These two indie platforms are partnering to help authors produce audiobooks at affordable prices

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Indie authors who publish through platforms like Amazon or CreateSpace usually don’t have the resources to publish an audiobook, which can be an expensive endeavor with production costs that self-published or first-time authors cannot afford. Now, self-publishing platform and ebook distributor Smashwords has teamed up with production platform and audiobook distributor Findaway Voices to give these indie authors a cheaper way to make audiobooks.

In an announcement, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker said today the deal would give “greater control over pricing and distribution” to authors and publishers, making it more “economically feasible” to get into audiobook production even with short or cheaper books. By using Findaway, Smashwords’ authors…

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[Update: Available] Che grande! Italian Google Store shows the Google Home and Home Mini, but they’re still on a waitlist

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The signs have been accumulating over the past few weeks: Italian showed up among the languages supported on the Google Home, then it also was listed on third-party Assistant speakers, and just this morning plenty of Google Home support pages (like this) started saying the Home was available in Italy and speaking Italian.

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[Update: Available] Che grande! Italian Google Store shows the Google Home and Home Mini, but they’re still on a waitlist was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Yet another security vulnerability afflicts India’s citizen database

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India's Aadhaar database is a national system that contains personal data and biometric information on over 1.1 billion Indian citizens. While joining is technically voluntary (for now, at least), enrollment has become necessary for things like openi…
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Watch this AI figure out how to place blocks in Minecraft

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Artificial intelligence doesn’t compare favorably to humans when it comes to problem solving. Ask any eight year old child to place a few blocks on a grid in Minecraft and they’ll almost certainly be bored by the task. A computer, on the other hand, doesn’t grasp such difficult concepts so easily. Stephan Alaniz, a researcher with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Technische Universitat Berlin, yesterday published a white paper titled “Deep Reinforcement Learning with Model Learning and Monte Carlo Tree Search in Minecraft.” In his paper the scientist explains his efforts to create a superior method for…

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Carter and Eric’s Podcast Royale – The TouchArcade Show #347

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While Eli and Jared crank out the GDC content, Carter’s hosting the podcast once again, with long-time TA contributor Eric Ford co-hosting this week. With the release of PUBG Mobile [Free] and Fortnite mania sweeping the country, Carter and Eric talk about the two games and discuss their experiences: and which one they think is better. Also, will Fortnite‘s financial success show a new way forward for free-to-play monetization? After that, Carter and Eric answer a couple of submitted questions on how to stop playing a game you spend too much time playing, and whether the Nintendo Switch can avoid falling into the trap of shovelware and race-to-the-bottom prices that affected the App Store.

Don’t forget to shoot us emails with any questions, feedback, or anything else relevant or irrelevant to We read ’em all, and love decoding messages written entirely in emoji. As always, you can listen to us with the links below… And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and/or drop us a review in iTunes. Much appreciated!

As a companion to this audio podcast, we also do a video version of the same show that is exclusive to Patreon which allows you to see us playing the games we’re talking about. Backers can view the most recent video episodes of the TouchArcade show by clicking here. Be sure you’re logged in to see the latest content. For everyone else who is curious, you can check out our public patreon posts to see older episodes of the video podcast. If you like what you see, consider becoming a TouchArcade Patreon backer.

iTunes Link: The TouchArcade Show
Stitcher: The TouchArcade Show via Stitcher Radio for Podcasts [Free]
RSS Feed: The TouchArcade Show
Direct Link: TouchArcadeShow-347.mp3, 70MB


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China trade war: Mega-problem for IT industry?

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Chris Middleton explores the history of the growing trade dispute between the US and China, and the reasons why it is making many in the technology sector nervous.

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OPINION When US President Donald Trump personally blocked Broadcom Limited’s $ 142 billion bid for US chip company Qualcomm, we suggested that the unprecedented move could signal a dramatic policy shift on Asia. 

Our headline ‘Tech trade war! Trump blocks Qualcomm / Broadcom deal’ made no bones about our fears over the potential impact on the technology sector.

As we reported, the US President said in his executive order that there was “credible evidence” to believe that Broadcom might “take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States”.

In the event, no evidence for the Singapore-headquartered company having hostile intentions towards the US was put forward by the White House. The President intervened to block the deal before national security investigations – initiated the previous week in the US – had been completed.

In short, the move suggested an underlying political purpose – in the absence of hard evidence, at least.

US tech exposure

But one critical piece of information was omitted from the announcement: according to this breakdown of technology companies’ exposure to the Chinese market, 63 percent of Qualcomm’s revenues come from China, along with 52 percent of Broadcom’s.

Clearly, any looming trade war between the US and China and its allies would negatively impact those companies, along with any other US technology providers doing business in the region: a lengthy and growing list, not just in hardware, but also in software and communications.

Not only is China now a superpower, it is also automating faster than any nation on Earth. South Korea is the most automated country in terms of its robot density, followed by countries in Western Europe (except the UK), but China will be in the top 10 before the decade is out.

Read more: South Korea most automated nation on earth, says report. The UK? Going nowhere

A wide variety of US-listed technology companies are deeply exposed to China, including Intel, NVIDIA, Texas Instruments, and Western Digital – hardware being the big exposure point. One company, US aerospace semiconductor Skyworks Solutions Inc, derives 80 percent of its revenues from China, according to CBS.

Is it a trade war?

Events this week suggest that our predictions of an escalation of hostilities appear to be coming true: a trade war may now be looming between the US and China, and the many nations and territories that have strong connections with Beijing.

At least, the war of words is hotting up, leading one news organisation to describe the situation as “policy as theatre”. The Wall Street Journal weighed in by suggesting that Trump is not to blame for tensions, because China started the trade war “long before he became President”.

“Even free traders and internationalists agree China’s predatory trade practices – which include forcing US business to transfer valuable technology to Chinese firms and restricting access to Chinese markets – are undermining both its partners and the trading system,” said the WSJ.

The US President has called for the imposition of $ 50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods and services. Twenty-five percent tariffs will be added to a basket of over 1,300 types, mainly in areas such as IT, communications, machinery, and aerospace, he said.

Full details have yet to be disclosed, leading some to suggest that the move is as much a show of strength as it is a detailed policy. However, that basket of items and services can be seen as the areas in which the US feels most vulnerable.

The President cited China’s aggressive attitude to IP. And on this point, he is correct. China has long been known to replicate or copy Western brands, from sporting goods, clothing, and toys, to cars, phones, computers, and even robots.

However, Section 301 of the 1974 US Trade Act obliges companies trading in China to transfer technology and IP to their local business partners, so it is not a simple matter of theft, but also of agreed trading conditions between the nations.

Today, the US backed up its tariff announcement with a complaint to the World Trade Organisation about China’s IP policy – despite having sidelined the WTO in its unilateral trade move.

“China appears to be breaking WTO rules by denying foreign patent holders, including US companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends,” the US statement said.

“China also appears to be breaking WTO rules by imposing mandatory adverse contract terms that discriminate against, and are less favourable for, imported foreign technology.”

China has responded in kind with threats of $ 3 billion in tariffs on US goods, including raw materials, food, and other items (full details of which have also yet to be announced). Beijing has also complained to the WTO about the US’ unilateral move.

A Chinese welcome

But something else happened this month, which has been less well reported: China announced to the world that it is opening up its markets to an unprecedented degree.

Speaking at a China General Chamber of Commerce USA event, New York-based Consul General Zhang Qiyue said that barriers will be removed or eased for foreign investors in the country’s financial sector, and that market entry standards will be levelled for Chinese and overseas banks.

“Many more measures will be introduced this year, and some of the measures will be beyond the expectations of foreign companies and investors,” he said.

This could be what is really ringing alarm bells in Washington – despite the opportunity that greater openness would appear to offer for trade. The subtext is that China is opening its doors to the world, even as the US appears to be closing its.

Put another way, it may be over 40 years since the US Trade Act was signed, but since then China has become an economic and technology superpower, with India and other Asian countries hot on its heels.

Three of the top four biggest companies in the world by revenue are now Chinese: State Grid ($ 315 billion), oil and gas giant Sinopec ($ 267.5 billion), and China Natural Petroleum ($ 262.6 billion). Only US retail behemoth Walmart is larger, with revenues of $ 485 billion. The US is feeling the heat of the Asian dragon.

Taking stock – and US debt

But when it comes to a different measure, the most valuable companies by market capitalisation (the values of shares on the stock market), US companies easily hold the world stage.

The top three most valuable companies in the world are all US tech providers, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Jointly, they are worth over $ 2.4 trillion – a triple-A rating by any standards. Microsoft and Facebook are also in the top 10, along with three financial services providers. But in revenue terms, only Apple makes it into the top 10 global giants out of all the technology companies, at number nine.

Read more: Amazon now world’s second most valuable company after Apple

And this is where a lurking problem lies in any trade war with China. Massive and valuable though the US economy is – it remains the world’s biggest, with a GDP estimated at $ 18.56 trillion – the mirror that it holds up to itself is the stock market. And tech stocks are tumbling on Wall Street today over fears at the China news.

However, the real danger of this new, protectionist US policy, is that the American technology sector is itself highly reliant on Asian manufacturing and, in some cases, also component IP.

For example, Republic of China (Taiwan) based Foxconn is the world’s largest contract manufacturer, and its US client base includes the world’s top four companies by market cap – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, and Microsoft – along with Cisco, Dell, Intel, Motorola Mobility, and Vizio, among others.

These companies rely on offshore manufacturing and components to bring some of the world’s most popular technology to the public at healthy margins.

The US high-tech sector is also highly reliant on trading, research, and technology partnerships throughout the world, notably with China and India. In the case of China, access to Western companies has recently been increasing on a ‘like for like’ basis, as China’s new openness takes hold.

And we’ve seen the US response to that.

But the US also needs to be careful for another reason: it’s enormous debt, a chunk of which is owned by China.

At the start of 2018, total US debt is estimated to be in the region of $ 20 trillion – greater than its 2017 GDP. Roughly 5.5 percent of that debt is owned by China: $ 1.189 trillion, as of October 2017. Owning so much US debt keeps the yuan linked to the dollar, which keeps down the cost of Chinese exports.

The dollar has long been thought of as the most stable currency. However, an escalating trade war that drags in Europe and Asia could rattle that stability.

That said, lots of countries own US debt and will continue to buy it, and China relies on the US market to buy its goods. So it is hard to see who would win from a trade war that is anything more than political rhetoric.

Read more: Vodafone teams up with China Mobile to drive global IoT expansion

In light of all this, any real-world extension of Trump’s trade war into the US technology sector could set alarm bells ringing throughout the world, and in the boardrooms of the many American companies that rely on trade and knowledge exchange with Asia. CM

And finally…

…Brexit. By far the biggest loser in all of this will be Brexit Britain. Leaving the EU – and, for some reason, also the Customs Union – will itself make imports and exports more expensive, which will push up the price of technology in the UK. The government’s own impact assessments have confirmed this.

Meanwhile, some US companies, such as Apple, have already raised prices in the UK, as a direct result of Brexit. Leaving the EU makes it more expensive for US companies to address the UK market, because it is much easier and cheaper for companies to deal with a bloc of nations than with dozens of separate ones. That too will push up technology prices, not just for hardware, but also for services and software.

Finally, any trade war with China could significantly increase the cost of US hardware and components still further, because of America’s reliance on offshore outsourcing. And, of course, push up the prices of previously low-cost Chinese technology too.

US policy on trade tariffs for the EU and the UK remains unclear, but there are lurking risks there.

In each of these scenarios, the UK will be worst hit and least able to defend itself as it leaves the EU. All of this could leave Britain facing some of the highest technology prices in the world.

But newly global Britain could always forge a new alliance, of course. With China.

The post China trade war: Mega-problem for IT industry? appeared first on Internet of Business.

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Elon Musk just deleted Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook pages in response to #DeleteFacebook

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“Looks lame anyway,” Musk tweeted.

Oh, Elon.

Earlier this week, WhatsApp co-founder and former Facebook employee Brian Acton went to Twitter to encourage people to #DeleteFacebook in light of the company’s recent privacy scandal with Cambridge Analytica.

Turns out Elon Musk, the eccentric CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, thought it was a great idea.

After tweeting back to Acton asking, “What’s Facebook?” someone suggested Musk delete SpaceX’s corporate Facebook page.

“I didn’t realize there was one. Will do,” he replied.

Then someone suggested he also delete Tesla’s corporate Facebook page.

“Definitely. Looks lame anyway,” Musk replied.

And that was that. Both pages appear to have been deleted. SpaceX’s page had more than 2.7 million followers.

It’s possible Musk is just playing around and the pages will be restored — and I’m sure Facebook and the social media employees at SpaceX and Tesla hope that’s the case. SpaceX utilized its Facebook page to show rocket launches on Facebook Live.

But that’s not really Musk’s style. When Sonos announced on Friday that it would suspend advertising on Facebook for a week, Musk replied, “Wow, a whole week. Risky …”

There might be something deeper to this Musk vs. Facebook situation. If you’ll recall, Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a little beef last year when Zuckerberg suggested that people who created doomsday scenarios about artificial intelligence were irresponsible. Musk has said often that he thinks AI could ultimately lead to the end of civilization as we know it.

“I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited,” Musk said in response to Zuckerberg’s comments. Well okay then!

To add to the tension between the two CEOs, when a SpaceX rocket accidentally exploded during a 2016 launch, it was carrying a Facebook satellite. “I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

Musk deleting his company Facebook pages is certainly funny. But if they stay deleted, and others see how easy it is for a major corporation to cut Facebook out of its life, maybe others will follow along. And that would be bad news for Zuckerberg.

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Apple Proposes New Collection Of Accessibility Emoji, Including Prosthetic Limb, Wheelchair, More

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Apple and emoji often come hand in hand, and the company has today proposed a few new emoji to the Unicode Consortium, with each and every one of them based on the world of accessibility.

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Android OEMs: Face ID Is Too Expensive to Copy, So Have a Fingerprint Sensor Instead

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It wasn’t too long after iPhone X arrived on the scene last fall, that Android device-makers far and wide began scrambling to acquire the same biometric security and front-facing camera tech as Apple’s Face ID-powered TrueDepth sensors. Considering the scarcity of these advanced VCSEL-equipped camera modules — coupled also with the fact that Apple’s are a […]
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[Update: Samsung responds] Some Galaxy S9 and S9+ units have large dead zones on the touchscreen

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The touchscreen on your phone is the primary way you interact with it, so it absolutely needs to work. That makes problems like so-called “dead zones” or ignored/unregistered inputs among the most annoying out there. Based on reports, many are running into those types of touchscreen input problems with Samsung’s Galaxy S9+.

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[Update: Samsung responds] Some Galaxy S9 and S9+ units have large dead zones on the touchscreen was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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