vendredi 23 juin 2017

How Bixby’s Incompleteness Pushes its Voice Assistant into Functional Redundancy

Around 3 months ago, Samsung took the stage at Unpacked 2017 to announce their new Galaxy S8 phones. During their keynote, the company spent around 10 minutes hyping up Bixby, their contribution to the newly-crowded virtual assistant space. Bixby was billed as "a new way to interact with your phone." Essentially, Bixby aims to be a combination of Google Now's feed, Google Assistant's voice and personal assistance capabilities, and a Google Goggles-esque image recognition system.

Bixby is so important to Samsung, that the feature was even given its own prominent hardware key — and methods to remap it were struck down.

Sadly, when the Galaxy S8 launched on April 21st, the Bixby Voice portion of the software was nowhere to be seen. The hardware key on the side of the phone simply, slowly, opened a feed of suggestions, apps, weather, daily steps, and trending twitter, and some flipboard fluff. Samsung shipped the phone with the promise of the voice portion of Bixby to be updated later, rendering much of that hardware button functionality and purpose effectively obsolete up until the day Bixby Voice would finally come to consumers. Just yesterday, the early access for Bixby Voice began. Let's take a look through here and see how it stacks up.

Initial Bixby Voice setup is fairly straightforward. Simply head to the Galaxy Apps store and update a dozen or so Samsung apps or services.

Things That Need Updating for Bixby

You will also be prompted to download certain "Bixby Labs" enabled apps. These are third party applications with Bixby functionality that isn't fully guaranteed to work right, as again, this is early access of a clearly-unfinished service. After everything is up to date, the next time you (perhaps accidentally) press the Bixby button you'll be prompted to set up Bixby Voice. Right now, Bixby is only available in US English and Korean.

Only Two So Far

After the setup Bixby runs through some demo commands and explains how to use it. You can either wake the device by saying "Hi Bixby," or pressing the Bixby key, saying instructions, and then releasing the key. Having both methods of interaction is definitely a nice touch. In my usage I've found that using the side button is a more reliable and intuitive way to use Bixby, plus I like to make use of the hardware I paid for.

Bixby Voice itself is capable of some interesting system level manipulations. Users can lower their notification shade, turn off bluetooth, turn on vibration, clear notifications, buy a theme in the Samsung Theme store (yeah, really), turn on Accessibility Settings, and more. Toggling settings isn't particularly exclusive to Bixby, but these are truly neat and useful additions and seem to work well for the most part.

The Bixby app encourages, at least beta users, to help improve the software and give kudos when the software gets it right. To this end, there is a level section complete with XP and rewards like themes for users that fully engage with and participate in the software. It remains to be seen if these features will make it to the final release.

Mainly, with Bixby, a user is encouraged to use an "Open [app name] and [perform a task]" way of asking for help. This winds up being the main potential differentiator between Google's Assistant and Bixby. After using the service for a while, you begin to notice it feels like watching the software actually use the app, rather that just outputting an answer.

This sort of modular "app using" paradigm could eventually make Bixby very powerful and versatile. This early on however, it winds up making the application feel clunky and slow at times. Additionally, Bixby happens to do something I didn't ask for far more often than I would deem acceptable. Simple sports questions wind up opening a Google search (in the Samsung Browser,) and asking directions or facts greets me with a "I can't do that yet" screen. The fact that I can not trust Bixby to get it right coerces me into not even bothering to try in the first place. Granted, the Bixby Voice capability is still in Beta. Which brings us to our next point…

There are some things that Bixby does well, and even with the Beta nature of it all, I can see some potential for the service, in particular its more exclusive functionality. For example, in the image above, I asked Bixby to open YouTube and search for specific videos, and that it did — this kind of voice commands works with settings and specific app layers as well, and it's kind of awesome to see it in action. But far too many voice commands are simply picked up incorrectly by Bixby both during the language recognition and during the understanding of the command. Even regular usage shows that Bixby's functionality is limited. Many simple questions you would expect Alexa or Google to reply to, are simply ignored or dismissed, by Bixby with the justification " It's still beta". At the very least, you could have those questions re-routed to Google searches (and some are), but instead the service tries to understand, and often fails by misunderstanding the query altogether. A funny example shown below is when we asked Bixby whether OnePlus was cheating on benchmarks, and the client responded we had to do some "number crunching", and proceeded to open the Calculator app. Of course, the issue here is Bixby must have picked up "one plus" and not understood the query for the question it was. (Google Assistant didn't have the same issue recognizing "OnePlus", and instead did a simple web search.)


It's now late June, and Bixby Voice is just now in Beta, and a pretty flaky one at that. If this software existed in a vacuum, then there wouldn't be any real issue with this, but it doesn't. The Galaxy S8 already has a superior voice assistant, and that's Google Assistant which lives on these phones with a long press of the home button. Google I/O just informed us that Google Voice recognition hit 95% accuracy and anecdotally, Bixby isn't even close. I've had to correct what Bixby heard over a dozen times in just one real day of use, and I've hit that "Let's improve" far more than I expected, especially considering this was supposed to be a crucial flagship feature.

Samsung is decidedly late to the Virtual Assistant party even if you look inside the Galaxy phones themselves, and at this point, I can't really see myself using Bixby over Google Assistant at all. The fact that the company's service can be dismissed as just another piece of bloatware — that is, a service that can be good and useful by itself, but that's worse than on-device alternatives – is indicative of just how disappointing of a project it's been so far. I have no doubt that the service will improve, but I also know that the competition is improving as well, and the few things that make it interesting will soon be adopted and incorporated in competing services, and probably with better execution. We've complained about Google Assistant's slow-paced evolution time and time again, but seeing Bixby first hand makes one realize Google's progress was certainly no easy feat.

The biggest Android smartphone from one of the richest OEMs has tragically launched in a state of incompleteness, needing to persuade users into testing through a rewards system, hoping that they won't simply go back to using Google Assistant for most of their queries, and good-old manual navigation for all of their tasks. As it's stands, summoning Bixby is slow, voice recognition is iffy and its natural language understanding is flaky, and then the output can be either incorrect or slow to roll out. All of this makes the service far too slow and clunky to operate and adapt into daily, routine usage. It also makes me doubt whether the commitment to designing the device's hardware around Bixby was a smart decision. Ultimately, Bixby might get better in the future, and it's, indeed, "still in beta" — but it arguably should have launched with the phone. The fact that months later it is incomplete to the point where using it is a handicap to one's user experience goes to show that making a voice assistant is not easy, and that making a voice assistant that's pleasing to the user is even harder. For now, I'll stick to Google Assistant, which I see in a different light after once more being disappointed by Samsung software.


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Samsung Preparing to Launch The Galaxy Note 8 in September for €999

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ have opened up to a great response from reviewers and the general public alike. Many have praised Samsung for the design as the S8 looks beautiful with its Infinity Display, and Samsung has ensured the best of components for the insides as well. The end result was a product that was pretty and functional, and one that allowed everyone to look past the shortcomings of the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7.

The next test for Samsung is to see how much of its Note branding is salvageable, as it nears the inevitable launch of the next phablet flagship. According to a report from Evan Blass on VentureBeat, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will be unveiled in the second half of September 2017. Interestingly, the device will retain the "Note" branding despite the loss of goodwill and consumer confidence after the Note 7 recall. Samsung is also no longer in a hurry to beat the iPhone launch as it did last year by unveiling the Note 7 in August 2016.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will sport a 6.3″ AMOLED display with the same edge-to-edge Infinity Display with an aspect ratio of 18.5:9 as seen on the Galaxy S8 lineup. The screen size will put it very close to Samsung's existing 6.2″ Galaxy S8+, so Samsung will be employing other differentiating features to justify the existence of the product.

The Galaxy Note 8 will continue with the Samsung Exynos 8895 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoCs depending on the market. This time though, the Note device will be paired with 6GB of RAM, making it the second device from Samsung after the Galaxy C9 Pro to sport more than 4GB of RAM.

The new headlining feature of the Note 8 will be its dual rear camera setup, comprising of two 12MP sensors with independent OIS for the lens. The lenses are said to be configured horizontally and will be situated to the left of the flash and heart rate sensor. The fingerprint sensor will be retained on the back of the device, but this time, it is moved to the right of the flash and heart rate sensor. The setup may sound weird right now, so it would be prudent to wait for renders of the device to leak to get a better picture.

Samsung will also fit a conservative 3,300 mAh battery on the Note 8, as against the infamous 3,500 mAh battery on the Note 7.

On the software side of things, the report mentions that Samsung has apparently improved the ease-of-use of split-screen multitasking. The S-Pen on the Note 8 will have more features like full sentence language translation and currency conversion. The Note 8 will also allow handwritten notes to be pinned to the Always-On display. The Note 8 will also be compatible with the same DeX dock that was launched with the Galaxy S8.

The real kicker for the Galaxy Note 8 will be its price, as it is enroute to becoming Samsung's most expensive mass-consumer-level smartphone. The expected retail price of the Note 8 is estimated at €999, which the report mentions would translate down to around ~$900. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ came out at an initial price of €799 and €899 in Europe and were sold unlocked for $725 and $825 in the US respectively. The Note 8 will be available at launch in shades of black, blue and gold.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 8? Should Samsung continue on with the Note branding, or should they switch it up with a different name to help bury the past? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: VentureBeat

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Latest WebView Introduces Isolated Renderer Process And In-App Safe Browsing

Google released a short review of the changes in the latest version of WebView. Android WebView is a system component for Android allows Android apps to display content from the web directly inside an application.

Starting with Android Lollipop, Google decided to distribute WebView as an independent APK updated from the Play Store every six weeks. The goal is to deliver critical fixes to the users quickly, as the service had seen some serious security conundrums. The newest version of the app brings a couple of important security enhancements as well.

Google will publish Android O later this summer. Alongside the release, WebView will have the renderer running in an isolated process separate from the host app, taking advantage of the isolation between processes provided by Android that has been available for other applications.

WebView will now provide two levels of isolation.

  1. The rendering engine has been split into a separate process. This insulates the host app from bugs or crashes in the renderer process and makes it harder for a malicious website that can exploit the renderer to then exploit the host app.
  2. To further contain it, the renderer process is run within an isolated process sandbox that restricts it to a limited set of resources. For example, the rendering engine cannot write to disk or talk to the network on its own.

    It is also bound to the same seccomp filter as used by Chrome on Android. The seccomp filter reduces the number of system calls the renderer process can access and also restricts the allowed arguments to the system calls.

Finally, the newest version of WebView allows third-party applications to use the Safe Browsing features. According to the blog entry, information or notice warning of possibly malicious websites is displayed over 250 million times a month. With a simple manifest tag, you can enable the Safe Browsing in your app. You can learn which code you need to add by visiting the Android Developers Blog.

The latest version of WebView should soon be available in the Google Play store.

Source: Android Developers Blog

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YouTube Announces a New VR Format, Wider Release of YouTube TV and New Updates to Mobile App

At VidCon 2017, Google announced a whole bunch of new stuff and features for YouTube, including a new VR format, updates to the YouTube application, and availability of YouTube TV in more markets.

Google realized that filming 360-degree videos isn't an easy task for most content creators. Not only is shooting content in 360 a tough task, it's also expensive since it requires investing in costly equipment. So in order to address this issue and make VR accessible to more users, Google has introduced a new video format for VR called VR180. As the name suggests, VR180 allows shooting and watching content in 180-degree — unlike traditional VR format which provides full 360-degree experience.


While you won't be able to see what's behind you in 180-degree videos, according to Google, the new format will offer the same 3D immersive experience you would expect a good VR experience to deliver. Switching to the new format should also help reduce data usage since 180° footage will presumably consume less bandwidth. Google says they are working with camera manufacturers like LG, Yi and Lenovo to build new VR180 cameras which will cost "as little as a couple hundred dollars". You will be able to enjoy 180-degree VR videos through the official YouTube app with Google Cardboard, Daydream or PlayStation VR.

Google also announced some new updates to the official YouTube application that will be rolled out in coming weeks. For instance, a new update will enable the YouTube app to better adapt to a wide variety of video formats. Moreover, whether you're watching a horizontal, square or vertical video, the new dynamic player will automatically adapt itself to the size of the video to provide a seamless watching experience.

One more feature that is finally coming to the YouTube mobile application is the ability to share videos with friends and family right from the YouTube application. Up until now, the built-in sharing feature was only available in Canada but Google has announced that the feature will be roll-out in more regions in the coming weeks, with the feature first going live in Latin America followed by the US.

Meanwhile, Google is also expanding the availability of its new YouTube TV service to more markets. In the coming weeks, the YouTube TV service will be available in Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, D.C., Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne and Charlotte.

Finally, Google is also working on bringing more original content to YouTube Red Originals, with the company promising 12 new projects coming soon to the service.

Source: YouTube Blog

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Samsung is Mass Producing the Exynos i T200, its First Exynos-branded IoT Chip

Samsung has a number of IoT products already and the company, along with many other technology companies, feels that this segment is ripe for growth. We know that Samsung likes to manufacture as many hardware components that are used in their phones as possible, and this new announcement is big for them. They have just announced the Samsung Exynos i series of IoT chips and the first one they've started to mass produce its first Exynos-branded Internet of Things solution.

The chip is called the Samsung Exynos i T200 and it's built on top of a low-power 28nm High-K Metal Gate (also known as HKMG) process. The company is advertising that it has high processing capabilities as well as Wi-Fi connectivity (IEEE 802.11b/g/n single band 2.4GHz), which they feel is ideal for the IoT market. Naturally, it's been certified by the WiFi Alliance, but it also has IoT certification from Microsoft Azure and it natively supports IoTivity (an IoT protocol standard from the Open Connectivity Foundation).

When we look at what the Exynos i T200 process is built with, Samsung has confirmed that it has a Cortex-R4 processor paired with a Cortex-M0+ processor. This means the Exynos i T200 can process and perform a variety of tasks without having to have an extra microcontroller IC in the system. Samsung is aware that security is a big concern when it comes to IoT devices as well and they assure us that they're willing to tackle that head on.

The company says the Exynos i T200 uses a separate and designated security management hardware block that they're calling the Security Sub-System. Not only that, but the Physical Unclonable Function (PUF) IP allows the Exynos i T200 to have secure data storage and device authentication management. All without the need to have a key fused into silicon, and without having to rely on a discrete security IC for key storage.

Source: Samsung Newsroom

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jeudi 22 juin 2017

Unicode 10 Officially Released with 56 New Emojis and a Host of New Characters

The Unicode Consortium has officially announced Unicode 10. The new version adds 8,518 characters including 56 new emoji characters, a set of four new scripts, and new symbols. Currently, the standard consists of a whopping total of 136,690 characters.

Aside from adding support for lesser-used languages, the Unicode Consortium included a Bitcoin sign. The most popular cryptocurrency's symbol was not supported and therefore referred to as BTC.

Below you can see all emojis soon to be included in products from Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Samsung.

Emojipedia prepared a video with all 69 emojis introduced this year.

The Unicode Consortium has also introduced new 56 code points. Check them out!

New Emoji Code Points in Unicode 10.0

  • Star-Struck
  • Face With Raised Eyebrow
  • Exploding Head
  • Crazy Face
  • Face With Symbols Over Mouth
  • Face Vomiting
  • Shushing Face
  • Face With Hand Over Mouth
  • Face With Monocle
  • Child
  • Adult
  • Older Adult
  • Woman With Headscarf
  • Bearded Person
  • Breast-Feeding
  • Mage
  • Fairy
  • Vampire
  • Merperson
  • Elf
  • Genie
  • Zombie
  • Person in Steamy Room
  • Person Climbing
  • Person in Lotus Position
  • Love-You Gesture
  • Palms Up Together
  • Brain
  • Orange Heart
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Coat
  • Socks
  • Billed Cap
  • Zebra
  • Giraffe
  • Hedgehog
  • Sauropod
  • T-Rex
  • Cricket
  • Coconut
  • Broccoli
  • Pretzel
  • Cut of Meat
  • Sandwich
  • Bowl With Spoon
  • Canned Food
  • Dumpling
  • Fortune Cookie
  • Takeout Box
  • Pie
  • Cup With Straw
  • Chopsticks
  • Flying Saucer
  • Sled
  • Curling Stone

Unicode 10 also adds support for lesser-used languages. These include:

  • Masaram Gondi, used to write Gondi in Central and Southeast India
  • Nüshu, used by women in China to write poetry and other discourses until the late twentieth century
  • Soyombo and Zanabazar Square, used in historic Buddhist texts to write Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mongolian

The final emoji list for 2017 was announced in March. Vendors have had a few months to prepare for which emojis are upcoming in the next release. Google already added some of the new emojis in the Android O preview images. Upcoming software releases should include full support of Unicode 10.0.

Source: Unicode Blog Source: Emojipedia

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Latest Alpha Build of CrossOver Android Released With Android Nougat Support

If you are familiar with GNU/Linux-based operating systems, you have almost certainly heard of Wine. This great project allows you to run Windows applications without the need of installing a virtual machine. CrossOver Android is a similar concept, but it's made for Android tablets and Chromebooks running Intel hardware to allow these platforms to run full-fledged Windows software. The latest alpha build, version 4, has been released with support for Android Nougat.

CodeWeavers, the company behind the project, released an initial alpha of the CrossOver Android project almost a year ago. Since then, this project has matured and now the fourth Alpha is available. Here is the full change log for the CrossOver Preview application from the Google Play Store:


We now support Android N!

Several fixes for Office on Chromebooks are included in this release.

We also now support 64-bit file offsets, allowing for use of very large files.

CrossOver's UI has further enhancements, and we have improved our feature for gathering debug logs during testing.

We have many other fixes in this release."

Although the hardware within Intel-based Android tablets or Chromebooks isn't sufficient to run many modern Steam games, there are still plenty of Windows games and applications that you can take advantage of. You can easily use Microsoft Office 2013 or play some lighter games for Windows.

CrossOver looks like a decent solution for those users who need Windows just to run a few applications. Chromebooks are cheap and relatively efficient devices, so enhancing their compatibility with CrossOver seems to be a wise decision. Just note that as of now, only the Acer R11 and Pixel 2015 Chromebooks running the Developer channel can use CrossOver Android until the project expands support for other Chromebooks that support Android applications. If you do have a device that supports CrossOver Android, all you need to do is sign up for the preview on the project's website.

Source: @CodeWeavers Via: AndroidPolice

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