Apple Downshifts Driverless Vehicle Plans

apple-carApple appears to be shifting its driverless car ambitions into a lower gear. Changes in the company’s automotive strategy have resulted in hundreds of job cuts and the shelving of plans to build a car of its own, Bloomberg reported Monday.

“Project Titan” — Apple’s internal name for the automotive initiative — has a new focus, according to the report. It will develop an autonomous driving system that will give the company the option of partnering with an established auto maker or producing a robo car of its own.

The Titan team has until the end of 2017 to prove the feasibility of its self-driving system and to decide on a final direction for the project, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the initiative.

The shift in direction follows months of disagreements, leadership uncertainty, and supply chain problems within the project, they reportedly said.

Tough to Fit In

Rumors of Apple scaling back its driverless car program have been in the wind for some time, noted Roger C. Lanctot, associate director of the global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics.

“We’ve been hearing about it for awhile,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The whole proposition seemed sketchy from the beginning. With so much innovation and development activity going on, it’s difficult to perceive where the need for another car manufacturer like Apple exists,” Lanctot said.

It’s a crowded field, observed Renee Stephens, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power.

Apple would have to face “some serious competitors with some serious experience in manufacturing,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Companies like Ford and Mercedes are looking to put fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020.”

Margin Problems

Besides being crowded, it’s a field where making money can be challenging, too.

“Apple is a company that traditionally likes to make very high-margin products,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst with Navigant Research.

“They don’t like to make commodity products,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The Project Titan team has spent a significant amount of time over the last two years trying to create something distinctive that Apple can sell at a premium.

“The car industry is a very tough place to make a profit,” Abuelsamid said. “Most auto makers are lucky to hit 8 or 9 percent profit margins. Apple typically hits 35 to 40 percent on most of its products.”

Ford Needs to Feel Like a Ford

Scaling down its auto making plans might not be enough. Apple might find it difficult to crack into the systems market for autos, too, Abuelsamid noted.

“Auto makers have made it clear that they want to have their own unique user interface and look and feel in their vehicles,” he said.

“When you get into a Ford, Ford wants it to look and feel like a Ford,” he explained. “They don’t want an Apple or a Google look and feel.”

That doesn’t seem to have prevented some of them from supporting CarPlay, though, which allows a car radio to act as a display and controller for an iPhone.

“Apple has had much greater success with its CarPlay smartphone integration than Alphabet has had with Android auto,” Strategy Analytics’ Lanctot pointed out.

Playing With Others

Still, if Apple wants to create automation systems for vehicles, it’s going to need to play nice with auto makers, which could be a problem for the company.

“Partnering hasn’t been something that Apple has been open to in the past,” observed J.D. Power’s Stephens.

“They haven’t been open to providing access to a lot of their coding,” she said. “That’s something manufacturers are looking for before they will integrate Apple capabilities into their vehicles.”

The Right Approach

Apple’s approach to the automotive market has been a good one, noted Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“They’ve researched the idea from every angle and then brought in Bob Mansfield to manage it and pare it down to an offering that is feasible and makes sense for Apple,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Mansfield, who led the hardware engineering development of the MacBook Air, iMac and iPad, took Project Titan’s helm this summer, The Wall Street Journalreported.

Project Titan will play a significant role as Apple maps out its future.

“It is important to their CarPlay strategy and would help them differentiate themselves within the next generation of smart automobiles,” Bajarin said.

“Autos are the ultimate mobile experience,” he pointed out, “and tying them to Apple’s products is key to their long-term strategy to boost their apps and services business.

Assange Lives to Leak Another Day

Assange Lives to Leak Another DayThe status of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange grew a bit murky on Tuesday after the group accused the U.S. State Department of pressuring Ecuadorian officials to block him from posting additional emails linked to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.


The Ecuadorian foreign ministry on Tuesday acknowledged placing temporary restrictions on Assange’s access, saying in a statement that it did not wish to interfere in a foreign election. It also said that it was acting on its own and not in response to any outside pressures.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to shield himself from two outstanding sex assault charges stemming from a 2010 trip he made to Sweden. He has continued to lead the WikiLeaks organization from there.

WikiLeaks earlier on Tuesday had accused U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of pressuring his counterparts in Ecuador to crack down on the email leaks during a round of peace negotiations to end the decades-old conflict between Marxist FARC rebels and the Columbian military.

Kerry held private meetings with Ecuador during a sideline period in negotiations with Columbia that began on Sept. 26, WikiLeaks claimed

Code Blue

WikiLeaks initially claimed that a state party intentionally severed Assange’s Internet link and that it had “activated the appropriate contingency plans.”

WikiLeaks also released three tweets called “pre-commitment 1: John Kerry,” “pre-commitment 2: Ecuador” and “pre-commitment 3: UK FCO.” Each tweet included what appeared to be alpha-numeric cryptokeys, more than 60 characters long.

The tweets set off a frenzy of speculation, including rumors that Assange had died. However, that rumor was quickly shot down.

Assange had warned for several months that he would release information that was damaging to Clinton before the November presidential election.

Method and Madness

The method and motivation of the various actors in this most recent drama leftTroy Hunt, a Microsoft regional director and MVP, at a loss as to exactly what happened this weekend.

“Seems a bit weird to me — Ecuador has granted him asylum,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Why pull his Internet? And how was the U.S. able to do it when he’s holed up in a building in London? Or was it political pressure rather than technical means used by the U.S.?”

Kerry had nothing to do with Assange’s loss of Internet access, according to State Department spokesperson John Kirby.

“While our concerns about WikiLeaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down WikiLeaks is false,” he said. “Reports that Secretary Kerry had conversations with Ecuadorian officials about this are simply untrue. Period.”

US Will Strike Back

Assange made headlines earlier this year when WikiLeaks was connected to suspected Russian hacks of emails belonging to Hillary Clinton and her associates, as well as network intrusions of several Democratic Party organizations.

The leaked emails are part of the Russian government’s targeted campaign to undermine the confidence in the U.S. presidential election and possibly influence the outcome, according to U.S. government officials and cybersecurity experts.

The Obama administration earlier this month officially accused the Russian government of orchestrating the cyberattacks and promised to deliver a proportional response.

Officials at Ecuador’s U.S. embassy referred us to the country’s Foreign Ministry, which did not respond to our request to comment on this story.

WikiLeaks recently released a new batch of emails belonging to longtime Clinton associate John Podesta, who is the current chairman of the Clinton presidential campaign and was chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and counselor to President Barack Obama

New Tag Helps Google News Readers Unearth Facts

New Tag Helps Google News Readers Unearth FactsGoogle last week launched a Fact Check tag to help readers find fact-checking in major news stories published in the United States and the UK.

Readers will see tagged articles in the expanded story box on and in the Google News & Weather apps for iOS and Android.

One factor the Google News algorithms consider in determining whether an article might contain fact checks is the ClaimReview markup.

Another is whether sites follow commonly accepted criteria for fact checks.

Although there’s a slew of biased media reports about the presidential candidates, the Fact Check tag “is aimed at all stories, not just political ones,” Google said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Maggie Shiels. “The tag has just launched, so you will likely see an uptick in the coming weeks.”

Applying the Fact Check Label

Google requires that discrete claims and checks be identified easily in the body of Fact Check articles. Readers should be able to understand what was checked, and what conclusions were reached.

Analysis must be transparent about sources and methods, with citations and references to primary sources.

The organization must be nonpartisan, with transparent funding and affiliations. It should examine a range of claims in its topic area instead of targeting a single person or entity.

Article titles must indicate that a claim is being reviewed, state conclusions reached, or simply indicate that the contents consist of fact checking.

Google News may apply the Fact Check tag to content published with fact-checking content adhering to its criteria.

Google may remove sites that don’t follow the criteria for the ClaimReview markup from Google News, or ignore the site’s markup.

What’s in a Tag

“Done well, where valid news stories that report ethically and accurately are used, this could really help journalism and the public,” said Lynn Walsh, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“For journalists, it’s just one more validation that their work is trustworthy,” she told TechNewsWorld. “For the public, it provides a way to cut through the clutter that sometimes exists — like articles that don’t clearly distinguish between fact and opinion.”

However, there’s a risk that tagged articles may not be fully vetted, accurate or ethically reported, Walsh warned. “With this just launching it’s too early to tell, but this is something I think journalists and news organizations should watch closely.”

Who Watches the Watcher?

“It appears that Google’s depending on fact checking collectives to police themselves and is then simply utilizing fact checkers that conform to the standards of the collectives,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“This is OK, but Google may face issues unless it makes the quality of its fact checking very clear,” he told TechNewsWorld. “A disavowal of the accuracy of fact checking seems likely at some point.”

Another concern is whether Google is “attempting to credential articles and reporters as legitimate, and others as non-legitimate,” Walsh said.

There’s a need for legitimizing sources, but “this could be a slippery slope,” she cautioned. “We have a right to publish and speak freely in this country no matter who you are

Microsoft AI Beats Humans at Speech Recognition

artificial-intelligence-speech-recognitionMicrosoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Unit earlier this week reported that its speech recognition technology had surpassed the performance of human transcriptionists.

The team last month published a paper describing its system’s accuracy, said to be superior to that of IBM’s famed Watson artificial intelligence.

The error rate for humans on the widely used NIST 2000 test set is 5.9 percent for the Switchboard portion of the data, and 11.3 percent for the CallHome portion, the team said.

The team improved on the conversational recognition system that outperformed IBM’s by about 0.4 percent, it reported.

That improvement is important, noted Anne Moxie, senior analyst at Nucleus Research.

While speech recognition provides an easier way for humans to interact with technology, “it won’t see adoption until it has extremely low error rates,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Google, IBM and Microsoft are among the companies working on speech recognition systems, but Microsoft is the closest to overcoming the error rate issue, Moxie said. “Therefore, its technology’s the most likely to see adoption.”

Testing the Technology

The team’s progress resulted from the careful engineering and optimization of “convolutional and recurrent neural networks.” The basic structures have long been well known but “it is only recently that they have emerged as the best models for speech recognition,” its report states.

To measure human performance, the team leveraged an existing pipeline in which Microsoft data is transcribed weekly by a large commercial vendor performing two-pass transcription — that is, a human transcribes the data from scratch, and then a second listener monitors the data to perform error correction.

The team added NIST 2000 CTS evaluation data to the worklist, giving the transcribers the same audio segments as provided to the speech recognition system — short sentences or sentence fragments from a signal channel.

For the speech recognition technology, the team used three convolutional neural network (CNN) variants.

One used VGG architecture, which employs smaller filters, is deeper, and applies up to five convolutional layers before pooling.

The second was modeled on the ResNet architecture, which adds a linear transform of each layer’s input to its output. The team applied Batch Normalization activations.

The third CNN variation is the LACE (layer-wise context expansion with attention) model. LACE is a time delay neural network (TDNN) variant.

The team also trained a fused model consisting of a combination of a ResNet and a VGG model at the senone posterior level. Senones, which are states within context-dependent phones, are the units for which observation probabilities are computed during automated speech recognition (ASR).

Both base models were independently trained and the score fusion weight then was optimized on development data.

A six-layer bidirectional LSTM was used for spatial smoothing to improve accuracy.

“Our system’s performance can be attributed to the systematic use of LSTMs for both acoustic and language modeling as well as CNNs in the acoustic model, and extensive combination of complementary models,” the report states.

The Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit

All neural networks in the final system were trained with the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK) on a Linux-based multi-GPU server farm.

CNTK is an open source deep learning toolkit that allows for flexible model definition while scaling very efficiently across multiple GPUs and multiple servers, the team said.

Microsoft earlier this year released CNTK on GitHub, under an open source license.

The Voice

“Voice dictation is no longer just being used for composing text,” said Alan Lepofsky, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“As chat-centric interfaces become more prevalent, core business processes such as ordering items, entering customer records, booking travel, or interacting with customer service records will all be voice-enabled,” he told TechNewsWorld.

To illustrate his point, Lepofsky noted that he had composed his response and emailed it to TechNewsWorld “simply by speaking to my iPad

HTC 10 Starts Receiving Android 7.0 Nougat Update

HTC 10 Starts Receiving Android 7.0 Nougat UpdateIn August, HTC announced that its HTC 10 will be the first smartphone in its lineup to get the Android 7.0 Nougat update (with the HTC Sense UI skin). The company said that the smartphone will be getting the update sometime in the fourth quarter but didn’t give any further details at the time. Now, the company has announced that the owners of unlocked HTC a10 units will start receiving getting the Android 7.0 Nougat update from Friday.

HTC’s Vice President of Product Management, Mo Versi announced that the unlocked units will be receiving the update from Friday. “Happy Thanksgiving! HTC 10 unlocked owners will receive Nougat OS update tomorrow morning! Enjoy!” Versi said on Thursday. Considering that Versi didn’t mention any particular region for the rollout, it can be assumed that the company will be rolling out the Nougat update globally.

The HTC One M9 and HTC One A9 are next in line to receive the Nougat update by the company. Notably, the company was not able to keep its promise that it made back in March. After the launch of company’s One A9 smartphone, HTC made a bold claim that the unlocked version of the smartphone will get “every” Android update “within 15 days” of it being pushed to Google’s Nexus devices.

We will have to wait and see if the company revises its promise or at least make sure that it is able keep the promises it made going forward.

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Nexus 5X Users Experiencing Boot Loop Issues Being Offered Full Refund by LG

Nexus 5X Users Experiencing Boot Loop Issues Being Offered Full Refund by LGLG USA is reportedly offering full refunds to users experiencing boot loops on their Nexus 5X smartphones. While normally the process would be to repair, replace, or issue a refurbished unit, the company in this is offering a full refund as it doesn’t have the parts (and presumably new units) to affect a repair. Notably, with the launch of the Pixel smartphones, Google is no longer selling the Nexus 5X.

Reports of the refund policy come from Reddit users, and are seen on the dedicated Nexus 5X subreddit. Users that have given their devices to LG for repairs are now receiving an email that informs them a part required to fix the issue is longer available. They are then asked to produce a sales receipt so that the company can determine the exact amount that needs to be refunded.

“We’re sorry to hear that you’ve experienced a problem with your LGH790 and appreciate you giving us the opportunity to provide a warranty repair. We have received your device at our repair facility but currently a part to complete the repair is out of stock and is no longer available.To rectify this issue, we would like to offer you a refund for the full amount of your device. That amount will be determined by your sales receipt. Your refund can take approximately 4 weeks to receive due to the holiday.”

The Nexus 5X boot loop issue was first seen in September when the Android 7.0 Nougat update was released. At that point, Google said a very small number of users were affected by the issue, and that it was a hardware issue, and not related to software. The search giant had also said that users should contact their place of purchase for warranty or repair options. Presumably since then, the company has run out of a required part and thus offering refunds instead.

While the refund option recently began being provided in the US, it’s reasonable to expect the company to offer a similar option to affected Nexus 5X users in other parts of the world. To recall, the LG-made Nexus smartphone was launched back in October last year, and like most phones, has a 1-year manufacturer warranty. If you are experiencing the issue, we suggest you contact LG sooner than later to avoid possible issues with warranty.

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Reliance Communications Launches Unlimited Voice Calling Plan at Rs. 149, With 300MB of Mobile Data

Reliance Communications Launches Unlimited Voice Calling Plan at Rs. 149, With 300MB of Mobile DataAnil Ambani-owned Reliance Communications, seemingly in a bid to counter Reliance Jio’s much-hyped plans, has announced an unlimited calling plan of its own. The new plan, called ‘149 Unlimited’ allows Reliance Communications customers to make unlimited voice calls to mobile networks across India, including STD calls. It also includes 300MB of mobile data that can be consumed over 2G, 3G or 4G networks.

Despite its similarities to the Reliance Jio plans, the new Reliance Communications unlimited voice calling plan does not require a 4G VoLTE-capable smartphone and works on any mobile phone.

Even though Reliance Jio is currently offering all of its services for free, the regular monthly telecom plans for the company will start from Rs. 149 as well. The base plan by Reliance Jio will also offer unlimited voice-calling and 300MB of mobile data. The two companies have spectrum trading and sharing agreements.

(Also see: Reliance Jio, Reliance Communications Virtual Merger Is Complete: Anil Ambani)

“Our new pioneering yet simple Unlimited Plan has the potential to trigger a paradigm shift in the way Indians recharge their mobile phones, creating a significant shift in the telecom market-as it moves away from the ‘Unit Rate’ charging regime to a ‘Single Recharge and Unlimited Usage’ regime,” Co-CEO of Reliance Communications Gurdeep Singh was quoted as saying in company’s release.

“Our Unlimited Plan will see millions of Indians benefit, and help RCOM ramp up its customer base and engage with higher-value customers and greater ARPUs,” Singh added.

The new telecom plan by the company seems to be targeted especially at those mobile users who don’t own 4G capable smartphones. The company has clearly mentioned in its release that there are no hidden charges or any additional conditions that are associated with its new plan.

Almost Half the World Will Be Online by the End of 2016, Says ITU

Almost Half the World Will Be Online by the End of 2016, Says ITUBy the end of 2016, almost half of the world’s population will be using the Internet as mobile networks grow and prices fall, but their numbers will remain concentrated in the developed world, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

In the world’s developed countries about 80 percent of the population use the Internet. But only about 40 percent in developing countries and less than 15 percent in less-developed countries are online, according to a report by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

In several of Africa’s poorer and more fragile countries, only one person in 10 is on the Internet. The offline population is female, elderly, less educated, poorer and lives in rural areas, said the union, a specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

Globally, 47 percent of the world’s population is online, still far short of a UN target of 60 percent by 2020. Some 3.9 billion people, more than half the world’s population, are not. ITU expects 3.5 billion people to have access by the end of this year.

“In 2016, people no longer go online, they are online. The spread of 3G and 4G networks across the world had brought the Internet to more and more people” the report said.

Telecom and Internet companies are expanding as more affordable smartphones encourage consumers to browse the Internet, causing demand to grow for data-heavy services. However, less-developed countries – LDCs – still trail the rest of the world.

“Internet penetration levels in LDCs today have reached the level enjoyed by developed countries in 1998, suggesting that the LDCs are lagging nearly 20 years behind the developed countries,” the report said.

It blamed the cost of services and of extending infrastructure to rural and remote customers and the high price of mobile cellular use.

Nintendo Switch Launch to Get Mario RPG Crossover Featuring Ubisoft Rabbids: Sources

Nintendo Switch Launch to Get Mario RPG Crossover Featuring Ubisoft Rabbids: SourcesAccording to reports, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild will not be a launch title for the Nintendo Switch. However there seems to be more than enough to cover up for this. In the past, we’ve seen Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs 2 hitmaker, Ubisoft, offer a generous amount of support for Nintendo’s many consoles. It appears to do the same with the Nintendo Switch.

Meanwhile it has been suggested that Mario will make his presence felt in a 3D platforming game at launch, it looks like Nintendo’s moustachioed mascot will have another game out around the same time.

A Mario role-playing game (RPG) is in development at Ubisoft. It will feature the company’s Rabbids characters too. Nintendo will be overseeing development.

“The game, whose formal title has not yet been confirmed but is currently under the working title “Mario RPG: Invasion of the Rabbids”, is being developed under the watchful monitoring of Nintendo, ensuring that it both hits launch day and that it conforms to Nintendo’s own internal specifications for how Mario characters and iconography should be presented,” a post on UK-based LetsPlayVideoGames reads. It goes on to elaborate what kind of gameplay you can expect when it hits.

“The title will focus on the Mario universe being invaded by Ubisoft’s Rabbids characters, some friend and some foe, and will feature a new Bowser form based around the design of the Rabbids as a recurring boss enemy. While there will be numerous cameo appearances from the Mario series’ best known characters, the core party will feature numerous, more minor characters. There is a particular focus on Yoshi as a primary party member, alongside a playable Rabbid.”

This game will be playable in January, probably in time for Nintendo’s event where it will be officially unveiled as well as the Nintendo Switch itself. The playable demo will show off the Switch’s JoyCon controllers vibrating to imply Rabbids jumping in and out of the console’s screen or the TV it is attached to. It is “going to be one of the cornerstone trailers shown when Nintendo details the system further in January.”

Considering the close ties between Nintendo and Ubisoft what with Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot praising the Switch prior to its reveal and rumours of the new Beyond Good and Evil being a Switch exclusive, we won’t dismiss this latest report just yet.

It will be interesting to see how much of the Nintendo Switch and its games will be unknown when Nintendo finally makes its announcements on January 12.

Apple, Citibank Team Up to Offer Up to Rs. 23,000 Cashback on iPhone, iPad Combo Purchase

Apple, Citibank Team Up to Offer Up to Rs. 23,000 Cashback on iPhone, iPad Combo PurchaseApple and Citibank have partnered to offer a unique combo offer to customers looking to purchase both an iPhone and an iPad. Customers buying an iPhone 7 or an iPhone 7 Plus can get up to Rs. 23,000 cashback on purchase of an iPad.

The offer also works in reverse – those buying an iPad, can get cashback up to the same amount if they buy either of the latest iPhone models. The Apple-Citibank iPhone-iPad combo offer will only be available via select offline Apple-authorised resellers.

The important point to note is that the cashback is available only to Citibank credit card customers, according to offer documents accessed by Gadgets 360, the iPhone and the iPad must be purchased on the same day from the same store, using the same card, and the same mobile number should be provided at the time of purchase (if required).

The offer kicked off on Friday and will last till 31 December 2016. Customers are eligible to perform a maximum of four such transactions during the offer period, with two transactions allowed each month.

Customers buying an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus will be able to get a cashback of Rs. 17,000 if they also buy an iPad mini 2 or an iPad mini 4; Rs. 18,000 if they buy an iPad Air 2; and Rs. 23,000 if they purchase any iPad Pro model. Additional instant in-store savings are also available – Rs. 2,800 on iPad mini 2 (effective price Rs. 2,100 after cashback and savings), Rs. 2,900 on iPad Air 2 (effective price Rs. 11,000), and Rs. 5,900 on iPad Pro 9.7-inch (effective price Rs. 21,000).

Customers buying an iPad Pro can avail a cashback of Rs. 23,000 if they also buy an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus; iPad Air 2 customers get Rs. 18,000 cashback on their iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus; and iPad mini 2/ mini 4 customers get Rs. 17,000 as cashback upon buying one of the latest iPhone models.

These cash back amounts will be credited to the Citibank credit card within 90 days of purchase and are subject to terms and conditions mentioned earlier along with additional fineprint.