From Apple to Y Combinator—tech sector denounces new “Dreamers” plan

Enlarge / WASHINGTON—US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on immigration at the Justice Department September 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. Sessions announced that the Trump Administration is ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which protected those who were brought to the US illegally as children—with a six-month delay for Congress to put in replacement legislation. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Leading technology-sector bosses denounced President Donald Trump’s move Tuesday to end a program that had prevented the deportation of so-called “Dreamers,” people who illegally came to the US as children.

Apple chief Tim Cook told employees in an e-mail that “We issue an urgent plea for our leaders in Washington to protect the Dreamers so their futures can never be put at risk in this way again.” Cook has tweeted that 250 people who are Dreamers work for Apple.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took to his social media network, saying Trump’s decision was “cruel.”

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Microsoft expands availability of colored Surface Laptops, Windows 10 Pro upgrade

Enlarge / Surface Laptop. (credit: Justin Wolfson)

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop is available in four colors. Every configuration is available in the regular Platinum silvery color, but some configurations are also available in Cobalt Blue, Burgundy, and Graphite Gold.

Today, Microsoft has announced expanded availability of those colored units. Joining the US are Canada, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand.

Further, the i7 models, in Platinum only, are now available in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

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The next big Windows 10 update will be out on October 17

Enlarge (credit: Liz West)

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update now has a release date: October 17. Microsoft started finalizing the release last week, and we’d expect this release to follow the pattern seen in previous Windows updates: the final build will be done some time in September and roll out to members of the Windows Insider program’s fast, slow, and release preview rings. Then it will hit Windows Update. From there, we’d expect a slow ramp up in availability.

The biggest feature of the update is that it opens up support for virtual reality headsets with what Microsoft calls its Mixed Reality platform. Headsets from Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and HP will start shipping on the same day (and will be joined by Asus‘ headset next year), with prices starting at $299. These headsets don’t need any external tracking boxes; they’ll just plug into your PC with an HDMI and USB cable, or in Dell’s case, a single USB Type-C cable. In addition to software written for Microsoft’s Mixed Reality API, they will also support the SteamVR platform, so a library of suitable games should materialize soon.

Other features of the new version are seamless OneDrive integration, the ability to pin contacts to your taskbar, a beta version of eye-tracking-based navigation, expanded integrated exploit mitigation systems, and a new searchable emoji keyboard.

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Lenovo’s second Alexa-powered speaker connects to its Tab 4 devices


At this past CES, Lenovo announced its $130 Smart Assistant speaker with Amazon’s Alexa inside. While that device is still listed as “coming soon” on Lenovo’s website, the company isn’t putting any of its smart home ambitions on hold. Lenovo’s new Home Assistant Pack appears to be a pared-down version of the Smart Assistant—one that’s built to connect to any Tab 4 tablet.

The Home Assistant also has the Alexa voice assistant inside, but it’s not as powerful of a speaker as the Smart Assistant. It has a three-watt speaker and two built-in mics with far-field detection designed to pick up your voice from three meters away. The Smart Assistant instead has a five-watt tweet, a 10-watt subwoofer, and eight built-in mics with far-field detection.

Weighing 300 grams, the Home Assistant is basically an accessory version of the Smart Speaker that you can tote from room to room. By itself, it’s akin to Amazon’s Echo Dot—but paired with a Tab 4 tablet, it becomes similar to an Echo Show. Sliding one of Lenovo’s tablets into the Home Assistant’s dock will automatically bring up the “Home Assistant interface,” in which you can ask Alexa to play music, check your calendar, give you weather updates, and more. The tablet will show “display cards” for visual information in addition to the Home Assistant providing voice answers via Alexa.

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Cortana and Alexa are coming together in surprising Microsoft/Amazon partnership


By the end of the year, you’ll be able to tell your Windows 10 PC “Hey Cortana, open Alexa” and talk to Amazon’s personal assistant. Or if your Echo is in earshot, you’ll be able to tell it “Alexa, open Cortana” to talk to Microsoft’s assistant instead. Microsoft and Amazon are working together to ensure that their voice-driven digital assistants will be able to work together in a surprising collaboration.

Both companies have reach in areas the other does not; Microsoft says that there are some 145 million monthly active Cortana users on Windows 10 PCs, while Amazon has found success selling its Echo speakers into living rooms and bedrooms. With this partnership you’ll be able to take advantage of Alexa’s easy online shopping from your PC or Cortana’s stronger calendar integration on your sofa.

The integration will, at least initially, be a little clunky, as you’ll have to ask one voice assistant to start up the other before you can use it. Long term, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that he hopes this won’t be necessary and that each device’s primary assistant will be able to defer tasks to the secondary assistant as appropriate. The collaboration was Bezos’ idea. He approached Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in May last year to suggest bringing the two voice agents together, and Nadella agreed.

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Microsoft was leading the world in AR; now it’s at risk of being left behind

The HoloLens headset. (credit: Microsoft)

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before: a Redmond-based software company is an early player in a brand-new market, then finds itself displaced and left behind after late-coming competitors bring to market similar products in a way that captures the mainstream audience.

We saw this with smartphones: Microsoft’s various Windows Mobile offerings built a small but loyal following, but the company was too slow to acknowledge the widespread appeal of touch-first interfaces and didn’t recognize the power of Android’s zero-cost licensing. Microsoft eventually built a good product and was even carving out double-digit market share in Europe, but it subsequently floundered, and the company has now all but disappeared from the market.

The surprise reveal of Microsoft’s HoloLens back in 2015 caught the world off guard. The product hadn’t leaked, and it offered something genuinely new: a self-contained headset that mixed 3D computer graphics with the real world, offering the kind of augmented reality experience that had hitherto been the sole preserve of science fiction. Unlike virtual reality headsets, which completely occlude your view, HoloLens lets you see the whole world in all its glory, obscuring only those parts that were hidden behind virtual objects. It borrowed from work done with Kinect, containing complex systems for mapping and tracking the room and objects around you. The setup enabled full, untethered operation without needing any base stations or object markers. As a melding of the virtual and the real, the HoloLens was thoroughly convincing.

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SteamVR games coming to Microsoft’s $299 VR platform

Enlarge / Surprise! Microsoft has its own VR controller. (credit: Microsoft)

When Microsoft first unveiled the Windows 10 Creators Update last year, a big focus was put on the virtual reality capabilities, with Redmond promising a range of VR headsets with prices starting at just $299. When the Creators Update actually arrived in March this year, however, those VR capabilities were only visible if you enabled developer mode; they were there for developers, but not for the general public. The Fall Creators Update, due to be finalized next month, will remove the developer mode restriction, opening up Microsoft’s 3D platform to all.

In time for this year’s holiday season, there will be $299 headsets and $399 headset-and-motion-controller bundles, using Microsoft’s new motion controllers. Aside from the price, the Windows platform has a few features that make it stand out from SteamVR and the HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift. The first is substantially easier setup, as the Windows platform doesn’t need fixed base stations for position tracking. Instead, it uses “inside out” tracking; it combines acceleration input from accelerometers with visual input from cameras embedded in the headsets to provide motion tracking. This means that it doesn’t need base stations on the walls, nor does it need the laser-based tracking used in the HoloLens headset.

The same tracking system is used for the motion controllers; they include embedded accelerometers, and this data is combined with the camera data (since most of the time your hands will be on the edge of your field of view), and reverse kinematic models (which is to say: since you’re holding the controllers, their movements are limited by human anatomy). The Microsoft controllers are more complex than those used by the HTC Vive, with more buttons and controls on them; they’re also asymmetric, with a dedicated left hand and right hand controller.

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