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Industry & Technology

Gartner, IDC agree that PC sales are up—but they don’t agree what a PC is

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Does this Chromebook count as a traditional PC? Gartner says no, IDC says yes. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

We've been hearing for quite some time that the traditional PC is dying, but it's not quite dead yet. Business analyst firms Gartner and IDC tackle the numbers differently, but both agree that sales of traditional PCs were up—in some regions, way up—in Q2 2019.

While both firms reported market growth in year-on-year PC sales, their actual figures differed. IDC reported a 4.7% growth in Q2 sales, where Gartner only reported 1.5%. The two firms' numbers for US regional sales differed even more sharply, with Gartner claiming a 0.4% loss and IDC claiming a "high single digit gain."

We spoke to IDC's Jitesh Ubrani about the difference, and it turns out the two companies don't quite agree on what is or is not a traditional PC. IDC counts Chromebooks as traditional PCs but doesn't count Microsoft Surface tablets; Gartner does count Surface but doesn't count Chromebooks. The higher numbers from IDC indicate a stronger market for Chromebooks than Surface, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone with children in North American schools, where the inexpensive and easily locked-down Chromebooks are ubiquitous.

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Facebook’s FTC fine will be $5 billion—or one month’s worth of revenue

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 10:26pm

Enlarge / Thumbs down. (credit: Getty Images | Ted Soqui )

The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook have reportedly agreed on a $5 billion fine that would settle the FTC's privacy investigation into the social network.

With Facebook having reported $15 billion in revenue last quarter, the $5 billion fine would amount to one month's worth of revenue.

The FTC voted 3-2 to approve the settlement this week, with three yes votes from Republican commissioners and two no votes from Democrats, The Wall Street Journal reported today, citing anonymous sources. Democrats on the commission were "pushing for tougher oversight," the Journal wrote.

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Prominent anti-vaxxers lose New York court case over religious exemptions

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / Anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a public hearing on vaccine related bills in 2015. (credit: Getty | Portland Press Herald)

A New York State Supreme Court Justice on Friday rejected a request by 55 anti-vaccine families to block a recently passed state law eliminating exemptions to school vaccination requirements on the basis of religious beliefs.

According to the families’ attorneys, Justice Michael Mackey cited other court decisions that have held that states have the power to impose such restrictions to protect public health from the spread of infectious disease. Justice Mackey added that the families were unlikely to succeed if they tried to continue with the case.

Nevertheless, the attorneys in the case—Michael Sussman and the prominent anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—vowed to keep fighting. Kennedy’s anti-vaccine nonprofit, Children’s Health Defense, released a statement saying, “While this decision is a set-back, it isn’t the final decision. The case will move forward with more decisions to come.”

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Want to be more creative? Playing Minecraft can help, new study finds

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 8:32pm

Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile's latest study suggests that playing some video games, like Minecraft, can have a positive impact on creativity.

Minecraft is one of the most popular computer games, having sold more than 100 million copies since its release in 2011. Claims that it boosts creativity have been circulating for several years, and now there's a bit of scientific evidence to back up that claim, according to the results of a new study published in Creativity Research Journal.

Co-author Douglas Gentile is a psychologist at Iowa State University. His speciality is studying media influence on children, including video games, television, film, music, even advertising. That includes both positive and negative effects, from video game addiction and a possible link between media violence and aggression, to how playing certain games can improve surgeons' skills.

"The literature looks like it's conflicted when it truly isn't," said Gentile. "There's studies showing games increase aggression, and others showing it can increase prosocial behavior. From the outside it looks like they must be good or bad, but that's not the way the world really works. This dichotomous thinking doesn't allow us to actually see what's going on, because we pick one idea and then we apply it to everything."

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Teardowns and benchmarks: All the details about Apple’s newest 13-inch MacBook Pro

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 7:30pm

As is tradition, repair guide site and parts vendor iFixit tore down the latest Mac to see what's different inside and to assess its repairability. This time it's the new, entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which replaced the previous Touch Bar-less low-end MacBook Pro in Apple's store last week. Combine that with now-public Geekbench benchmarks of the machine, and we have a clear picture of what the lowest-price MacBook Pro model is all about.

Let's start with the benchmarks, as dug up by MacRumors: the refreshed low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro managed an average 4,639 Geekbench 4 score in single-core performance and 16,665 in multi-core. Compare that with 4,341 and 9,084, respectively, in the previous bottom-tier 13-inch MacBook Pro, and you're looking at up to 83% faster performance in the new machine.

No surprises there; the previous one hadn't really been updated in quite a while. But it doesn't quite meet Apple's marketing claim that the new machine is "two times more powerful" than its predecessor.

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Right-wingers say Twitter’s “bias” against them should be illegal

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 7:20pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaking at the White House on July 11, 2019. (credit: The White House | YouTube)

A large collection of right-wing opinionators, meme-makers, and pundits joined President Trump and a handful of lawmakers at the White House yesterday for a social media summit to discuss the supposed "bias" that platforms such as Twitter, Google, and Facebook have against conservative voices.

In a series of tweets prior to the meeting, Trump said the summit would be "very big and very important."

The president, who regularly posts messages covered by most media outlets to his 61.9 million Twitter followers, 13.7 million Instagram followers, and 25.6 million Facebook followers, added that a "big subject ... will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination, and suppression practiced by certain companies."

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The latest barrier to 5G speeds? The summer

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 7:08pm

Enlarge / 5G is here, but that doesn't mean you have to buy into it.

Thermal throttling is a fact of life for smartphones. SoCs generate a lot of heat, and when this heat can't be dissipated, processors react by slowing down and thereby generating less heat. Usually this is just an issue for heavy 3D gaming sessions or a phone directly exposed to sunlight for a long time, like when mounted on a car windshield. In the era of 5G, though, heat is also an issue for your modem.

While the vast majority of people don't yet have access to a 5G phone or 5G service, PCMag's Sascha Segan has been flying around the country testing out the carriers' nascent implementation of 5G. So far, the heat generated by Qualcomm's first-generation chips is an issue. Segan writes:

On a hot Las Vegas morning, my two Galaxy S10 5G phones kept overheating and dropping to 4G. This behavior is happening with all of the millimeter-wave, first-generation, Qualcomm X50-based phones when temperatures hit or exceed 85 degrees. We saw it with T-Mobile in New York, with Verizon in Providence, and now with AT&T in Las Vegas. It's happened on Samsung and LG phones, with Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia network hardware.

As we wrote back in December, Qualcomm's first-generation 5G design is a significant regression from the fully integrated 4G chips we've been used to. A modern 4G LTE smartphone packs everything into a single main chip, which houses all of the usual computer components along with the LTE modem. Today's 5G design requires that same chip, along with a separate chip for the 5G mmWave modem and several more chips for the mmWave antenna modules. The result is that 5G takes up a lot more space and generates a lot more heat than 4G, and when this heat gets to be too much, all that 5G circuitry just shuts off.

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US gov’t growing a record 2-ton cannabis crop—but still won’t let others grow

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 6:22pm

Enlarge / Marijuana plants grow in a greenhouse in Colorado, not for research. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

With the recent explosion of cannabis access and CBD products, federally funded scientists are craving more research on the potential risks and benefits. But if any researchers were hoping for more varied sources of cannabis—sources that could better reflect what patients have access to, for instance—they may be left holding their breath.

Three years after saying it wanted more suppliers of cannabis for research, the US government continues to hold a monopoly on growing the crop. While more than two dozen entities have submitted applications to the Drug Enforcement Administration to become growers, the government has dragged its feet in processing the paperwork and is instead stepping up its own crop; its exclusive supplier, the University of Mississippi, is growing 2 tons this year, the largest crop in five years, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Orthopedics researcher Emily Lindley at the University of Colorado and other researchers are not happy with the situation, according to the AP. Lindley, who is studying whether cannabis with high THC levels could be an alternative to addictive opioids for chronic back pain, says she wants more suppliers than just Ole Miss, which has had limited strain varieties and product availability. “We want to study what our patients are using,” she said.

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Evidence points to another Switch hardware revision on the horizon

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 5:44pm

Enlarge / Could changes be coming to the Tegra X1 chip that powers the Nintendo Switch?

Wednesday's announcement of the Switch Lite put to rest months of credible rumors that a miniature, portable-focused Switch was on the horizon. But Nintendo still has yet to confirm the other side of some of those rumors: suggestions that the company is planning to upgrade the Switch's internal hardware in the near future.

Nintendo CEO Doug Bowser recently told CNET that no further updates to the original Switch hardware are coming this year. But that hasn't stopped Nintendo-watchers from trying to glean information about Nintendo's future hardware plans from various tea leaves.

Following the evidence

The most concrete of these hints is an FCC request (noticed by The Verge) that Nintendo filed July 2, seeking a "class II permission change" for the original Switch model. The request says the new hardware revision will feature a "change of SoC type," a "change of NAND memory type," and a new CPU board to accommodate those changes.

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Charter gets final approval to stay in NY despite breaking merger promise

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 4:32pm

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle in West Lake Hills, Texas. (credit: Tony Webster)

Charter Communications has received final approval to stay in New York State despite violating merger commitments related to its 2016 purchase of Time Warner Cable.

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) had revoked its approval of the merger and ordered Charter to sell the former Time Warner Cable system in July 2018. Charter repeatedly failed to meet deadlines for broadband expansions that were required in exchange for merger approval, state officials said.

But Charter and state officials struck a deal in April, and yesterday the PSC approved the settlement.

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Ford-VW alliance means more EVs for Europe, joint Argo AI investment

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 3:40pm

Enlarge / Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess (L) and Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett (R) announced their companies are expanding their global alliance to include electric vehicles and will collaborate with Argo AI to introduce autonomous vehicle technology in the US and Europe. (credit: Sam VarnHagen)

On Friday, Ford and Volkswagen made official news that first leaked last week. The pair are strengthening their alliance to work together on those hottest of emerging automotive technologies, electric vehicles and autonomous driving.

Equal partners in Argo AI

VW will become an equal partner in the self-driving startup Argo AI, putting in $1 billion in cash and another $1.6 billion in the form of Audi's Autonomous Intelligent Driving spinoff, which will become Argo AI's European center of operations. Over the next three years, VW will also buy an additional $500 million of Argo AI shares from Ford. (Ford will still complete its billion-dollar investment in Argo AI). Until now, Argo AI has operated as a de facto Ford subsidiary, but this investment makes VW an equal partner, with the remaining shares in the company reserved for employee compensation.

Argo AI's technology will be incorporated into both Ford and VW vehicles as part of each company's plans to offer geofenced driverless robotaxis or goods delivery services in the US and Europe. "While Ford and Volkswagen remain independent and fiercely competitive in the marketplace, teaming up and working with Argo AI on this important technology allows us to deliver unmatched capability, scale, and geographic reach," said Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett in a statement.

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Twitch streamers banned for dangerous driving

BBC Technology News - July 12, 2019 - 2:46pm
Live-streaming platform Twitch has banned several people after they filmed themselves while driving.

Donald Trump blasts Facebook’s Libra, demands strict regulation

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 2:17pm

Enlarge / Donald Trump speaks at the White House on July 11, 2019. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is not a fan of Libra, Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency, the president made clear in a series of tweets on Thursday evening.

"Facebook Libra’s 'virtual currency' will have little standing or dependability.," Trump tweeted. "If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks."

Trump is the latest—and most high-profile—public official to raise doubts Facebook's cryptocurrency plans. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell warned that "Libra raises many serious concerns regarding privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability."

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Do politicians understand social media platforms?

BBC Technology News - July 12, 2019 - 1:06pm
The rise in social media platforms means it can be a lot easier to get in touch with some MPs.

Rory Cellan-Jones: 'My proton beam therapy diary'

BBC Technology News - July 12, 2019 - 12:41pm
Rory Cellan-Jones kept a video diary of the proton beam therapy he received for his eye tumour.

Amazon Music Unlimited is growing faster than Apple Music or Spotify, report says

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / An Amazon Echo smart speaker. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Amazon grew its Music Unlimited streaming service by more than 70% in the past year, according to data by Midia Research published by the Financial Times. The service currently has approximately 32 million subscribers. However, the report didn't clarify whether that includes trial subscriptions as well as paid ones.

Amazon Unlimited Music is still smaller than its biggest competitors. Apple services head Eddie Cue recently revealed that Apple Music has about 60 million subscribers. Spotify has more than 100 million. Google has offered a variety of streaming services via YouTube that it has shuttered, rebranded, and shuffled around, making it difficult to quantify the company's traction with music listeners. In any case, Amazon still has a lot of catching up to do.

Midia Research credits the rapid growth of Amazon Unlimited Music to the proliferation of Amazon Echo smart speakers and other devices with Alexa. While these devices can play music from other services like Spotify, they default to Amazon services in many cases. For example, if you ask Alexa to play David Bowie's "Heroes" on a Sonos One speaker, Amazon's streaming music service will be used. You have to say "Play David Bowie's 'Heroes' on Spotify" to get a different result.

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The 2019 Volkswagen Golf R is king of the hot hatches

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 12:15pm

From its earliest days, the automobile has been a status symbol, where badge has mattered often as much as engineering. There's a human tendency to pigeonhole, and we infer much about a person simply by knowing what they drive. Occasionally though, something comes along that transcends this class structure: the original Mini, which appealed to the smart set in 1960s Europe, for instance; or the Ford F-150, used as often to commute to an office as to a construction site. The Volkswagen Golf definitely falls into that category.

When it was first launched in Europe in 1974, the Mk1 Golf was utilitarian, a people's car to replace the Beetle. But the secret of a classless car is that it's anything but. Peter Sellers might have driven a Mini at the height of stardom, but his was lavishly trimmed by the coachbuilder Radford. Suburban dads can spend as much on a leather-lined F-150 as they could on a big BMW the way their forebears did in the '90s. And the Golf broke out of being a mere people's car when it added the GTI to the lineup. VW didn't invent the hot hatch, but it did execute it probably better than anyone else. The company certainly advertised it better, and the car was as popular with yuppies as it was with middle-class moms.

Take a GTI and turn it up to 11

More recently, VW decided it could sell even more Golfs if it added a variant above the giant-killing GTI—enter the Golf R. If the idea behind a GTI was to take a front-wheel-drive hatchback and give it more power and better suspension, the R takes it a bit further. Now there's an even more powerful engine—a 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder with 288hp (215kW) and 280lb-ft (380Nm). To achieve this with VW's ubiquitous EA888 engine, the R engineers gave it a new cylinder head (plus valves and springs), a new turbocharger, new pistons, and a new injection system.

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Stuber review: The world’s worst Uber ride becomes pure popcorn comedy

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 11:45am

AUSTIN, Texas—July has barely gotten underway, but we have finally reached peak 2019. This weekend, a film whose entire premise hinges unironically on the modern app-driven gig economy will hit theaters.

"Uber hates this movie, by the way," comedian Kumail Nanjiani said after a crowd of RTX Austin 2019 attendees just watched his ridesharing-meets-'80s-buddy-cop flick, Stuber. "It's about a guy who kidnaps someone in an Uber—it's like if Titanic was made for Carnival cruise ships."

If hearing "Uber" and "movie" that close together immediately gives you chills, don't fret: Stuber proves to be less of a marketing grab than Stranger Things 3. The ubiquitous modern taxi company had no direct involvement even though it had a role to play, says Director Michael Dowse. That's because of the Kleenex principle: using a fake brand would take people out of the film immediately.

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Google probes leak of smart speaker recordings

BBC Technology News - July 12, 2019 - 11:33am
A Belgian broadcaster listened to 1,000 conversations logged by Google's smart speakers.

Lion King remake review: Roaring visuals, but the execution is a hairball

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 11:30am

Enlarge / You would not like Adult Simba when he's angry. (credit: Disney)

You have definitely seen The Lion King before. That sentence applies to both the 1994 Disney classic and next week's CGI-filled remake. This new version, premiering worldwide on Friday, July 19, has been remade in such a stark, scene-by-scene manner that there's no point in slapping a spoiler warning on this article. Every character from the box-office-dominating Disney classic has returned to retread every plot point and sing every familiar, chart-topping song.

But Disney wants very badly to convince you that you have not seen The Lion King like this, and in some ways, that sales pitch is accurate. I can confirm that the latest film from Director Jon Favreau is enough of a technical masterpiece to usher in a new level of the question, "is that CGI?" Photorealistic flora and fauna pack each frame of this film, which Favreau directed, in part, by putting on VR headsets and aiming his virtual camera at raw digital assets.

But while Favreau clearly has the right technology⁠—and the right attitude about how to render his star characters—his efforts are hobbled by the baggage that is a beloved, bubbly Disney film.

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