2017: My year in cars

At times this year at The Verge, it feels like we already live in the autonomous future in our transportation section. It’s not entirely clear whether the momentum that drives us will be dystopian or delightful. But like our readers, we must get by in the present, where human-driven cars that we own, lease, buy, or ride in via our ridesharing drivers are still by far the dominant form of mobility. How can we write with knowledge about what’s coming in cars if we don’t know where we’re at? We launched our series ScreenDrive this year to show that many elements of cars are just like the gadgets we cover in our sister tech section — perfectly flawed.

In order for us to keep our feet on the ground, or at least close to the pulse of the current day pedal, as transportation editor, I try to drive as many cars as I possibly can, which can be a challenge, considering I live in a town where public transportation (when it’s actually working) and walking are options I enjoy. But I managed to squeeze in seat time in these 62 new cars this year, sometimes on race tracks, a Sunday drive, or in the real-world task of schlepping my kid to day camp. Modern cars are accused of looking and feeling very much the same — kind of like smartphones — they are tactile, three-dimensional rectangular objects loaded with sensors. What I see is an industry in transition, scrambling to find the most attractive functional path toward connectivity and convenience, but not clear on how to keep up with the pace of our more expendable gadgets. Here’s how I spent my year test-driving cars.

January

Chrysler Pacifica
Photo by Tyler Pina / The Verge

In 2017, the Chrysler Pacifica was in the spotlight as the go-to car for Waymo public-road self-driving testing. What I admired most about the Pacifica, as a family minivan solution, was the attention to obsessive detail. Our staff drove two Pacificas at the North American International Auto Show in January, and while some would say their favorite element was the in-car checkers game, what struck me as clever were the second-row seats that fold flat into the floor, making a minivan into a truly mobile living room.

Audi S3

The Audi S3 was our first experimentation with how to ScreenDrive a car. Much of the experience focused on how Audi has expanded Virtual Cockpit across its vehicle lineup. On the S3, Audi built an attractive, modern looking interior that’s stupid fun to drive. It has responsive ride and handling, even for a small car on bumpy city streets. Though some tech functions are not intuitive, like the scrolling wheel, its connected features are still among the best approaches in the industry.

February

Back in February, I took the Toyota Camry Hybrid for a spin. The ‘17 model year added the Entune Audio Plus entertainment system, automatic emergency braking, and wireless smartphone charging. The Camry maneuvers smoothly from electric to gasoline power, but faces stiff competition in this growing segment of mid-sized hybrids.

The Lexus IS200T is an entry-level luxury car that isn’t afraid to make a statement. It has a polarizing, but memorable grille. Unlike many luxury automakers, Lexus opts to go its own way rather than mimic German luxury design. It’s not always successful, but on the IS200T, that’s a good thing. What it lacks is space in the rear interior — even kids’ legs were cramped. It also comes short in the performance numbers of its competitors.

The Mazda 6 is what I call the ultimate sleeper car. Mazda lacks the big overstated presence of larger brands, but its handsome design coupled with peppy performance makes it a solid choice for consumers to consider. What contributes to this 6’s savvy is a driver’s seat positioning that borrows from the sports car DNA of its Miata.

I didn’t read the fine print on the offer to drive the BMW 330e, and was pleasantly surprised to see the e-for-quasi-electric when the final paperwork crossed my desk. The 330e doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m driving a plug-in!,” but instead, “look at me I’m driving a BMW!” that has the essence of performance that makes everyone want to drive this present-day icon.

March

The Lexus GS350 F Sport is a bit of a metal mouth. Its grille takes familiar proportions and stretches them in into a bulbous form. But it’s been around so long that this observation is no longer a revelation. The Lexus’ Remote Touch interface requires a light touch, and can be frustrating. Its interior is spacious, and like other Lexus models, uses rich materials.

Sure, strong, snow-ready and steady, the Subaru Forester didn’t receive a major refresh in 2017. It remains a true sport utilitarian. That’s why people keep buying it, as I was reminded when driving it through slippery wet spring conditions. Subaru added better cameras, steering responsive headlights, cameras, and new features to the sight safety system on its 2017 model.

The cockatoo comes to mind if you gaze long enough at the front end of the Lexus RX350. It’s a look that’s been working for Lexus as it continues to dominate as the luxury standard bearer. Once you’re inside, the high-quality materials and comfortable seats make it a pleasant environment if you’re stuck in traffic, which is how most of us spend our time in the car.

Genesis G90 at the Detroit Auto ShowGenesis G90 at the Detroit Auto Show
Genesis G90
Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

For the backseat driver in all of us, Genesis G90 lets you live the limousine fantasy with ample legroom. It’s the $70,000 flagship of the gussied up Hyundai brand, and it packs in the accoutrements and standard features like leather, heated and cooled and adjustable seats, a 17-speaker sound system, and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen.

Uconnect system in the Jeep Compass
Photo by David Bush for The Verge

I have a soft spot for the aging Chrysler 300 sedan. Originally designed by Ralph Gilles, now design chief for the FCA group, it reintroduced attitude to the banal sedan back in the day. This year it added in its new UConnect system, which Lauren Goode also assessed in her ScreenDrive.

Americans continue to bromance big trucks like the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. As a former Dodge pickup truck owner, it’s part function, part psychology to sit up above everyone else. Even if you don’t need to truck drive, your friendships will improve if you do, because everyone will ask your help to move them. The Ram Power Wagon drives home a message in its strong accents. What’s changed since I last owned a truck is the advancement of parking technology, which is a game changer to pull off the truck driver look, without sideswiping small cars and mailboxes in your wake.

April

The Audi A6 Competition is like the A6 amped up — a stellar performer wedged between Audi’s sleek sport division S6 and the base model. One tiny detail stands out: wicked looking blacked out mirrors, and part of what an extra $6,000 will buy you along with sport suspension and torque vectoring.

If you don’t want your compact sport utility vehicle to look like a grocery getter, the Jeep Renegade presents a more brawny option. The Jeep Renegade looks rugged and has handling characteristics to back it up. My favorite feature was the removable MySky roof.

The functional Chevy Equinox might not be cause for excitement, but it’s a key product for GM, as the hunger for value-driven, family-friendly crossovers is palpable. It comes ready with standard features like three 12-volt power outlets, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a wifi hotspot. What gives it a slight edge in my book is its fuel economy, which at 39 MPG on the highway, is pretty good for a gasoline powered engine.

Rolls-Royce Dawn
Rolls-Royce Dawn

I wrote this ode to the suicide doors on the Rolls-Royce Dawn. It’s not the brand’s flagship Phantom, but its $412,430 price reflects its super-luxury pedigree. “To drive this coupe isn’t about the ride, but more the glide.”

I call the Toyota RAV4 a wake up call to the practical desires of Americans. It’s chock-full of safety and was the top-selling car in 2017. Still there are rumors, Toyota may go back to the drawing board and roughen up the RAV4’s image.

The classic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon never really goes out of style, so even if you opt to buy this soon to be phased-out generation, you’re still steeped in Jeepdom culture. It’s militaristic design dates back to 1941. If you’re willing to deal with a noisy, rough ride, that is, in favor of winching your way up a trail, its staying power is timeless.

May

I traveled to a warm climate in late spring, and a Mercedes-Benz C300 cabriolet that was there to greet me was a welcome reprieve, in a soft top that takes only 20 seconds to drop.

Those annoying Buick commercials don’t lie. At least the ones that capture would-be Buick LaCrosse customer actors in mock shock as they behold a brand that’s gone through a spiffy upgrade. And after spending an afternoon at the GM Proving Grounds learning about Buick’s ridiculously intense commitment to making a quiet interior with engineers galore dedicated to these efforts, its quiet cabin really is the thing that speaks volumes.

My favorite aspect of the Cadillac XT5 is the “UltraView Sunroof,” fancy branded language for a sweeping panoramic view of the sky. It sounds trivial, but studies show that exposure to natural light during a daily commute improves mood, but it also may make you spend more money on your next car.

Aston Martin DB11

The steering wheel is the point of orientation in cars driven by humans. Aston Martin has cracked the code on how to make a fancier steering wheel shape in the Aston Martin DB11. It’s consistent with what makes Aston Martin distinct: it’s not about function, but about the beautiful form.

Toyota Sienna: Say hi to kids and car seats. It’s a minivan that looks and behaves like one, a familiar form that’s been in production for seven years. Its engine in 2017 is a bit more efficient, earning 27 MPG on the highway.

In 2017, the Cadillac Escalade turned the camera toward the inside view: it added a teen-driver monitoring system, automated parking to accommodate its super-size proportions, and a rear passenger reminder so you don’t forget your baby on board.

June

The brilliance of the BMW M240i — not to be confused with the M2 — is in its slight proportions. It’s the definition of how small walks tall in a nimble design performance package. It has verve, in the sense that it’s fast and responsive, but you’ll feel the bumps along the way, due to its stiff suspension.

Jeep Compass
Photo by David Bush for The Verge

The Jeep Compass has often seemed off of its mark — an underwhelming version of the brawnier jeep. It’s redeemed itself with a 2017 redesign to be more handsome in form.

The Fiat 500L retains much of its throwback design. It’s a rough and tumble ride, a budget statement car for those that desire a bit of Italian flair.

Jaguar F Pace
Jaguar F Pace

The decadent grille on the Jaguar FPace is part of its allure and one that I paid homage to in this piece about the vehicle that took home the title for World Car of the Year.

Mini Countryman
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

The Mini Countryman is a compromise between roomy and mini, built on the BMW X1 platform. I never thought of it as a ‘90s gadget until I read Thomas Ricker’s Countryman ScreenDrive.

Lamborghini Aventador S
Photo by Tamara Warren / The Verge
Lamborghini Aventador S
Photo by Tamara Warren / The Verge

I described the Lamborghini Aventador S as, “a sharky-cobra-rocket-jet hybrid that runs on gluttonous petrol,” after a day spent whizzing around the Poconos Raceway. From the launch of a push button, driving a Lamborghini on the track is like living in a real-world video game, only better with a V12 engine that makes 740 horsepower and 508 pound-feet of torque.

Lexus LC500

The Lexus LC500 is a worthy flagship vehicle for the Lexus brand. It’s a performer, but also a looker that presents traditional Lexus aesthetics in strong proportions.

July

The Ford Mustang GT continues to trot along since it was refreshed in 2015. One area that’s added serious wow-factor: its sound. You can turn the snarl on and off if you don’t want to wake the neighbors before you stunt.

Mercedes-Benz E400

The redesigned Mercedes-Benz E400 is loaded with every piece of contemporary automotive tech imaginable, including two screens in the dash, a head-up display, steering assist and automatic braking. At times, the myriad of options available feel overwhelming. The touch screen and wheel feel at odds. I prefer it in the wagon form.

The straight-line performance on Dodge Charger Scat Pack seemed like a big deal until I drove the Dodge Demon, which took street car speed to another level. But nailing the gas and listening to the Hemi engine rev to the 4,000 rpm limit does induce feelings of power.

Dodge Demon
Photo by Tamara Warren / The Verge

Who says toy cars are for kids? The drag racing capabilities that are stock features in the Dodge Demon are what gives its street-racing cred. On my first outing I was rained out, but eventually I was able to practice my start on the quarter mile on a New Jersey racetrack and experience 0 to 60 glee.

Mercedes-Benz G Wagon

The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is due for a redo next year, but we can’t help but get amped up about this big, boxy design. Climbing in the awkward cabin feels like a blast from the past — and that’s part of its appeal, until you toggle with Comand, the Mercedes-Benz infotainment system.

Jeep Cherokee Overland is the crossover variation of the more well-known Grand Cherokee. It was once an SUV, but as tastes have shifted it has gotten smaller. The Overland is a higher-end trim variation and boasts an Alpine nine-speaker audio system.

The thing that stood out on the test drive of the Audi TTS was my experience with Audi’s subscription service, Audi on Demand, curbside outside of The Verge’s San Francisco offices. A low-mileage Audi greeted me after I used the app to order it. It’s a way for everyday customers to conduct extended test drives of new models.

Tesla Model 3
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Tesla Model 3 hype hit a threshold this year, making this the most memorable ride of the year, because in true Tesla mystique, no one knew what to expect. Little did I know I’d drive it long before owners who have money down on this car, and are still anxiously awaiting delivery as the company grapples with manufacturing delays.

August

The Grand Cherokee has entered the phase of modern classic, and looks even better with a little mud on the bumper. While the 707-horsepower Trackhawk has been causing a commotion, the SRT model includes a Hemi engine. For thrills, I drove it on Indy Motor Speedway in monsoon rains.

In Los Angeles, I drove a 2018 model of the Nissan Rogue that comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Nissan is big on features with nifty names: Divide-N-Hide, marketing speak for a thoughtful, discreet storage area.

Tesla Model S P100D
Photo by Tamara Warren / The Verge

The whip-fast performance and smooth handling on the Tesla Model S P100D was the key takeaway from my test drive of the Model S P100d. But driving the Model S to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was also a study in the psychology of the California motorist.

September

The L stands for long wheelbase on the Infiniti Q70L. While 414 horsepower makes for plentiful performance, its shape is one that makes it harder to distinguish.

Verge staffer Dani Deahl and I had a lovefest over the Audi A5 Sportback and the contours of its cool cockpit.

The ridiculously perfect paint job on BMW M760i was the definition of decadence in this loaded up full-size sedan that can be yours for $154,795. For all that, you get 601 horsepower and a lot of looks on the streets.

The Hyundai Ioniq PHEV has a rather sedate form that belies plug-in hybrid capabilities. It has a range of 630 miles on a full charge and a tank of gas, impressive for a compact car. While its all-electric range is on the low side at 29 miles, its integrated electric motor produces a decent amount of power.

Porsche Panamera

The design of the Porsche Panamera is not for everyone, but I happen to favor its unique take on the oversized sedan, with a slightly longer wheelbase, larger wheels, aluminum door panels, and a new hood found on the 2018 model.

October

Chevy Bolt

The Chevy Bolt drives and performs well and, even after zipping around long stretches of Detroit freeways, caused no range-induced anxiety. But now that Chevy’s proven it can EV, it’s time to dial back its overstated eco-interior, and make something more attractive.

I learned to appreciate the role of the backseat driver in a Mercedes-Benz Maybach. It’s the dazzling version of the S560 4Matic. The plush pillowy seats are straight from the finest first class cabin you can imagine. Two engines are available. It’s priced just under $200,000 for the more powerful V12 version. Mercedes is keeping the iconic German nameplate alive that was founded by 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach.

In my everyday life, of zipping around town, I didn’t want to give up the keys the Audi SQ5. In the sea of luxury crossovers, it’s among the standouts. It has thoughtful, attractive design, a long list of features, and responsive performance.

The Mazda CX-5 is my longstanding go-to rec for real-world shoppers who want flare for around $25,000. It’s the complete package of style, panache, and performance.

The Jaguar XF is a big bad cat when you see it approaching, but inside I found the materials lackluster, which isn’t enough for this upper-crust category composed of competitors like BMW 5 series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class.

November

BMW 5 Series
BMW 5 Series wireless charging
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

It’s the first car we were able to test out the iPhone X wireless Apple CarPlay capabilities in this fall, but what I’ll remember most about the BMW 5 Series is its sleek design and tech as a work in progress in our winter ScreenDrive. From a performance perspective, driving the 5 Series is an exercise in satisfaction.

I still have trouble keeping the Infiniti nomenclature straight, so in case you’re wondering, the Infiniti Q50 picks up where the G sport sedan left. It has responsive steering, and invigorating acceleration. What it’s missing: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2018.

Lincoln Navigator

A lot is riding on the success of the new generation full-size Navigator for Lincoln. From a gadgety perspective, Lincoln has packed as much as it possibly can into its long list of standard features and options. The result is a bit of everything and the kitchen sink, and I wonder how much of all these handy features will be integrated into everyday usage. I drove it for two days in NYC, where a big vehicle like the Navigator is slightly out of its element (unless you’re a limo driver.) What I did mess around with was the new head-up display — that contains 400,000 mirrors — its new touchscreen, and the SYNC 3 system. There are multiple screens and streaming capabilities and Wi-Fi. The 20-speaker Revel II audio system was incredibly boss. Where it stands apart from Navigators past: it feels like far more vehicle than a chromed-up Expedition.

Range Rover Velar

The Range Rover Velar is a supersonic take on what it means to range in the rover. It’s the first Land Rover vehicle to use the InControl Touch Pro Duo system, a serious departure from the buttons and knobs, in favor of two 10-inch touch screens. Its sparse, clean design wins kudos.

The Nissan Maxima has features that were once only privy to luxury buyers such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, forward-collision warning, and automated emergency braking, which are now available.

December

The Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan revives the name of an Italian marque from the 1960s. It’s not lacking in character. But in many ways, the Giulia is a like a trip to a Zara store — cool on surface, but its functionality, durability and comfort leave something to be desired. Loads of fun to drive if you’re into zippy performance in your daily commute.

I wanted to love the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Instead, I liked it. What I like about it is the experience from the driver’s perspective. What’s lacking is the roominess for passengers and logic in how the interior functions are placed. The competition in this increasingly crowded luxury crossover segment category is stiff.

Many curious people I ran into while parking paused to inquire, but no one’s first guess was the 2018 Toyota Camry. It has come to life in a much improved exterior form, and it also handles with grace.

GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali | Photo by Tamara Warren / The Verge

I ended the year on a high note . Or at least in a truck that has me riding high, the loud, proud and over-the-top GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali, a massive pickup that runs on diesel fuel. After a 600-mile road trip through wind, sleet, and snow, I can say that it can pretty much conquer anything. One thing you sacrifice in exchange for that massive footprint is a tight turning radius. Think big, wide turns.

One day soon, perhaps the self-driving cars will be picking us up for work, but until then this is the reality of how most of us are getting by, as we spend an average 17,600 minutes driving each year, according to AAA. It’s the space where safe, user-friendly tech matters most. Of course, my seat time spent test driving only scratches at the long list of cars we drove across the section and the new cars available on the market, which you’ll find in the Verge Transportation archives. So many cars, so little time!

Ad targeters are pulling data from your browser’s password manager

Nearly every web browser now comes with a password manager tool, a lightweight version of the same service offered by plugins like LastPass and 1Password. But according to new research from Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, those same managers are being exploited as a way to track users from site to site.

The researchers examined two different scripts — AdThink and OnAudience — both of are designed to get identifiable information out of browser-based password managers. The scripts work by injecting invisible login forms in the background of the webpage and scooping up whatever the browsers autofill into the available slots. That information can then be used as a persistent ID to track users from page to page, a potentially valuable tool in targeting advertising.

The plugins focus largely on the usernames, but according to the researchers, there’s no technical measure to stop scripts from collecting passwords the same way. The only robust fix would be to change how password managers work, requiring more explicit approval before submitting information. “It won’t be easy to fix, but it’s worth doing,” says Arvind Narayanan, a Princeton computer science professor who worked on the project.

In the case of AdThink, that information was also being funneled back to Axciom, a massive consumer data broker, presumably to be added to the growing file on whoever was visiting the site. AudienceInsights, which operates AdThink, lets users see their unique user ID for the system and attempt to opt out, although it’s unclear how robust that opt-out truly is. Audience Insights did not respond to a request for comment.

For Narayanan, most of the blame goes to the websites who choose to run scripts like AdThink, often without realizing how invasive they truly are. “We’d like to see publishers exercise better control over third parties on their sites,” Narayanan says. “These problems arise partly because website operators have been lax in allowing third-party scripts on their sites without understanding the implications.”

The Verge 2017 tech report card: Gadgets

It’s been a pretty good year for gadgets. While the most popular gadget may have been the fidget spinner, there have been a number of devices released in 2017 that will make a lasting impact for years to come. From the Nintendo Switch, which turned out to be a major hit for the Japanese gaming company, to new smart home devices from companies like Nest and Arlo, to changes in policy around smart luggage that threaten industry leaders in the space, 2017 has been nothing if not exciting for gadget enthusiasts.

The biggest gadget win of the year is undoubtedly the Nintendo Switch. The portable gaming console landed in March and immediately made its mark as the best portable console in years. There have been very few gadgets that have launched with the impact of the Switch in recent memory; it’s easy to play (and keep charged) on the go, the controls are intuitive, and the flagship game for the console, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, may end up as the unanimous choice for game of the year.

Outside of game play, Amazon released a huge hardware update for its Echo line this year, unveiling a smart speaker option for literally every part of your home. There’s the Echo Show for your kitchen, the Echo Spot for your bedroom, and Echo Look for your closet, and an Echo Plus that can operate as your smart home hub. It also updated the original Echo, giving it a smaller design with a fabric covering and improved speakers.

The new Echoes aren’t groundbreaking, but they don’t have to be, yet. Amazon is continuously iterating on its industry-leading smart speaker platform, and it’ll have to keep that up thanks to competition from the Google Home and Apple’s upcoming HomePod speaker.

While Nintendo and Amazon set the benchmarks this year, there were a bunch of smaller wins that made their imprint on 2017. In home security, Nest released its Cam IQ Outdoor camera which can use facial recognition to identify people on your property, as well as a full-fledged security system for your home. Netgear released the second generation of its Arlo Pro camera, the best wireless smart home camera option on the market. Amazon finally made a waterproof Kindle, 10 years after releasing the original ebook reader. Sonos released a speaker with Amazon’s Alexa built-in, while Google released its own high-end speaker to compete against it. And DJI released a tiny drone for $500 that anyone can fly.

2017 could and should largely be considered a success in the gadget world, but as always there were a number of failures in the calendar year, including the massive implosion of Juicero. The company that raised nearly $100 million from venture capitalists to make a juicer was exposed after a Bloomberg report showed that the bags of fruits and vegetables it sold could just be squeezed by hand, rendering the $700 juicer obsolete. Then the CEO spewed things like, “The value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice,” the company cut prices on its machines, offered customers a refund, and then ultimately shut down five months later. It was a lesson to Silicon Valley (one they probably ignored but still) — just because it’s “smart” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Juicero juicerJuicero juicer Juicero

Last year, Snap Spectacles were considered a success; this year they crashed and burned to the tune of $40 million in losses for the company. Snap has hundreds of thousands of unused Spectacles sitting in warehouses that will seemingly go untouched, unless someone gets them to work with Instagram Stories.

Smart luggage took a major hit this year as well, with major airlines across the world banning luggage containing lithium-ion batteries from being checked or carried aboard. For some luggage makers like Away and Raden, it’s only a small hassle for owners, who can easily remove the battery and carry it on-board with them, which the airlines will allow. But for others like BlueSmart, it will be impossible for people who own their bags to check baggage, and will throw a major wrench into future sales, until they release new bags with removable batteries.

If 2016 was the resurrection of gadgets, 2017 was the refinement. Most gadgets got a little bit better, and the things we didn’t need were either removed by market forces or reined in by regulations. While there weren’t any groundbreaking technologies introduced in the gadget world this year, everything got a little bit better across the board. Hopefully next year we’ll be surprised with something unexpected and new.

Final grade: B+

B+
2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: Gadgets

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Gold Stars

  • Iterative updates have been great
  • Big companies have invested in gadgets
  • Companies are being proactive with safety regulations for new gadgets
  • No major battery explosions!

Needs Improvement

  • Could always be more innovative
  • Startups like Juicero continue to be a scam
  • Niche areas like personal robot and weed gadgets still need work

The LAPD has arrested a man in connection with the Kansas swatting death

The Los Angeles Police Department has arrested a 25-year-old man who is suspected of sending a SWAT team to a private residence in Kansas, resulting in the death of a 28-year-old man.

NBC News (via Engadget) reports that the LAPD arrested Tyler Barriss on Friday after allegedly providing Andrew Finch’s address to Witchita authorities. The incident was precipitated by an argument with between two Call of Duty over a $1.50 wagered game, one of which provided Finch’s address to Barriss, who has a history of making bomb threats and went by the Twitter handle SWAuTistic. In an interview with YouTube channel DramaAlert the person allegedly behind handle admitted to placing the call, saying that “he loves swatting kids who think nothing is going to happen,” and alluded to causing an evacuation at the FCC. Sources told NBC News that Finch was not involved in the dispute.

“Swatting” is an incident in which someone makes an anonymous, fake emergency call to a local police department, designed to prompt a tactical response from a local SWAT team. Barriss allegedly called the Witchita Police Department, saying that he shot his father in the head during a family dispute and that he was holding his family hostage. He provided authorities with Finch’s address, believing it to be the location of one of the gamers. Wichita’s SWAT team arrived at the location and ordered Finch to raise his hands when he appeared in the door, and was shot by an officer. Finch’s family has set up a GoFundMe campaign for his funeral.

Don’t restore your phone from a backup: Why you should start fresh

If you keep a phone around long enough, it becomes a vestige of an old version of yourself, or even many former versions of yourself. 

Regrettable texts, untouched apps, and pointless screenshots are scattered on its internal storage. The cloud makes it worse by making these files available even when we get a new phone. It’s a gigantic mess that’s never worth sorting through, especially when it’s so easy to bring back the old files. 

But my iPhone X has given me a new lease on life. Rather than backing up my musty old data from Apple, I’m just letting it go. No old apps. No old contacts. Nothing’s old. It’s a completely fresh start. 

For the last decade, whenever I’ve purchased or received a new iPhone, I would essentially make it the same old phone. Apple’s iTunes lets you “Restore Backup,” so the new phone is filled with all the same apps, in the same exact order, all the saved music, all the text messages. It’s a new device, but for me, it was essentially the same experience because all my information remained in tact. 

I’m staring over with the iPhone X. No backup. Everything (except the Notes stored in my iCloud) is being downloaded individually from the App Store. One day into this experiment, I’m not regretting it. It feels refreshing to think about every app I download and to see which text threads are actually active. 

Why now? Well, to be honest, I didn’t initially plan on it. When I tried to set my iPhone X via iTunes, it kept saying the password was wrong. It wasn’t.

I complained about it in work Slack only to then consider, with the encouragement of my coworkers, to start new. When I brought it up to friends in a texting group, another friend said she’d done it with her last phone. 

But it’s time to move on and let those texts disappear. 

One of the biggest pros (and my friend agrees) is there are no old text messages to search and scroll through. Yeah, I’m talking about a decade of texts. In my old life, with my old phones, I would spend free time (many subway rides) re-reading fights with exes and thinking about where we both went wrong. 

Sure, not everything is bad about revisiting the past. It was nice seeing the early texts between me and my boyfriend. It was also fun having the occasional trip down memory lane in my college group chat. 

But it’s time to move on and let those texts disappear. One day in, and I have five text threads: two groups threads and three from close friends. 

As for my contacts, I’m adding them back one-by-one. I did want to text a friend last night and couldn’t remember his number so I admittedly did open up my old phone and add him back. But for now, it’s nice to see who I prioritize and vice versa. 

Another freedom is I don’t have so many useless apps clogging up storage space. On my iPhone 7, I had hundreds of apps sorted into my 24 favorite apps on my first screen and then 20 folders on my second screen. 

Part of that burden comes with my job. I’ll download most apps people pitch me and give it a try. I also kept a folder of dead apps: Meerkat, Yik Yak, Facebook Notify, Facebook Rooms, etc.).

My iPhone X homescreen

My iPhone X homescreen

Image: screenshot

My iPhone 7 second screen

My iPhone 7 second screen

Image: screenshot

Sure, my old phone seemed somewhat organized. I created that folder strategy back in October when I was so frustrated by having five different screens. Most times I just used the search bar to find the app rather than dare swipe around. But why were they all there? Why do I still need Meerkat when it seriously doesn’t work anymore? 

With my new phone, I have one screen of my favorite apps. The second screen features only the Settings app, the App Store, and one folder of Apple’s apps (as in all the nonsense that comes preloaded on your phone and most I’ll never click on). 

My new phone also has motivated me to delete the Facebook app. No, I’m not going full delete. Per recommendations from friends, I’ve decided just to use Facebook via the mobile web when I need it so I’m no longer browsing mindlessly through News Feed. 

With time, my phone will surely be filled with more useless stuff. This morning, I had to download Lyft, Google Maps, and the Delta app when I remembered I would be traveling later today. For now, it’s a cleanse that I’m really appreciating when I think about the new year to come. 

WATCH: Belgian police issue alert about foldable gun that looks like a phone

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An LTE version of Nokia’s 3310 may be coming

Back when it launched earlier this year, the Nokia 3310 only worked on 2G networks. Then in September, a new version was released that supported 3G networks, allowing it to work in the US on AT&T and T-Mobile. Now it looks like there will be another new version, this time with LTE support.

According to a TENAA listing surfaced by Phone Radar, a new version of the 3310 has gone through China’s version of the FCC and is shown to support TD-LTE and TD-SCDMA, two of the country’s most popular wireless bands. The 3310 is also said to be running Alibaba’s Yun OS, which isn’t that surprising given that the 3G version runs a different OS than the 2G version, despite them looking identical.

Whether we see an LTE version of the Nokia 3310 in the US is still a major question, as is the release date of this phone — not the mention the battery life, which took a major hit when it added 3G support.

Apple’s $29 iPhone battery swap is now available, sooner than promised

Earlier this week, Apple published a letter to its customers, apologizing for slowing older iPhones as their batteries aged, and said that it would reduce the price of batteries of the affected phones to from $79 to $29. Apple says that that customers can now replace their batteries at the reduced price.

Apple initially said that the batteries would be available in late January, but updated its apology post, to say that they are now available. The company told The Verge in a statement that “we expected to need more time to be ready, but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away.” Apple had previously announced that batteries would be available at a reduced price beginning at the end of January. The company also says that “Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited,” and that details will soon be provided on Apple.com.

The company admitted that it was slowing down older iPhone models to compensate for aging batteries, after a developer discovered that the operating systems were throttling their performance after testing the performance of several models. Multiple iPhone users have filed lawsuits against the company.

The Verge 2017 tech report card: Artificial intelligence and robotics

Artificial intelligence boomed this year like few other areas in tech, but despite the scientific breakthroughs, glut of funding, and new products rolling out to consumers, the field has problems that can’t be ignored. Some of these, like company-driven hype and sensationalist headlines, need better communication from the media and experts. Others challenges are more nuanced and will take longer to address, such as bias in algorithms and the growing threat of tech firms becoming AI monopolies as they hoover up data and talent.

But first, the good stuff. Artificial intelligence was everywhere in 2017, and although you’re right to be skeptical when you hear this, it’s positive news. Experts compare AI to electricity because it’s a resource with the potential to transform a broad range of industries. Sure, there are particularly important technologies in each sector (like autonomous driving in transportation), but it’s the smaller implementations of machine cleverness that may add up to have the biggest impact.

Big tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook have poured tons of money into the AI field, but it’s fair to say the end-results are often small-scale. Google’s put AI in a camera that automatically snaps photos of your family, and Apple’s new animated emojis is powered by facial recognition. These things won’t change the world, but collectively they build new efficiencies and new experiences.

Compare to this steady drip of AI integration, academic research was a raging torrent. Labs and universities published papers at a higher volume in 2017 than ever before, and big names like DeepMind made significant breakthroughs. (The company’s work removing human knowledge from its champion AlphaGo algorithm and then proving its skills work in other games spring to mind.) Congratulations should be somewhat constrained, as there’s a case to be made that the current wave of AI is supported by too few core innovations. But by no means has basic research stopped, and some radical new approaches are showing the first stirrings of life.

Robots also stirred to life in 2017, though the year revealed both the limits of current tech and its future promise. A lot of effort is going into applying the fruits of AI to current industrial robots, with companies like Kindred, Embodied Intelligence, Amazon, and Ocado working on dextrous and dynamic machines for warehouses and assembly lines. Advances here could have a huge effect in a range of industries, as robots get put to work pretty much anywhere stuff needs moving about.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

In terms of robots for the home, this year also offered its fair share, including Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri, an as-yet-unseen model from Misty Robotics, and prototypes from LG and Sony. But despite pop culture’s enduring conception of the robot butler, these creations don’t represent major breakthroughs. They’re mostly clumsy shells for virtual assistants, where the innovation comes from improved natural language processing, and interconnected services that allow you to order a pizza with your voice. And if that’s all you want out of a home robot, you’d be better off buying an Amazon Echo.

Where robots seem to be most powerful is as threat to the workplace — and not just manual labor, but white collar professions, like those in the legal and insurance industries. The past year has seen new studies confirming that yes, robots do indeed destroy jobs, and yes, they are likely to increase inequality. A question we’ve yet to answer with any confidence is how bad it will all be. One report year made dire forecast about as many as 800 million jobs lost to automation, but cautioned that this damage doesn’t have to be long-lasting. If governments are proactive, putting money into education and helping workers retrain, the blow could be softened considerably.

The greater threat, say some experts, is not unemployment, but bad employment, as automation creates a small number of high-skilled, high-paying jobs, but pushes others into low-paid and precarious work that only look peachy in labor statistics.

This is why attitude is so important for artificial intelligence in 2018. No one is saying AI doesn’t have incredible potential — rather, its potential is the reason we need to be so careful about how it is implemented. “Move fast and break things” is not a motto we need with technology that will wind its way into so many elements of so many lives. If 2017 was the year AI started showing up everywhere, 2018 has to be the year we think about why.

Final grade: A-

A-
2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: AI and robotics

<!––>

Gold Stars

  • Everyone’s on board
  • Research breakthroughs
  • Life-changing tech is being made

Needs Improvement

  • Too much hype
  • Not enough ethical focus
  • Who’s going to end up in charge?

6 Ways to Boost Your Mobile Commerce Performance

One thing the latest holiday sales season made crystal clear is that mobile commerce is on the rise.

On Cyber Monday — which set an all-time-high overall sales record of US$6.6 billion — mobile shopping totaled 47.4 percent of visits to retailers’ websites, according to Adobe, which analyzed 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 retail sites.

Revenue from purchases made over smartphones grew a record 39 percent year over year to $1.6 billion, and mobile transactions closed at a 12 percent higher rate on Cyber Monday 2017 over the previous year.

“On our customers’ sites, we’re consistently seeing about half of all traffic coming from mobile,” said Graham Cooke, CEO of Qubit.

A pre-holiday survey of 1,000 shoppers, conducted by Leanplum and Branding Brand, uncovered the following:

  • 65 percent of shoppers planned to make purchases using mobile devices;
  • 64 percent expected to use mobile to learn about sales, coupons and other deals;
  • 50 percent would opt-in for push notifications; and
  • 35 percent intended to use smartphone apps to do their shopping.

Etailers could do much more to milk the mobile shopping cow. Revenue per visitor is 56 percent lower on mobile than on desktop.

“Traditional mobile sites aren’t designed for the way people want to discover new products,” Cooke told the E-Commerce Times.

Following are some steps SMB etailers can take to improve their mobile performance.

1. Get the Basics Right

“Make it easy to log in from mobile,” Cooke advised.

Product pages should feature large, high-quality images that can be zoomed into,” he suggested. Also, the online checkout “should involve as few pages as possible.”

Don’t worry about snazzy features like artificial intelligence until your basics are sound, Cooke said. “AI isn’t capable of creating information — just capable of reorganizing or mining information.”

Etailers need to collect data in a useful and consumable form first.

2. Make Product Search Easy

Customers often use a traditional hamburger menu as the way to find products in brand catalogs, some of which include thousands of items, Cooke pointed out.

“Coupled with the small screen, brands face a real challenge when it comes to increasing the conversion rates and RPV in mobile, especially when traffic to mobile is increasing,” he said.

Meanwhile, competition from social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest, which have been pursuing e-commerce as part of their future growth strategies, has been on the rise.

3. Increase Site Stickiness

“Mobile app users are more loyal, and when a user registers for an account within your app and starts exploring, you get access to their name, location, interests, behavior and more,” said Joyce Solano, VP of global marketing at Leanplum.

“Each of these data points gives you an opportunity to customize a push notification or email with relevant details, such as what a shopper previously browsed, and lure them back to your app again,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

4. Send Push Notifications

It’s crucial to re-engage shoppers, Solano noted, and the best way to do that is through push notifications.

When shoppers add items to their cart but do not check out, etailers “can send them a reminder with personalized details, like their name and cart time, to gently push them toward conversion,” Solano said.

Sending mobile push notifications using the app in-box, and sending emails at scale will “increase revenue exponentially, which more than pays for itself,” she pointed out.

Marketers sent 2.7 times as many mobile push notifications on Black Friday, and users opened those notifications 2.6 times as often as they normally do would, according to the Black Friday Mobile Report LeanPlum and Branding Brand released.

5. Add Muscle to Push Notifications

Make it easy for consumers to make a purchase when they open your push notification by giving them a seamless checkout flow, the report advises.

Some possibilities:

  • Offer a sign-in option with stored information from the customer’s previous checkout;
  • Add a progress bar if the process is long; and
  • Offer streamlined payment with a digital wallet or Apple Pay.

Run A/B tests of all new changes against the original to continually optimize, the report advises.

6. Reinforce Site Security

Data breaches have become common, and they can cost etailers customers. Sixty-one percent of the online shoppers who took part in a recent survey said they would stop doing business with a company that experienced a data breach, Gemalto found.

Some of the main access points that need to be secured are mobile apps, mobile Web browsers and APIs, said Deepak Dutt, CEO of Zighra.

Existing solutions based on rules engines that look at device ID, blacklists and IP addresses “are becoming ineffective as fraudsters change their patterns,” he told the E-Commerce Times.. Further, maintaining and updating the rules regularly is labor-intensive.

SMBs should adopt machine learning approaches with specific concepts and categories that can be used to build consumer-device behavioral models, Dutt recommended.

Those methods will detect deviation in normal activity without disrupting shoppers’ normal routines, he said, and “also eliminate the frustrating process of setting up and answering extra security questions that drive consumers away.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Apple announces its $29 battery replacement deal is available starting today

It’s been a rough month for Apple.

The company has been embroiled in a controversy stemming from its decision to purposely slow down older iPhones to increase battery performance. Apple issued an apology to its customers for the miscommunication, and it also promised to replace affected batteries starting in late January.

Now, Apple is going a step further by making discounted battery replacements available immediately.

Starting today, Apple is lowering the price of iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29. The company had promised this deal when it first issued its apology on Friday, but the company just updated its website to remove mention of the “late-January” start date for the program.

If you visit the official apology page now, you’ll see this message:

Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.

In a statement sent to Mashable, an Apple spokesperson confirmed that the deal would be available starting today and added:

“We expected to need more time to be ready, but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away. Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited.”

This is exciting news for anyone who owns and iPhone 6 or later model that might be experiencing battery issues. If you decide to take advantage of the program, we’d recommend making an appointment with the Genius Bar through the Apple website before going straight to the store. You should also call ahead to make sure they have batteries in stock for your replacement.

This deal is pretty spectacular considering its only a fraction of the normal price. Frankly, we don’t see why you’d pass it up if you have an older phone with poor battery life. But that still doesn’t mean that Apple is in the clear.

Apple is currently battling more than a dozen lawsuits relating to the battery issue. It also doesn’t exactly make up for the fact that Apple failed to disclose the practice to begin with. As for whether customers continue to trust Apple remains to be seen, but if sales numbers are any indicator, we imagine the company will be just fine.