a kind of low budget HoloLens for a fraction of the price. 

In just the last couple of weeks I’ve seen the emergence of cardboard-framed AR devices for smartphones from Aryzon (about $32) and Holokit. Both are promoted as cheap alternatives to pricier, higher end AR (or “mixed reality”) devices and both have videos showing off how they work. Neither is immediately available to the public yet, but I can see where this is all going. 

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Anyone in our office looking for the history of Google Cardboard devices need only swing by my desk to see the sprawling graveyard of cardboard boxes designed to turn your smartphone into a cheap, mobile VR headset. And while the flurry of excitement over cheap VR via Cardboard simmered for a couple of years, interest has largely died out. 

If you’re really interested in VR, you can either pick up a fairly cheap Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream View headset and the compatible smartphones that go with them. Similarly, those looking for the best VR have high-end options in the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive

Yes, cheap, cardboard AR devices are a brilliant idea on paper. And if a friend had come up with it over drinks and showed me a proof of concept I would’ve probably raved about it. But then I would’ve woken up the next morning, slammed a searing hot mug of coffee down my throat and then come to my senses, sending him a text saying, “Don’t do it.”    

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Sure, AR is part of our virtual future alongside VR, and will likely have greater reach due to its integration with the real world versus the relative isolation inherent to VR. And when the hardware that moves us from experiencing AR on our smartphone screens arrives, perhaps in the form of fashionable glasses and not unwieldy, incredibly expensive headsets like the HoloLens, that will indeed be a glorious day. But attempting to give us a middle ground in the form of a cardboard device isn’t the answer. 

We know this because we’ve been here before.     

The problem is, while VR via Cardboard devices introduced large numbers of people to the “idea” of VR, ultimately, the low quality experiences led many to assume that they’d sampled the “state of the art” in VR—and so they moved on and didn’t even consider the higher end, far more immersive and interactive options. 

Rather than serve as the perfect gateway drug, VR on Cardboard actually polluted the virtual waters, leading many to dismiss the technology as a gimmick.

Things will get better for VR, but in the short term, Cardboard did more harm than good.

That is not the fate we want for AR.

The HoloKit

The HoloKit

Sure, AR apps dealing with commerce, mapping, and gaming will almost certainly drive wide adoption of AR on smartphones and tablets in the near term, regardless of how they’re delivered early on. But tech “culture” can sometimes be just as important as the tech itself, and if something is framed as a gimmick, or a fad, meaningful platform development can suffer. The Google Glass “glasshole” debacle taught us that lesson as well. 

But the biggest indictment against “Cardboard meets HoloLens” devices is obvious: You don’t need them. Whereas the pretense with VR via Google Cardboard was that the cardboard box could close off your viewpoint to mimic an immersive headset, with cardboard-framed AR, you don’t need a “headset” or “cradle” since you’re already using your smartphone to look at AR objects anyway. Using low cost mirrors and lenses, these new cardboard devices do appear to add an additional sense of depth to the AR objects (based solely on the demo videos) while you press the box to your face, but these passive viewing devices are of limited use to all but the mildly AR curious. 

This is a clever solution without a problem.  

And just because it’s clever and possible doesn’t always mean you should do it. 

Now if they can recraft these cardboard clever contraptions into a sleek, hands-free wearable glasses sooner than the likes of Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, I’ll be first in line to buy a pair. 

But until we get real AR glasses, or even cheaper, lightweight HoloLens or Meta 2 devices, AR via smartphone, sans cardboard, works just fine, thanks. 

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Apple quietly announces great news about iCloud storage

Apple just changed how much you’ll have to shell out for extra cloud storage — and in a good way. 

One of the many announcements at Apple’s annual developers conference, WWDC, was new iCloud pricing and a family plan.

The first big change is the elimination of 1TB storage. Instead you can buy 2TB for $9.99 per month — that’s what the 1TB cost before the changes. Other storage options are 50GB for 99 cents per month or 200GB for $2.99 per month.

You still only get 5GB of free storage when you sign up though — sorry.

But now you can get double the space for the same 10 bucks. If you already were on the 1TB plan you’ll get automatically upgraded to the biggest plan.

Mashable chief tech correspondent Lance Ulanoff had anticipated a pricing change in his WWDC preview,I also hope Apple further lowers the price of iCloud storage to make it more attractive for businesses and individuals.”

So here we are.

People seem most pumped about the iCloud Family Sharing plan. Everyone can split just one storage plan in iOS11 and macOS High Sierra.

The new pricing is is already available on all iOS devices. So if you need more space, go get it.

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Apple’s iOS 11 Makes Siri a More Natural Woman… and Man

By John P. Mello Jr.
Jun 6, 2017 3:53 PM PT

New voices for Siri and peer-to-peer payments are among the new features in the next version of Apple’s mobile device operating system iOS 11, previewed at the company’s annual Worldwide Development Conference on Monday.

“With the new operating system, Apple has doubled down on many of the applications it has developed for iOS,” said Ross Rubin, the principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“Much of the enhancement of the OS has come via those core applications versus general new functionality,” he told TechNewsWorld.

How Apple has improved Siri for the upcoming OS is an example of that.

New Voice, New Sex

With iOS 11, Apple has given Siri a voice that’s more natural and expressive. What’s more, a male voice has been added.

“I like how Apple is underscoring the idea of ‘more natural,'” said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst with Gartner.

“Conversational interfaces are arguably the most intuitive way to interact with machines,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Apple’s competitors certainly agree, given the efforts and emphasis they’ve put on it.”

Parlez Vous Francais

In addition, there’s a translation function. You can tell Siri to ask, “What are the most popular dishes in your restaurant?” in Chinese, and it will ask the question in that language. Languages initially supported by Siri translate are English, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Siri’s IQ also got a boost.

“Siri not only understands your voice, it understands the context,” Apple Senior Vice President for Software Engineering Craig Federighi said at WWDC. “It understands your interests. It understands how you use your device, and this allows it to ultimately understand what you want next.”

In iOS 11, Siri uses on-device learning to understand topics of interest to you so it can flag news items that might interest you, or make a calendar appointment based on reservation made on the Web.

Paying Your Peers

The Apple Pay mobile payment system gets an expansion in iOS 11. It will be able to make person-to-person payments through the iMessage app.

“Apple Pay is the No. 1 contactless payment service on mobile devices, and by the end of the year, it’ll be available in more than 50 percent of retailers in the U.S.,” said Federighi.

The new iOS expands its use of NFC technology. Up to now, NFC use has been limited to Apple Pay. With iOS 11, it also will read tags, which can convey information about a product to a device, or provide authentication.

Adding that function helps the NFC market in a number of ways. For example, companies and developers working with tags no longer have to cobble together workarounds to accommodate iOS devices.

“There are a lot of examples of applications that have been successful in Europe and Asia. where the Android market share is much higher,” explained Paula Hunter, executive director of the NFC Forum.

“Here in the U.S., we’ve had a lot of application providers hesitant to go full throttle with NFC, because a significant portion of the market is served by Apple,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Messages in the Cloud

Apple’s new OS will make it easier for developers to forge applications that tap into the camera and motion sensors in iOS devices to create augmented reality programs through ARKit.

“Tim Cook excited the market a number of times last year by speaking about AR,” Gartner’s Nguyen said. “This announcements feels like more of an official endorsement-acknowledgement of AR as a tech everyone should be paying attention to.”

With iOS 11, Apple’s Messages app will be integrated with iCloud. That enables all conversations to be synchronized automatically across a user’s devices. In addition to be being convenient, the feature saves space on a device, because most messages will be stored in the cloud.

iPad Gets Productive

With the next version of iOS, Apple will add some desired productivity features to the iPad. For example, it has a new customizable dock that can be pulled up at the bottom of the screen with a finger flick to give you quick access to your favorite apps.

“To someone trying to get real work done, I think some of the improvements to iPad iOS will be welcomed — in particular, the new dock,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

“The new dock puts a new spin on multitasking, moving iOS closer to macOS,” he told TechNewsWorld.

On the other hand, for consumers who use their iPad Pros primarily for content consumption, the new features could make the devices seem a bit more complex than they’re used to, Moorhead pointed out.

Other productivity enhancements include an improved app switcher for moving between active apps, and a new feature for managing files — not only locally and in iCloud, but on services like Box, Dropbox and OneDrive. Moving files, text and photos is easier, too, with a new drag-and-drop feature.

Apple Pencil is more deeply integrated into the iPad with iOS 11. Inline drawing is supported, and the Notes app can be accessed from the lock screen with a tap of the pencil.

Never Wanting Customers

Apple supports two new media formats in the new iOS: HEVC for video and HEIF for photos. Both formats offer good quality and smaller file sizes.

The company also improved its Memories app to identify photos in more ways — by anniversaries, for example, or sporting events or birthdays.

When the new iOS arrives next fall, developers need not worry about finding customers for their wares, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the audience at the WWDC keynote presentation on Monday.

“Eighty-six percent of our customers are running iOS 10 and taking advantage of its capabilities. This blows away other platforms that suffer from horrible fragmentation,” he said.

“With iOS, developers can always target the latest capabilities and features of our latest operating system,” added Cook, “and be confident that there’s customers there for them.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

The [xxx] Economy

While sitting in the audience at Zuora’s Subscribed event for customers and partners in San Francisco this week, I couldn’t help contemplate the meaning and progress of what was once a set of words that didn’t roll off the tongue. I am talking about the “subscription economy” — and it’s really something.

The data coming in from a variety of sources shows how rapidly subscriptions have become a big part of our lives, and why not? As I am fond of saying, subscriptions have become the way to commoditize technology and other things so that they can spread to the largest markets possible.

Eighty percent of consumers were seeking new consumption models in 2014, according to The Economist. Also, half of the people in France were moving away from traditional ownership models, and 80 percent of German companies already had addressed the issue of subscriptions.

We spent US$420 billion globally on subscriptions in 2015. Now that’s not huge in a world where the aggregate GDP is $75.59 trillion, but here we’re looking at direction. Subscriptions were a mere $215 billion in 2000, according to Credit Suisse, so we’re still early on the hockey stick. Let’s just say the puck has been dropped.

Quality Equalizer

We once relied on mass production and mass communication to do the commoditization job — and they were somewhat effective, giving us the largest middle class the world has ever seen. Everyone on the planet — except the top 1 percent — wants many of the accoutrements of middle class life, whether that means having an iPhone or a diet rich in protein, or a car, and it’s amazing how many of those elements lead from subscriptions.

However, it’s also worth noting that mass consumerism resulted in products for mass markets that were diluted or a little less capable than the good stuff. Subscriptions aren’t like that; everybody gets the same product via subscription, which means that subscriptions effectively have done an end run around much of the degradation, while increasing quality in ways we wouldn’t have thought of before.

All is far from bliss, though.

More people in the world have access to a mobile phone than have access to a toilet, according to the World Bank — something I discovered while doing research for a forthcoming book.

We’re making progress, but…

While you can’t subscribe to cow or chicken, the money you save subscribing to other stuff makes buying those things easier.

Direction Matters

All of this was running through my head when the words “subscription economy” hit me, once again at Zuora. It also made me realize that the “[xxx] economy” is now a meme. Everybody wants to position their offerings as so revolutionary that they constitute a unique thing, which brings us to the “Salesforce economy,” a term that’s been around for a couple of years, thanks to the likes of IDC and Gartner.

Like the subscription economy, the Salesforce economy is significant. In the context of world GDP, it can look small — but again, it’s the direction of the graph that’s of interest.

The Salesforce economy will be worth at least $389 billion in revenue between now and 2020 and it will account for 1.9 million new jobs during that span, according to a recent IDC white paper. Considering that Salesforce will be a $10 billion company in its current fiscal year, some accounting is in order — but that’s easy. The lion’s share of this revenue, as well as the job creation, will come from the ecosystem and partner communities.

Total IT spending will be up 1.4 percent in 2017, Gartner has forecast. That’s a small amount, except that it’s on a base that will total $3.5 trillion. So if you make an apples-to-apples comparison, the Salesforce economy, at $389 billion over five years (from when the estimate was made), is rather puny — but again, it’s the direction that counts.

Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to look at Salesforce in isolation, though I know a few people who wish I’d do that. To that estimate let’s add Oracle — its cloud business is growing like Jack’s beanstalk — and Microsoft, which is no slouch. While we’re assembling a good list, we should add SAP, Amazon and Google too. Together, these companies are the backbone of yet another revolution in IT.

From Crazy to Healthy

Still, don’t think the revenue numbers always will go north, even though we’ll see much progress. Subscriptions cost less but collect more revenue over time. To translate, this means we could see global revenues stuck at a little over $3.5 trillion, even while much progress is being made in moving businesses to the cloud and to subscriptions.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see a healthier IT community — one that’s not wedded to strict hardware hierarchies and tribal software. It’s a mark of success for what, less than 20 years ago, was an idea that at first might have seemed crazy. Today we’re watching hockey sticks and absorbing new memes.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at

The 12 best iOS 11 features you haven’t heard about yet

The next version of iOS has finally arrived and it’s jam-packed with new features.

Though Apple detailed a few highlights of iOS 11 at WWDC on Monday-– like new powers for Siri, a new App Store, and more to do in iMessage — there’s much, much more that we didn’t hear about.

Though the official public beta for iOS won’t be available for a few weeks, developers already got their hands on the update, so we’re starting to hear about some big changes Apple hasn’t announced yet. 

From new ways to preserve precious storage to one-handed keyboards, there’s a lot to look forward to. (Of course, as with any beta, there could be some changes before iOS 11’s official release this fall.)

1. Customizable Control Center

Finally! You can now rearrange and customize exactly which shortcuts appear in your Control Center, the swipe-up control that you can access via the bottom of the screen.

2. Personalized storage suggestions

Tired of running out of space on your phone? iOS 11 will provide helpful suggestions on how you can reduce space-hogging photos, iMessage threads, and attachments you no longer need. Storage settings will now provide specific recommendations on how to save space that you can act on right from the settings. 

3. Automatically delete unused apps 

Likewise, iOS 11 is making it easier to get rid of apps you don’t use anymore. A new “offload unused apps” setting will automatically get rid of apps you don’t use while preserving documents and data you may need should you want to use the app again. 

4. Screen recording

A new feature lets you record your screen right from the iOS Control Center. While this will be particularly useful for developers and gamers, it also means you might want to think twice about what you’re sharing on Snapchat

5. Save your battery from your Control Center

Another one to file under “Control Center improvements,” iOS 11 will allow you to enable the battery-saving low-power mode without having to open the Settings app.

6. Rearrange multiple apps at once 

Another long overdue update, iOS 11 will let you move around multiple apps at once. Retooling your home screen has never been easier.

7. One-handed keyboard

It’s been years since Apple started making its phones bigger but there’s no getting around the simple fact that they’re much more difficult (for many of us with smaller hands, at least) to use one-handed. Now Apple is finally adding a fix with its new one-handed keyboard modes. Better still: it’s left-friendly too. 

8. Native QR code support

Apple briefly showed this one slide at the end of its WWDC presentation when discussing new features aimed at users in China, but native support for QR codes is good news for everyone. Now, you won’t have to download a dedicated scanner app just for the QR code, which continue to make an unlikely comeback in so many apps. 

9. Dark Mode

Night Shift may no longer be the only way to help your tired eyes. Apple is adding a new way to invert colors on iOS — effectively creating a “dark mode.” It’s not the first time Apple’s teased us with such a feature. We saw similar functionality pop up in iOS 10’s developer preview last year, but it never materialized in the final release. 

10. Podcast app redesign

Image: karissa bell/mashable

It’s not just the App Store: Apple’s Podcasts app has also been given a minimalist makeover.

11. Signal bars are back

This is small, but something that’s been a source of annoyance to some: Apple is ditching the circles and brining back the bars for showing the strength of your data connection. 

12. App Store ratings reset (for developers)

Apple previously revealed it would allow developers to respond to users directly in App Store reviews. But devs will have even more control of their App Store pages with the ability to reset their ratings when they release new updates.

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Is Apple’s HomePod a blatant ripoff of this startup’s smart speaker?

Apple’s newly-announced HomePod speaker looked familiar, but we couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

Until this morning, when an email from Whyd CEO Gilles Poupardin came through, with a single sentence: “Hey Raymond – looks like you nailed it ..” The email came along with a screenshot of an article we published last year—about Whyd’s voice-controlled speaker, that HomePod bears a striking resemblance to. 

And the headline? “This voice-controlled speaker looks like something Apple would design.” ‘Might as well have been a prophecy.

The similarities between HomePod and Whyd go beyond their mesh-like exteriors. Both will be offered in black and white (although Whyd has a selection of more vibrant, less-binary colors).

Both speakers have digital assistants for controlling music. 

Both speakers have a serious woofer for deep, clear bass.

Both have microphone arrays with advanced noise cancellation (HomePod has six mics and Whyd has five).

Both offer the ability to pair two or more speakers together for stereo sound and multi-room setups.

Both have a glossy top. 

[And, okay, this one’s a bit of a stretch, given that the top of the Whyd speaker is a touchpad and—as far as we know so far—the top of HomePod only displays Siri’s rainbow of lights when engaged. But still.]

Hell, look at their press shots. They’ve both got white speakers, staged on top of white cabinets, with picture frames, and an apparently compulsory green plant

Coincidence? Maybe. But come on

The Whyd speaker

The Whyd speaker

Image: whyd

Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod

Image: Apple

Both speakers are considerably expensive. The HomePod will cost $349 and the Whyd is $499.

Both speakers haven’t shipped. HomePod comes out in December. Whyd says on its website its first batch are sold out (but doesn’t state they’ve been delivered, so credit cards have just been charged), and it’s not clear when more ship.

That said, there are some key differences between the two. The Whyd is larger at 11 inches tall compared to HomePod’s 7-inch height. Whyd also works with practically every music service. On the other hand, HomePod and Siri are built to work with Apple Music, and Apple’s website makes no mention of the speaker working as regular Bluetooth speaker. At the very least, I’ve confirmed music can be streamed over AirPlay (so Spotify will work with over AirPlay).

Of course, it could all be a massive set of coincidences. If you’ve seen one wireless speaker, you’ve seen them all, the thinking might go. 

But even if Apple didn’t copy Whyd, it’s not like there’s no way to make a smart speaker look different. Google Home, despite its Glade freshener-like design, at least doesn’t look like the Amazon Echo. All of which is to say: If what Apple’s making is so special, why does it share such distinct looks with something else? 

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