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Verizon Plans 5G Broadband Launch

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Verizon is turning up the heat on AT&T by announcing that it plans to launch residential 5G wireless broadband services in up to five cities in the first half of 2018, starting with Sacramento, California. The two companies are fierce competitors in the broadband market, and AT&T has previously announced that it hopes to deploy 5G services to customers by the end of 2018.

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5G services offer high speed wireless broadband at hundreds of megabits per second. More importantly, these services offer very low latency, unlike other wireless services such as satellite-based broadband. This makes 5G broadband ideally suited to real-time applications, such as internet-based gaming or multi-user virtual reality.

Verizon estimates that the market for 5G broadband could be as big as 30 million households, but as yet it has not announced pricing for the service, or even given an indication of whether it will be priced at a level similar to fixed-line broadband services.

Verizon has already deployed 5G trial networks in 11 cities around the U.S. including Sacramento, and the company has also trailed 5G technology at the Indianapolis 500 race in May, attaining network speeds of more than 6 Gbps.

AT&T launched its 5G Evolution wireless broadband service in April 2017, but despite the name this only uses 4G wireless technology.

Amazon Readies Alexa for Business

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Amazon is preparing to send its Alexa intelligent assistant into the workplace, according to a CNBC report.

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The company is about to announce its Alexa for Business Platform, which will be unveiled with a number of partners that have developed new capabilities known as "skills" for the intelligent assistant.

Alexa for Business may be able to make it easier for employees to carry out tasks such as setting up a teleconference, arranging a meeting, accessing an employee directory, or even getting sales data from corporate applications such as Salesforce using spoken commands. Employees could even carry out these tasks when out of the office using the Alexa app on their smartphone.

Alexa for Business may also be put to work to carry out user authentication, so that users can log on to business applications by speaking to Alexa instead of, or in addition to, using a traditional username and password.

Amazon is planning a number of discussion sessions about Alexa for Business at its re:Invent developer conference this week. These sessions include "Bring your Alexa to work. Voice enable your company;" "Building smart conference rooms with Alexa;" and "New skills for Alexa for Business."

Amazon offers more than 20,000 third-party skills for its Alexa-enabled devices for home users which include the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

Huge Security Flaw Found in macOS

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A massive security bug has been discovered in macOS High Sierra, the latest version of Apple’s operating system for its Macintosh desktop and laptop computers, according to a BBC report.

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The software flaw makes it easy for anyone to access a computer running High Sierra by bypassing any security password that has been set by a user. More importantly, it also makes it easy for anyone to assume administrator privileges on the computer by providing root access. Users with root access can add and remove accounts on the computer, install malicious software including key loggers, and change or delete data and crucial system files which the computer requires in order to run properly.

To gain root access to a computer running the affected software, all that is necessary is to log on to the computer using the username "root" and leaving the password field empty, and then pressing "enter" several times.

The security flaw was discovered by Lemi Ergin, a Turkish software developer. He has faced criticism for revealing the flaw without first notifying Apple and providing the company with a reasonable amount of time to produce and test a fix, as responsible disclosure guidelines dictate.

Apple is working furiously to develop a fix for the problem, and in the meantime it recommends that users set a password for the root account.

Microsoft Teases New Windows 10 Features

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Microsoft has offered a preview of two new features for Windows which it plans to add to Windows 10 in the near future.

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In an email sent out to members of the Windows Insider Program (WIP), Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president for Windows and Devices, talked about "Timeline" and something which has been given the working name of "Sets."

"Timeline," which was first mentioned at Microsoft’s Build conference in May 2017, is a visual timeline which is integrated directly into Task View so that users can easily move back in time to find files, apps, and sites that they were working on previously. "We’ve heard strong interest in this feature, and we’re pleased you’ll see it in the next WIP build," Myerson told WIP members who have signed up to try the latest software.

"Sets" is a completely new feature that allows everything related to a particular task to be grouped together into a single window with multiple tabs. "The concept behind this experience is to make sure that everything related to your task: relevant webpages, research documents, necessary files and applications, is connected and available to you in one click," Myerson explained. Users can create sets on one device and then access these sets on another. The feature will also be made available to WIP members soon.

WIP is a software testing program that allows over seven million Windows 10 users to access pre-release builds of the operating system previously only accessible to developers.

Google Poised to Activate Visual Core

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Google is about to activate the Visual Core image processors built into all Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones, Tech Times is reporting.

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Up to now the Visual Core chips have been dormant in the devices, but Google has announced that the next update to Android Oreo, due out in December 2017, will change that." For Pixel 2 users, the Android 8.1 update on these devices enables Pixel Visual Core — Google’s first custom-designed co-processor for image processing and ML — through a new developer option."

The company has released the final preview build of Android 8.1 to developers, enabling them to start taking advantage of the Visual Core’s capabilities in applications in preparation for the final release.

The Visual Core chip will allow Pixel 2 phones to take and process photos much faster than they can today. The chip also makes it possible to take HDR+ pictures using the Pixel 2 camera hardware and any camera app that use the Android Camera API.

Android 8.1 Oreo also includes optimizations and bug fixes for the operating system, as well as the November 2017 security patch updates.

Apple Launches Support YouTube Channel

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Apple has launched a new YouTube channel dedicated to supporting its products with tip and hint videos, Business Insider is reporting. The launch was low-key, and at the time of writing the channel had less than 50 videos and just 2,669 subscribers. By contrast, Apple’s main YouTube channel has more than five million subscribers.

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The support videos offer simple tutorials for people new to the Apple ecosystem and include titles such as "Add a New Face To Your Apple Watch" and "Save a Web Page as a PDF in iOS."

The support channel was established in July 2017, but has not been active until Monday, when the first 10 one-to-two minute videos went live. Most had been viewed less than 100 times at the time of writing.

The report notes that over the last year or so Apple has begun to embrace social media after years of quietly resisting it. The Apple Support YouTube channel complements the official Apple Support Twitter account, which was created in March 2016, and the Apple Support iOS app, which was released late in 2016. The company also maintains its own Apple Support website.

Microsoft Office Now Runs on Chromebooks

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Microsoft has finally succeeded in getting a version of its Office suite to run on lightweight Chromebook devices after a year of testing and development work, according to a report in The Verge.

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Chromebooks run Google’s Linux-based ChromeOS and were originally designed to let users run web-based applications accessed using Google’s Chrome browser. They can also run some Android apps that are made available through Google’s Play Store for Chromebooks, and it is the Android versions of Microsoft’s Office apps that are now available for Chromebook users to download from this store.

Microsoft offers Office free for devices (such as smartphones) with a screen smaller than 10.1-inches, so users of smaller Chromebooks will be able to use Microsoft office on their devices without paying anything. Owners of larger Chromebooks will be able to open office documents to view them, but they will not be able to create, edit, or print documents without unlocking the applications by paying for an Office 365 subscription.

But the report points out that many Chromebooks are used in school classrooms, and many schools already subscribe to Office 365 for their students. That means many Chromebook users in schools will now be able to use Microsoft Office without paying any additional fees.

Earlier this year Microsoft introduced Windows 10 S, an operating system which appears to have been designed for low-cost computers used in schools, in almost direct competition with ChromeOS used by Chromebooks in an educational environment.

Twitter Blocks New York Times Tweets

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Twitter has received some flak for silencing one of the Twitter accounts belonging to the New York Times last week, apparently in error, according to a BBC report.

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The newspaper’s @nytimesworld team account, which is a Twitter "verified account" that covers global events, was locked after tweeting about the Canadian prime minister, according to the report. The account normally tweets about 100 times every day, but the account was silenced for almost 24 hours because Twitter said that it had violated its rules about hateful conduct.

The tweet that led to the suspension was the apparently innocuous: "Left out of an apology a decade ago, native people in Newfoundland and Labrador get an apology from Justin Trudeau."

Twitter later issued a statement saying that that it should not have blocked the newspaper’s account. "After reviewing the account, it appears that one of our agents made an error. We have flagged this issue so that similar mistakes are not made going forward," the statement said.

Earlier this month Twitter received criticism after President Trump’s Twitter account was deactivated by a rogue employee for about 11 minutes. The incident raised questions about the security of President Trump’s account and who has access to it.

Apple Plans New iPhone Model Launch

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Apple is planning to release a new low-cost iPhone as early as next March, according to a Tech Times report.

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It quotes information from the China Economic Daily, which says that work is underway on an iPhone SE 2 with a launch date expected before July 2018 at a price point of about $450. The current iPhone SE offering, which starts at $349, was launched in March 2016 and was beefed up in March 2017 with some new storage options. It therefore speculates that the new iPhone SE 2 will enter mass production in the first quarter of 2018 with a March release date targeted.

The iPhone SE 2 is likely to have a more power processor and an improved camera, according to the report, but it is likely to retain the relatively small 4-inch screen. It will be offered in 32 GB and 128 GB storage configurations and is expected to be equipped with 2 GB of RAM.

The new handset will be made by Taiwanese manufacturer Winstron at its Bengaluru factory in India, according to the report.

Pixel Offers Smart Battery Prediction

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Google has begun to harness a type of machine learning technology to provide more accurate battery life estimates on its Pixel smartphones.

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Previously the company simply looked at average battery power consumption in the recent past to predict how much longer a Pixel user’s battery would last. "If you’ve used about 10% per hour over the past few hours, we would guess you will keep using 10% per hour. As you might expect, this wasn’t always very accurate," a Pixel product manager explained in a blog post.

To improve on these crude estimates, Google now uses software on each Pixel device which learns how the owner uses that device’s battery power over time. "Your phone looks at your battery usage on similar days and times, and uses that to predict your battery life in a personalized way," she said. "This means that if you’re like me and love to binge-watch YouTube on your way home, your phone will include that extra battery drain from Corgi videos in your estimate!"

Pixel users can see their personalized battery life predictions by going to the Battery section of Settings. By clicking on the battery icon, they can also see the estimate represented graphically over time: periods of estimated high and low usage should correspond to the user’s typical behaviour.

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