TIME Software

BlackBerry Has a Virtual Assistant Now

BlackBerry Assistant
The BlackBerry Assistant app is meant to compete with Apple's Siri, Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistants BlackBerry

Because you can't have a modern smartphone platform without advanced voice commands.

BlackBerry is still fighting for survival as a mobile phone maker, and its latest move is to add a virtual assistant on par with Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Windows Phone’s Cortana.

Newer BlackBerry phones already support voice commands, but the BlackBerry Assistant sounds more advanced. Users can set reminders, launch apps, send BBM messages, search through e-mail and calendars, listen to recent e-mails, set the ringer to “phone calls only” and find out what’s happening on Twitter. All of these actions happen within the app, which apparently adapts to the user’s behavior and becomes more accurate over time.

While it doesn’t sound like a major departure from virtual assistants on other platforms, the ability to use more than just a rigid set of voice commands has become table stakes on mobile devices. BlackBerry needs this kind of feature if it wants to hang onto its mobile device business.

BlackBerry Assistant will be part of the company’s BlackBerry 10.3 software. While there’s no word on when BlackBerry 10.3 will launch, it will be built into the BlackBerry Passport–a phone with a square screen and physical keyboard–when it arrives in September.

TIME technology

Here Are the Other Companies Comcast Is Gobbling Up

Comcast Headquarters
The Comcast Center, which is Comcast's Corporate headquarters, is seen in Philadelphia, Penn. William Thomas Cain—Getty Images

Recent tech acquisitions put the cable giant in a position to dominate the digital video market and expand its broadband reach

While federal regulators, Congress, and most of K Street have been focused on Comcast’s massive, $45-billion proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast has been busy snapping up smaller fare.

In the last four months, Comcast has acquired two new tech companies, PowerCloud Systems and FreeWheel Media, both of which will help the cable giant touch nearly every aspect of how we use broadband Internet in our homes and offices, and especially how we watch video online.

But while Comcast has celebrated its newest acquisitions, its competitors, as well as a handful of consumer interest groups, are bracing themselves for the worst. Comcast, which owns NBC-Universal and is already the biggest pay-TV and broadband provider in the country, will likely use these new technologies to increase its dominance in both the broadband and online video markets.

PowerCloud, which Comcast acquired on Monday, has designed new technology to help people to monitor and control how broadband Internet is consumed in their homes and offices. The company’s consumer-facing app, SkyDog, keeps track of which computers or devices are accessing the Internet, what sites they’re visiting, when, and what their bandwidth use is at different times of day.

FreeWheel, which Comcast acquired in April, is an online advertising company dedicated to placing ads in most of the biggest media conglomerates’ videos and TV shows streamed online.

Both PowerCloud and FreeWheel, while they do very different things, put Comcast in a position to take advantage of two major—and majorly lucrative—trends in the industry. The first is what’s known as the “Internet of Things.” As Internet-connected appliances—like thermostats, lighting systems, refrigerators and coffee makers—begin to proliferate in our homes, PowerCloud’s technology could be used to prioritize certain devices at certain times of day. Meanwhile, FreeWheel could, say, place coffee ads on a coffee maker just when it senses that you’re running low on beans.

The second—and even more immediate—trend is that Americans are in the process of shifting, en masse, from watching shows on their TV sets to watching them a variety of digital devices, like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Online video consumption grew by 71% in the U.S. between 2012 and 2013, according to Nielsen. FreeWheel, which is among the biggest mobile-advertising firms in the country, is poised to do well in that market, which has grown by 83% since last year, according to eMarketer, a market research firm.

Rival media and cable companies, meanwhile, are worried that Comcast’s acquisitions give an enormously powerful company even more power. For example, FreeWheel’s client base includes most of Comcast’s biggest competitors in the broadcast and pay-TV space, including Viacom, 21st Century Fox, Time Warner, and Walt Disney. Comcast’s rivals worry that it could use FreeWheel to access a host of valuable metrics about its competition, including what demographics are viewing which of their shows, when people are watching, and how much they are being paid for ad placement.

Comcast representatives have brushed aside such concerns. “FreeWheel operates as an independent business and continues to support the needs of its broad customer base of programmers and distributors,” said Rob Holmes, a vice president of advanced advertising at Comcast. “Our goal is to accelerate their business—in fact, they’ve already added new customers this year—so it’s in our best interest to respect client data and ensure FreeWheel maintains its autonomy.”

Media executives, for their part, have mostly remained pretty quiet, griping to reporters only anonymously. Some say they are worried about publicly complaining about Comcast’s recent acquisition because survival in the pay TV space requires working closely with Comcast. After all, Viacom, 21st Century Fox, and all the rest rely on Comcast, which is by far the biggest distribution network in the country, to pay billions in retransmission fees and to deliver networks’ TV content to tens of millions of consumers’ homes.

As for Comcast’s more recent acquisition of PowerCloud, some public interest advocates have expressed concerns about how the company will use that new technology. Comcast has said it’s too early to tell exactly how it will be implemented. A company representative said one plan is to use the technology to give consumers better parental controls, so that parents keep their child from accessing certain digital content. But critics say Comcast could use that technology, as well as strategic pricing, to control how consumers access different content on different devices. The company could, for example, make it easy, convenient and cheap for subscribers to watch certain, Comcast-approved content on all their devices, while making it inconvenient—or simply more expensive—to watch non-Comcast-approved content.

As part of its merger with NBC-Universal in 2011, Comcast promised to abide by now-defunct rules governing “net neutrality”—the notion that a broadband provider must treat all content equally—through 2018. But in today’s policy and technological climate, it’s unclear what that means. In April, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules on net neutrality specifying that broadband Internet providers, like Comcast, would be allowed to accept payments to “prioritize” some websites’ content over others, and to stream certain videos faster than others.

TIME Video Games

Adam West Will Play Adam West in Lego Batman 3

The celebrity octogenarian just popped up playing his bespectacled self in Traveller's Tales's forthcoming Batman three-quel.

Adam West won’t be in the new Batman vs. Superman flick, as far as I know anyway, but he will show up in Traveller’s Tales’s Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham when that game ships for every system under the sun later this year.

The LEGO Batman team confirmed the pop icon’s presence via Twitter:

Traveller’s Tales has yet to make a genuinely bad Lego game, and that’s saying something. They keep churning out the same Lego game (more or less), it’s true, making these installments more like confectionaries you want to indulge sparingly. That’s another way of saying if you’ve never played a Lego Batman game, this one may be worth paying attention to.

West joins a voice cast that includes Troy Baker and Travis Willingham (reprising roles as Batman and Superman, respectively) as well as several others, comprising more than 150 DC characters in all. According to Warner Bros., West will also join the Lego Batman 3 panel at San Diego Comic-Con on July 27.

TIME facebook

Nielsen Partners Up With Facebook to Track Television-Viewing Habits

Facebook insists that it will not use viewing statistics to entice advertisers

Correction appended 5:03pm ET

Nielsen, the television-ratings company, will be partnering with Facebook to ascertain what television viewers are watching on their tablets and other mobile devices.

In the past, Nielsen solely tracked meters on home televisions, but now finds this old system has become antiquated with the increasing ubiquity of entertainment in the digital age. Beginning in the fall, Facebook will send aggregated data on the age and gender of users watching TV shows on their smartphones and tablets to Nielsen.

The partnership, which was originally announced in October 2013, is courting controversy following a controversial study in which Facebook manipulated the posts of its users to track their moods.

The social-media platform hopes to make their intentions more transparent in the forthcoming partnership, after the mood study called their privacy policies into question. “We have worked with Nielsen under strong privacy principles,” a Facebook spokesperson said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Nielsen also released a statement defending the partnership: “Nielsen takes nothing more seriously than consumer privacy and we have a well-established reputation for protecting privacy spanning several decades. Consumer privacy is a top priority for us and we work with leading privacy advocates to ensure our products meet or exceed industry privacy standards.”

Although the social-media company insists that it will not use viewing statistics to entice advertisers, some opponents argue that Facebook could take advantage of its users’ habits, Tech Times reports.

Along with Facebook, Nielsen will also working with Experian Marketing Services and insists all data collected by outside companies will remain anonymous.

The original article misstated how Facebook will share data with Nielsen. Facebook will provide Nielsen with aggregated age and gender data on certain users.

TIME Wearables

Android Wear Face-Off: LG G Watch vs. Samsung Gear Live

LG's G Watch (left) and Samsung's Gear Live (right) Jared Newman for TIME

How to pick a smartwatch if you're one of Android Wear's earliest adopters.

Let’s say you plan to ignore the advice of most reviews and buy an Android Wear smartwatch right now. Even though more stylish designs are on the way, you’ve got money to spend and want to see what the fuss is about.

How do you choose between Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch? After using each one over the last couple of weeks, I think it’s pretty easy to decide. But first, let’s go through the pros and cons of each watch:

Style

You won’t win a lot of style points for either watch, as they are both thick, square slabs that take up a lot of space across the wrist. In fact, if you hold them next to each other, the watch bodies, bezels and screens are almost exactly the same size.

Where Samsung’s Gear Live stands out, though, is the use of metal around the body and on the clasp under your wrist. The watch band also appears thinner due to its tapered edges, and the snap-in mechanism is less bulky than the G Watch’s more traditional buckle. The Gear Live is a bit gaudier, but it also makes a statement. That’s more my style, given that neither watch is understated to begin with.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Features

The Gear Live and G Watch have almost exactly the same features, as they are required to run the same Android Wear software. Samsung does include a heart rate monitor, but I had trouble getting consistent readings and question whether this is a useful feature anyway. (If you can check your own pulse, you can just as easily measure it with the basic stopwatch function on either watch.)

The G Watch’s best feature, oddly enough, is its selection of watch faces. It has a lot of sharp-looking ones that Samsung doesn’t, and while this will become less of an issue as more third-party watch faces hit the Google Play Store, it’s nice to have some quality faces out of the box.

Advantage: LG G Watch, slightly

Jared Newman for TIME

Comfort

As I mentioned above, the Samsung Gear Live’s watch band has a couple of pins on the end, which you snap into any two holes further up the band. The G Watch has a standard buckle that keeps the watch securely fastened, along with a loop of plastic for holding down the excess strap material.

I found the Gear Live’s band to be more comfortable overall, with ridges on the inside that let your wrist breathe a bit, and it’s nice not to have any excess material to deal with. By comparison, the G Watch’s flat, rubberized band seemed to make my wrist feel sticky and sweaty before long. Both watches do have removable straps, at least.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live

Battery and Charging

This one isn’t even close. Not only does LG’s G Watch have a larger battery, it also has a better charging cradle that you can just drop the watch onto at night. It’s much more convenient than the Samsung Gear Live’s charging pod, which needs to be snapped onto the underside of the watch in a particular way.

You’ll likely want to charge either watch every night, which actually isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. (In a way, it’s better than having to charge every few days, because the nightly charge becomes routine.) But the need for a nightly top-up makes a convenient charging mechanism all the more important.

Advantage: LG G Watch

Jared Newman for TIME

Display Quality

In theory, the 320-by-320 resolution AMOLED panel on Samsung’s Gear Live should be the winner over LG’s 280-by-280 LCD screen, as it provides sharper images and better viewing angles.

But the G Watch does have one advantage in its outdoor readability. While neither watch performs well in direct sunlight, LG’s watch does a slightly better job of fending off the sun’s glare at full brightness. It’s not a big enough difference to beat the Gear Live’s display overall, but it does make the displays closer in quality than they look on paper.

Advantage: Samsung Gear Live, slightly

Verdict

Style and comfort are extremely important to me considering this is something I have to wear every day, and the Gear Live’s advantages in those areas outweigh its pesky charger and inferior watch faces. (If I was buying one myself, the Gear Live’s $199 price tag compared to $229 for the LG G Watch wouldn’t hurt.)

LG’s G Watch is still worth considering for some users, especially those who plan to swap in their own straps. But I’m not going that route, so the Samsung Gear Live will be my go-to smartwatch as I continue to get a feel for Android Wear.

TIME Tech

Google Joining With Pharma Company to Build its Smart Contact Lens

The lenses would be a breakthrough in diabetes management, allowing diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels without drawing blood

+ READ ARTICLE

Pharmaceutical company Novartis announced Tuesday that its eye care division, Alcon, will license Google’s smart contact lens technology, creating a tool to monitor diabetics’ blood sugar levels through tear samples.

Alcon will collaborate with Google[x], Google’s secretive lab for major technological advances which also designed Google Glass. The two will join forces to develop contact lenses that wirelessly connect to mobile devices to report blood sugar in near-real-time. The technology may also provide accommodative vision correction for those with impaired eyesight.

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Google C0-Founder Sergey Brin in a statement. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

A marriage between a medical juggernaut and a tech powerhouse, the agreement will benefit both companies by allowing Google to merge biology with its miniature electronic efforts and Novartis to leverage technology to manage disease, according to Novartis’ press release. The partnership remains subject to anti-trust approvals.

“This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.

The partnership announcement arrives shortly after Babak Parviz, one of the Google[x] pioneers behind the smart lens and Google Glass, wrote on Google Plus Saturday that he will leave Google for Amazon. Parviz, who debuted in 2011 a smart lens prototype with a red LED light indicating glucose at or below certain thresholds, is expected to contribute to Amazon’s wearables and technological advancements.

Google announced its smart contact lens project in January.

 

 

TIME legal

FCC Extends Net Neutrality Deadline After Website Crashes

Protesters hold a rally before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposal in Washington, DC.
Protesters march past the FCC headquarters before the Commission meeting on net neutrality proposal on May, 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Bill O'Leary—Washington Post/Getty Images

Unable to file complaints online, protesters prepared to deliver their complaints in person

The Federal Communications Commission has extended a deadline for comments on proposed rules governing the future of the Internet after its website buckled under the pressure of the tens of thousands of comments on the matter submitted by the public.

The FCC has received more than 700,000 public comments through its online comment forms and an email inbox set up to handle the high number of messages. The website crashed on Tuesday, several hours before the public comment period was scheduled to close at midnight. The FCC announced that it would extend the comment deadline to Friday at midnight to accommodate the surge of last minute filings.

“Not surprisingly, we have seen an overwhelming surge in traffic in our website that is making it difficult for many people to file comments through our Electronic Filing System,” the FCC said in a statement.

Before the deadline changed, a consortium of net neutrality proponents, including the ACLU, DailyKos, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MoveOn, called on supporters to hand deliver “hundreds of thousands” of printed complaints to the FCC, which they plan to do Tuesday.

The proposed rules at the center of the debate may allow Internet providers to charge content providers, such as YouTube or Netflix, for access to higher quality connections. Detractors fear such a move would divide the Internet between “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” enabling deep-pocketed content providers to pay for better service.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the objections “flat-out wrong.” Nonetheless, he welcomed the flood of public feedback. A second round of public comments, in which people will be invited to respond to the first wave of comments, will begin on a yet-unannounced date.

“Keep your input coming” Wheeler recently tweeted as the number of comments neared 650,000.

TIME Video Games

Watch Sony’s ‘Everything You Need to Know About the Destiny Beta’ Video

We're t-minus two days and counting to Bungie's Destiny beta kickoff.

+ READ ARTICLE

Make that less than two days, technically speaking: The beta unlocks at 10:00 a.m. PT this Thursday, July 17. The codes to download the beta for the timed-exclusive PlayStation version — both PS4 and PS3 — are due at some point earlier on Thursday as well.

Since Sony has dibs on the beta’s initial go this week through next Tuesday (Xbox One and Xbox 360 owners are allowed in on July 23), the company’s celebrating with an informational roundup video.

“I think people will be surprised by how much content is in the beta,” says the game’s lead designer Lars Bakken.

“It’ll be an incredible moment for us, and really the first time we can see a huge population of players come in and really tell us what they think about it,” adds community head Eric Osborne. “So it’s exciting but it’s also nerve-wracking. It’s going to be a really fun moment.”

In others words, the video’s more a “We’re really excited to tell you how excited we are for two minutes plus gameplay footage and dramatic music.” For everything you really need to know, see here.

Incidentally, is that an Xbox 360 gamepad (in a Sony video) I spy with my little eye at 0:32?

MORE: TIME’s Destiny Interview

TIME Gadgets

10 Free Android Apps Everyone Should Download

Great everyday apps that span multiple genres

Every time I get a new Android smartphone or tablet, I install certain apps right away, before I even really start to play with the device — apps I use every week, if not every day, on the Android gadgets I test as well as the ones I own. For your benefit, I’ve narrowed down the list to 10 free Android apps I can’t live without.

SwiftKey Keyboard

SwiftKey

Because most stock keyboards aren’t that great, SwiftKey is often the first app I download on a new phone or tablet. SwiftKey’s prediction engine, which offers suggestions for words as you type as well as the next word you need, is based on the words you use most. It learns from your everyday input as well as from your email, social media accounts, your blog’s RSS feeds and other sources (if you connect them). If you have more than one Android device or decide to upgrade, you don’t have to start over with the learning. SwiftKey can store this data in the cloud and sync it across multiple devices.

SwiftKey saves typing time in multiple ways: Swype-like trace-to-type, shortcuts, long-press for alt characters and a dedicated number row on top if you want it. This is one of the most customizable keyboards I’ve used, with multiple color themes, the ability to change the size of keys and even the ability to split or push the keyboard to one edge or the other — great for phablet use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

AccuWeather

Of the seemingly million weather apps for Android (including the one that probably came with your phone, complete with animated widget), AccuWeather offers you one solid reason to ditch them and download it instead: MinuteCast.

MinuteCast tells you the weather at this moment exactly where you’re standing or in whatever zip code you enter — not the forecast for the whole city, the forecast for right where you are right now. MinuteCast is especially useful during storms. Want to know when it will start raining, when it will stop or when it will let up enough for you to dash home? This app will tell you.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TrustGo

Android boasts some decent built-in security measures for keeping your data safe and finding a lost phone, but they don’t address the other major mobile security threat: malware. TrustGo adds that protection plus advanced security features such as capturing images of a person trying to crack your security code, sounding an alarm to help you find a misplaced device and wiping the device remotely. Of all the free security apps available, TrustGo provides the most features for free.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Firefox Mobile

Mozilla

Firefox is our top web browser pick for your personal computer as well as your mobile devices. Google Chrome is great and comes preloaded on Android devices, but thanks to its large library of add-ons, Firefox is worth an extra step to download and install. Chrome doesn’t support extensions on Android, but Firefox users can add Adblock, a cookie cleaner, Flash video downloaders and hundreds more tools.

Beyond that, Firefox Mobile is fast, clean and attractive, with an interface that syncs bookmarks, passwords and other data between all your browsers for seamless desktop-to-mobile use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Yelp

Google Maps is turning into a decent restaurant and business suggestion app, but Yelp still has Google beat in terms of sheer data. Yelp’s millions of user reviews are only one reason I use this app almost every day. New businesses show up on Yelp faster, and drilling down searches to a specific area brings up more results with a ton of reviews. Plus, I love Yelp Monocle, an augmented reality feature that shows ratings and business names on top of a real-time view from your camera.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TuneIn Radio

As soon as I got a smartphone, I ditched my alarm clock. The feature I missed most after making the switch was waking up to my favorite radio station. That’s one of the reasons I like TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio can access any station with an online stream, and you can choose to wake up to that station via the app’s alarm. While you listen, TuneIn brings up information about the song and artist or the program, which you can save. You can also use TuneIn to search beyond traditional radio for podcasts.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Evernote

Evernote

Most note-taking apps work fine for jotting down quick ideas and shopping lists, but Evernote offers so much more. Even if you think you need something simple, you’d be surprised how a more comprehensive app can change your daily habits. I’m a fan of receiving reminders about my notes, so I know to follow up. When I can’t write or type fast enough, audio notes save the day.

The best feature is the page camera. Take a snapshot of printed or handwritten pages, and Evernote scans them for words that it then indexes to show up in searches.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Pocket

Flipping through news using Flipboard, Blinkfeed, an RSS reader or Pulse is fine when most of the articles and posts are short enough to read in a minute or less. But for long reads, you want an app that strips away distractions (like ads) to offer an ebook-like reading experience that lets you immerse yourself in the words.

That’s why I love Pocket. Saving articles from your browser is easy, and Pocket automatically syncs all your stored articles for offline reading. Read them when you’re ready, even if you’re on a plane or a subway car. The reading experience is great, giving you control over the text’s font, size and background.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Kingsoft Office

Downloading a document from email for reading or editing can be a pain if the office suite you’re using messes with the formatting, isn’t designed as well for small screens as it is for large ones or can’t save in the most popular file formats. Most preloaded office suites are a pain, so I always replace them with Kingsoft.

On top of Kingsoft’s qualities as a good document editor, it connects to cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive to allow you to edit and sync without opening another app. It can save to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats as well as in PDF format.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

DuoLingo

Learning a new language doesn’t come easily for everyone, especially adult beginners. But there comes a time when knowing basic phrases and greetings is useful: when you’re traveling abroad, moving into a mixed-culture neighborhood, trying to meet that cute guy or girl who only speaks Italian …

DuoLingo can help prepare you for basic conversation in just a few months via fun exercises you do occasionally. You don’t have to deal with the commitment of a class or spend hundreds of dollars right from the start.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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