LG new flagship to be called G7 ThinQ

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LG’s mobile division is going through a rough patch. The Korean company even went as far as changing the head of Mobile Communications to try and turn things around, which led to postponing the LG G7 launch and instead bringing the refreshed V30S ThinQ to MWC 2018. The ThinQ moniker stands for the new AI features that LG developed, and according to leakster evleaks, the long-awaited flagship will be actually named G7 ThinQ and will come with scene recognition features and detailed Google Assistant commands. LG G7 cases and renders by Olixar Recently another tipster with…

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Leaked HTC U12 may actually be called U12+ to make it more competitive

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We’ve heard quite a bit about the upcoming HTC Imagine, but we simply assumed that it’d be dubbed ‘U12’ since its predecessor was called U11 and there doesn’t seem to be a smaller model in sight. It turns out that the phone may actually be named U12+, despite the fact that there may not be a regular U12.

VentureBeat‘s Evan Blass learned about this from a person familiar with HTC’s plans.

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The red-hot AI hardware space gets even hotter with $56M for a startup called SambaNova Systems

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Another massive financing round for an AI chip company is coming in today, this time for SambaNova Systems — a startup founded by a pair of Stanford professors and a longtime chip company executive — to build out the next generation of hardware to supercharge AI-centric operations.

SambaNova joins an already quite large class of startups looking to attack the problem of making AI operations much more efficient and faster by rethinking the actual substrate where the computations happen. While the GPU has become increasingly popular among developers for its ability to handle the kinds of lightweight mathematics in very speedy fashion necessary for AI operations. Startups like SambaNova look to create a new platform from scratch, all the way down to the hardware, that is optimized exactly for those operations. The hope is that by doing that, it will be able to outclass a GPU in terms of speed, power usage, and even potentially the actual size of the chip. SambaNova today said it has raised a massive $ 56 million series A financing round led by GV, with participation from Redline Capital and Atlantic Bridge Ventures.

SambaNova is the product of technology from Kunle Olukotun and Chris Ré, two professors at Stanford, and led by former SVP of development Rodrigo Liang, who was also a VP at Sun for almost 8 years. When looking at the landscape, the team at SambaNova looked to work their way backwards, first identifying what operations need to happen more efficiently and then figuring out what kind of hardware needs to be in place in order to make that happen. That boils down to a lot of calculations stemming from a field of mathematics called linear algebra done very, very quickly, but it’s something that existing CPUs aren’t exactly tuned to do. And a common criticism from most of the founders in this space is that Nvidia GPUs, while much more powerful than CPUs when it comes to these operations, are still ripe for disruption.

“You’ve got these huge [computational] demands, but you have the slowing down of Moore’s law,” Olukotun said. “The question is, how do you meet these demands while Moore’s law slows. Fundamentally you have to develop computing that’s more efficient. If you look at the current approaches to improve these applications based on multiple big cores or many small, or even FPGA or GPU, we fundamentally don’t think you can get to the efficiencies you need. You need an approach that’s different in the algorithms you use and the underlying hardware that’s also required. You need a combination of the two in order to achieve the performance and flexibility levels you need in order to move forward.”

While a $ 56 million funding round for a series A might sound massive, it’s becoming a pretty standard number for startups looking to attack this space, which has an opportunity to beat massive chipmakers and create a new generation of hardware that will be omnipresent among any device that is built around artificial intelligence — whether that’s a chip sitting on an autonomous vehicle doing rapid image processing to potentially even a server within a healthcare organization training models for complex medical problems. Graphcore, another chip startup, got $ 50 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, while Cerebras Systems also received significant funding from Benchmark Capital.

Olukotun and Liang wouldn’t go into the specifics of the architecture, but they are looking to redo the operational hardware to optimize for the AI-centric frameworks that have become increasingly popular in fields like image and speech recognition. At its core, that involves a lot of rethinking of how interaction with memory occurs and what happens with heat dissipation for the hardware, among other complex problems. Apple, Google with its TPU, and reportedly Amazon have taken an intense interest in this space to design their own hardware that’s optimized for products like Siri or Alexa, which makes sense because dropping that latency to as close to zero as possible with as much accuracy in the end improves the user experience. A great user experience leads to more lock-in for those platforms, and while the larger players may end up making their own hardware, GV’s Dave Munichiello — who is joining the company’s board — says this is basically a validation that everyone else is going to need the technology soon enough.

“Large companies see a need for specialized hardware and infrastructure,” he said. “AI and large-scale data analytics are so essential to providing services the largest companies provide that they’re willing to invest in their own infrastructure, and that tells us more investment is coming. What Amazon and Google and Microsoft and Apple are doing today will be what the rest of the Fortune 100 are investing in in 5 years. I think it just creates a really interesting market and an opportunity to sell a unique product. It just means the market is really large, if you believe in your company’s technical differentiation, you welcome competition.”

There is certainly going to be a lot of competition in this area, and not just from those startups. While SambaNova wants to create a true platform, there are a lot of different interpretations of where it should go — such as whether it should be two separate pieces of hardware that handle either inference or machine training. Intel, too, is betting on an array of products, as well as a technology called Field Programmable Gate Arrays (or FPGA), which would allow for a more modular approach in building hardware specified for AI and are designed to be flexible and change over time. Both Munichiello’s and Olukotun’s arguments are that these require developers who have a special expertise of FPGA, which a sort of niche-within-a-niche that most organizations will probably not have readily available.

Nvidia has been a massive benefactor in the explosion of AI systems, but it clearly exposed a ton of interest in investing in a new breed of silicon. There’s certainly an argument for developer lock-in on Nvidia’s platforms like Cuda. But there are a lot of new frameworks, like TensorFlow, that are creating a layer of abstraction that are increasingly popular with developers. That, too represents an opportunity for both SambaNova and other startups, who can just work to plug into those popular frameworks, Olukotun said. Cerebras Systems CEO Andrew Feldman actually also addressed some of this on stage at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference last month.

“Nvidia has spent a long time building an ecosystem around their GPUs, and for the most part, with the combination of TensorFlow, Google has killed most of its value,” Feldman said at the conference. “What TensorFlow does is, it says to researchers and AI professionals, you don’t have to get into the guts of the hardware. You can write at the upper layers and you can write in Python, you can use scripts, you don’t have to worry about what’s happening underneath. Then you can compile it very simply and directly to a CPU, TPU, GPU, to many different hardwares, including ours. If in order to do work you have to be the type of engineer that can do hand-tuned assembly or can live deep in the guts of hardware there will be no adoption… We’ll just take in their TensorFlow, we don’t have to worry about anything else.”

(As an aside, I was once told that Cuda and those other lower-level platforms are really used by AI wonks like Yann LeCun building weird AI stuff in the corners of the Internet.)

There are, also, two big question marks for SambaNova: first, it’s very new, having started in just November while many of these efforts for both startups and larger companies have been years in the making. Munichiello’s answer to this is that the development for those technologies did, indeed, begin a while ago — and that’s not a terrible thing as SambaNova just gets started in the current generation of AI needs. And the second, among some in the valley, is that most of the industry just might not need hardware that’s does these operations in a blazing fast manner. The latter, you might argue, could just be alleviated by the fact that so many of these companies are getting so much funding, with some already reaching close to billion-dollar valuations.

But, in the end, you can now add SambaNova to the list of AI startups that have raised enormous rounds of funding — one that stretches out to include a myriad of companies around the world like Graphcore and Cerebras Systems, as well as a lot of reported activity out of China with companies like Cambricon Technology and Horizon Robotics. This effort does, indeed, require significant investment not only because it’s hardware at its base, but it has to actually convince customers to deploy that hardware and start tapping the platforms it creates, which supporting existing frameworks hopefully alleviates.

“The challenge you see is that the industry, over the last ten years, has underinvested in semiconductor design,” Liang said. “If you look at the innovations at the startup level all the way through big companies, we really haven’t pushed the envelope on semiconductor design. It was very expensive and the returns were not quite as good. Here we are, suddenly you have a need for semiconductor design, and to do low-power design requires a different skillset. If you look at this transition to intelligent software, it’s one of the biggest transitions we’ve seen in this industry in a long time. You’re not accelerating old software, you want to create that platform that’s flexible enough [to optimize these operations] — and you want to think about all the pieces. It’s not just about machine learning.”

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Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Called ‘Worthy Rival’ to iPhone X as Reviews Hit

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Galaxy S9 and S9+ reviews are officially out, and they’re mostly positive. The consensus is that Samsung’s latest smartphones are iterative but improved versions of its already-impressive Galaxy S8 devices.


We’ve linked a handful of the reviews below for anyone interested, but since we’re an Apple-centric website, we’ve chose to specifically highlight some comparisons made to Apple and the iPhone X in particular.

Highlights

The Wall Street Journal‘s David Pierce believes that Samsung and the Galaxy S9 once again “set the bar for smartphone design”:

Nobody makes better-looking phones than Samsung. Last year’s Galaxy S8 was a particular gem of a device, glassy and stark with that “infinity display” stretching almost entirely across the front. It was thoughtfully designed on a level only Apple used to be able to achieve. As a result, it flew off shelves.

So why change anything? Nine versions in, Samsung feels it has landed on the right design for its Galaxy S phones. A company spokeswoman compared Samsung’s approach to the way a luxury car maker might build new models: Nip and tuck, but dont change what people already love.

CNBC‘s Todd Haselton described the Galaxy S9 as “a worthy rival to the iPhone X” in his review. However, he said Samsung still lacks a Galaxy S smartphone that “pushes the boundaries a bit more” like the iPhone X.

I don’t normally compare Android phones with the iPhone because the product ecosystems are so different […] There’s no question the Galaxy S9 is a worthy Android rival to the iPhone X, with a great screen, camera, wireless charging and more. If you’re buying an Android phone and don’t like Apple products for whatever reason, this is a safe bet.

This brings up a larger point: Samsung’s Galaxy S9 feels a lot like the move from the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 8. It’s an upgrade, but not really a huge bump in a lot of ways. Samsung needs something in the Galaxy S range that pushes the boundaries a bit more, like the iPhone X does in Apple’s lineup.

Samsung finally included stereo speakers on the Galaxy S9, and Haselton believes they sound “noticeably better” than those on the iPhone X.


The Verge‘s Dan Seifert said Samsung’s new “AR Emoji” feature is “built just to compete with Apple” and “not very good”:

There are a couple issues with Samsung’s AR Emoji. First, Samsung isn’t using any special tech to capture your face or movements, it’s just relying on the front or rear camera, so tracking is bad. Second, the characters it creates are on the wrong side of creepy, and everyone I’ve tested it with has been completely turned off with the results. The animal characters are similarly weird. It’s definitely something that Samsung built just to compete with Apple, and it’s not very good.

Quartz‘s Mike Murphy said what irks him most about the iPhone X is that it can only be unlocked with Face ID or a passcode, whereas the Galaxy S9 has a fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, facial recognition, or a passcode.

However, he adds that the Galaxy S9’s iris scanner and facial recognition system are both slower than Face ID on the iPhone X.

While it’s nice that there are multiple ways to unlock the S9, the iris and face scanners aren’t as quick as the iPhone X. The iris scanner requires you to hold the phone pretty much at eye level and takes a few moments to scan, whereas Apple’s Face ID technology seems to work almost instantaneously, at a range of angles.

Mashable‘s Raymond Wong touted the Galaxy S9 camera’s variable aperture, but he said low-light photos aren’t necessarily better than those shot with an iPhone X or Google Pixel 2. Most reviews agree it is a matter of personal preference.

Yes, the camera is smart enough to identify the amount of light in a scene and switch to the suitable aperture, but the photos don’t stomp all over the iPhone X’s or Pixel 2’s shots, even in low light scenarios.

The iPhone X still takes the prize for color accuracy. The S9 camera still over-saturates and over-processes photos. And the Pixel 2 XL is still the sharpness and low-light champion.

More Reviews

Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ can be pre-ordered on Samsung’s website for $720 and $840 respectively. The smartphones launch March 16.

Related Roundup: iPhone X
Buyer’s Guide: iPhone X (Buy Now)

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New ‘mass-appeal’ Fitbit watch to be called Versa

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Last week Wareable revealed photos and details of an upcoming Fitbit smartwatch. The wearable company, on its latest earnings call, had claimed that this future watch would have “mass appeal.” According to famed leakster Evan Blass, this watch will reportedly be dubbed ‘Versa,’ just like Nissan’s cheap little subcompact car.

The Versa, which was thought to be a successor to the Fitbit Blaze, is said to run the same Fitbit OS software that we first saw on the Ionic.

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Google just launched a Slack competitor called Hangouts Chat

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Move over, Slack — here comes Google.

This week, Google announced in a blog post that the newest addition to G-Suite has officially come out of beta testing and has been widely released for Mac, iOS, PC, and Android. Called Hangouts Chat, the service is a messaging platform created to help teams collaborate easily and efficiently. Much like Slack, it’s an ideal communication app for the workplace.

Hangouts chat is a part of Google’s core G Suite collection for businesses, meaning that in order to use it you do have to have a paid G Suite account (or, if you’re looking to start an account, a business complete with domain name). The cool thing about that, though, is that because the G Suite programs are all interlinked, teams can share and discuss documents, presentations, and other content created with Google all in one cohesive space. Users can upload items from Drive and work together on Docs, Sheets, or Slides as well as start and join online Hangouts meetings. And if you don’t have immediate access to the room members, past conversations or shared files you’re looking for, you can find them using Google’s powerful search.

Do your team members live halfway across the world? What if you have a really large team? No problem. According to Google’s blog post, Hangouts Chat currently supports 28 languages, and each room can support up to 8,000 members. And because it’s available across multiple platforms, you don’t have to be glued to your computer to use it — you can collaborate even when you’re out and about.

Perhaps the coolest and most helpful features within Hangouts Chat, however, are the bots. The service comes equipped with 25 bots to help you get the most out of your conversations. There are pretty much bots for everything you’d need, including ones that integrate directly with other G Suite apps. For instance, the Google Drive bot (which lets you know when a file has been shared with you) and the Meet bot (which integrates directly with your Google Calendar to schedule meetings for you when you @mention it with the information). The company also says that many third-party apps have also already built Hangouts Chat bots of their own concerning a myriad of different topics, all of which you can freely utilize:

  • Accounting: Xero
  • Analytics: Statsbot
  • Communications: Dialpad, RingCentral, Uberconference and Vonage
  • CRM: ProsperWorks, Salesforce and Streak
  • Customer Service: Freshdesk
  • File Sharing: Egnyte
  • Human Resources: Disco, Polly and Zenefits
  • Meditation & Mindfulness: Stop, Breathe & Think
  • Productivity: Lucidchart and Zoom.ai
  • Project and task Management: Jira, MeisterTask, Trello and Wrike
  • Travel: Kayak

So, interested in giving Hangouts Chat a try? If you already have a G Suite account, all you have to do is go to the Hangouts Chat page or download the app for your desktop or mobile devices. Chat is compatible with Hangouts, so it’ll work with all your existing contacts. If you don’t already have a G Suite account, you can sign up or try it free for 14 days by going here. Finally, if you’re struggling to get started, you can check out the Google Learning Center for help.

Questions?

What do you think about Hangouts Chat? Would you use it for your business communications? Share in the comments!

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Quick Takes: Apple Watch Apps Called ‘Frustrating’ to Develop, iOS 11 Jailbreak With Cydia, and More

In addition to our standalone articles covering the latest Apple news and rumors at MacRumors, this Quick Takes column provides a bite-sized recap of other headlines about Apple and its competitors on weekdays.

Wednesday, February 28

iOS 11 jailbreak released with Cydia, which turns 10 today: Cydia was released by Jay Freeman, better known as saurik, on February 28, 2008. The unofficial App Store is the gateway to installing apps, tweaks, themes, and other files on jailbroken iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, outside of Apple’s control.

Just yesterday, a new jailbreak called Electra was released for iOS 11 through iOS 11.1.2. It is the first iOS 11 jailbreak to include Cydia, although it is a modified version that may cause issues, so proceed at your own risk.

Commentary: While jailbreaking has faded in popularity over the years, Cydia remains a centerpiece of the community after a decade. Freeman is still in the process of updating Cydia and its frameworks to be fully compatible with iOS 11, so it might be a good idea to hold off on using the Electra jailbreak to avoid problems.

Waymo’s self-driving cars have now covered five million miles on public roads: Waymo says the first million miles took six years to complete, while the fifth million took just under three months, as its testing rapidly speeds up.

To celebrate the milestone, Waymo shared a 360-degree video today that reveals how its self-driving vehicles view their surroundings, recognize objects like cars and pedestrians, and predict what those things will do. The video combines footage and real-time data from a trip around Phoenix, Arizona.


Commentary: A recent report claimed Apple is accelerating development of its own self-driving software to compete with the likes of Waymo, but it sounds like the iPhone maker may have significant ground to make up still.

Flutter enters beta, Sketch 49 released with iOS 11 design templates: Bohemian Coding’s popular app design tool Sketch has been updated with Apple’s official iOS 11 design templates, including tab bars, status bars, buttons, and other user interface elements for developers to incorporate into their apps.


In related news, Google’s new mobile UI framework Flutter entered beta yesterday. Flutter aims to help developers more quickly craft high-quality native interfaces for both iOS and Android, with support for both iOS 11 and the iPhone X on the Apple side. Beginners can read Flutter’s Getting Started guide.


Commentary: Sketch and Flutter can help developers to more quickly design iPhone and iPad apps that are consistent with iOS 11’s design language.

Marco Arment says developing Apple Watch apps is “extremely frustrating and limited”: Apple doesn’t give developers access to the same watchOS frameworks that it uses for its own Apple Watch apps. Instead, it offers WatchKit, which Arment argues can only be used to create “baby” apps.

Image Credit: MacStories

Commentary: There has certainly been a trend of some developers discontinuing their Apple Watch apps in recent months, including notable brands like Amazon, eBay, Google Maps, and Slack. Apple providing developers with expanded watchOS resources could encourage those companies to reconsider.

For more Apple news and rumors coverage, visit our Front Page, Mac Blog, and iOS Blog. Also visit our forums to join in the discussion.

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Twitter is finally rolling out a ‘save for later’ feature called Bookmarks

It’s been one of the most popular Twitter product requests for years.

Finally!

Twitter is rolling out a new feature that lets users save tweets in a private section of the app so they’re easy to find later on. The new feature, called Bookmarks, should let users easily save articles they want to read or videos they want to watch but might not have time for in the moment.

A GIF of Twitter’s new bookmarks feature. Twitter

It has been a popular feature request for years — and not just from those of us at Recode. Twitter first announced last fall that it was building Bookmarks, and now it’s finally arriving to users.

People have used workarounds to save tweets for a long time, including hearting/”Liking” tweets to make them easier to find later, or sending them to themselves via email or direct message. Both options were inefficient.

In the scheme of things, Bookmarks is a small change. It’s not the kind of feature that’s going to have a notable impact on Twitter’s user growth or revenue. It’s not going to help with Twitter’s abuse problems. It’s just a simple way to make Twitter better.

Bookmarks will begin rolling out to users on Wednesday and should be available to everyone in the next day or so, according to a company spokesperson.


Recode – All

Apple launches in-house employee healthcare service, called AC Wellness


Apple is bringing employee healthcare in-house with a new line of clinics, called AC Wellness. On its website, the venture describes itself as “an independent medical practice dedicated to delivering compassionate, effective healthcare to the Apple employee population.” From what we can tell, it seems it aims to cover the functions of a primary care clinic, but with all the high-end trappings you’d expect from Apple. The About page of AC Wellness promises “high-quality care,” and a “unique patient experience.” It also states care will be “enabled by technology,” which isn’t particularly surprising, given health-tech has been an area of…

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