If you were frustrated by early versions of personal digital assistance apps like Siri or Google Now, it might be time to try again. A new wave of the technology is beginning to roll out with a lot more knowledge and horsepower behind it to help our laptops, tablets and smartphones fit naturally into the way we work and play.

With the roll out of Windows 10 to millions of PCs now underway, Microsoft’s Cortana is the most visible effort of this new wave of personal assistance technology. But there are others. Notably: Apple’s Siri, Google Now for Android, Amazon’s unique living-room product called Echo, and dozens of apps that leverage IBM’s Watson suite of cognitive tools.

personal assistance apps

The apps all promise great advances in the search function, one of the most ubiquitous activities in our connected lives. Even more exciting, though, is the potential they have to transcend beyond looking up things we ask to begin anticipating our needs and, over time, even acting on our behalf.

If that sounds positively frightening to you — and, at a time when so many feel that their privacy is being run roughshod, you’re probably in good company — you should know that you can control what they know. Cortana, for one, will only go as far as you let her. And you won’t have to make decisions about what to share right away. She’ll ask you to make those calls over time, as situations arise. In fact, about the only thing she wants to know on Day 1 is what you’d like her to call you.

The vision undoubtedly sounds familiar. It was what Apple had in mind when it debuted Siri as the marquee feature on the iPhone 4S. Five years later, it’s still what Apple wants to do with Siri. The platform giant is adding more contextual features to Siri’s arsenal in the upcoming iOS 9. For its part, Google is building contextual capabilities into Android M, the next revision of the mobile OS. The Google Now team, in turn, has plans to leverage those features.

Cortana is a relative newcomer to the personal assistance arena. The Windows 10 upgrade will be the first time most PC users will be exposed to Cortana, though she actually debuted last year on Windows Phone 8.1. (The rest of us will be able to use Cortana on our phones, too. Microsoft has Cortana apps planned for Android and iOS later this year.)

‘Cortana’ is Microsoft’s answer to ‘Siri’ and the two are facing off in what many call the “voice wars.” VPC

Ryan Gavin, Microsoft’s general manager of search, Cloud and Content, told me Cortana was created with the role of human personal assistants in mind — sort of like Alfred the Butler or Iron Man’s Pepper Potts. She’ll start out as a search agent. Even with that, though, you’ll quickly find out search has come a long way. You can ask questions that require a series of searches on Cortana’s part to nail the answer. For instance, “Who’s the lead singer of the band that plays You Really Got Me?” Before she answers, she’ll probably discover that she needs to ask whether you mean Van Halen or The Kinks.

She keeps a “notebook” on you, building a personal dossier with whatever you allow her to note. She’ll ask permission before she jots down your frequent flyer number or your spouse’s birthday, or even that you inquired about David Lee Roth. So if you don’t want her to know anything about you, she won’t. But the more she knows, the more valuable she’ll become.

For example, she might deduce after a while that the place you just pulled up to is where you work out. So she’ll ask something like, “Are we at the gym? Do you mind if I make a note?” If you agree, then you’ve made it that much easier for the two of you to communicate. Now you can tell Cortana to remind you to call your spouse when you leave the gym. And when the time comes, she’ll probably offer to make the call for you.

Without prompting, she might also learn to: Remind you to put the trash out by the curb. Check the weather for your upcoming trip to see if you’ll need an umbrella or a coat. And snag coupons for things on your shopping list when you walk into the store.

So it seems that, finally, personal assistance may be coming into its own. It’s not surprising that there have been fits and starts, because this is so difficult to do right. It requires an awful lot of cognitive ability and massive stores of data — or corpuses, as they’re referred to in the industry.

A big piece of what makes personal assistance so challenging is that computers and people don’t reason and communicate the same way. Even if an app has a working knowledge of all the colloquialisms in the language corpus, there’s still the individual to decipher.

“The most important part — and, obviously, the hardest part – is figuring out what you know,” Microsoft’s Gavin said. “What’s in your head? What are your personal preferences?”

Rob High agreed that applying “reasoning strategies” is critical, albeit challenging. High is the chief technology officer for IBM’s Watson operation, which provides cognitive tools and massive corpuses for app developers to build, among other things, personal assistance products for everything from chronic illness management to hotel concierge services.

“To be successful, you have to apply multiple dimensions,” High told me. “You can’t just be listening to their words. You have to ask questions, maintain a conversation. You have to understand their intent.”

And it all has to be done very quickly. Because we can lose our patience with technology very quickly.

Aparna Chennapragada, director of product management and engineering for Google Now, said her team strives to enable people to ask for assistance “at the speed of thought.” But she warned that the cost of getting it wrong is much higher with speech assistance.

Chennapragada said she measures the stakes with what she calls a win-to-loss ratio. For every traditional search question you don’t get correct, she estimates that it takes about five successful searches to win back your trust. For navigation, the ratio is more like 10:1. And for voice assistance, it’s closer to 50:1.

Which helps explain why you may not have touched apps like Siri or Google Now since one of them frustrated you years ago. With this new wave of technology beginning to roll out, though, it might be time to give the personal digital assistants another shot.

News by USA Today

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Spotify, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Rdio, Rhapsody, Pandora — the list of streaming music service goes on and on. On Tuesday, Apple joins that lineup with the launch of its streaming service, Apple Music. Apple will give consumers a three-month trial, and then it will charge $9.99 a month.

Apple Bets You'll Start Paying To Stream Music

But most music lovers still aren’t sure why they should pay. Colin Barrett, 31, has tried a few of the streaming services, but he doesn’t use them anymore.

“There’s always sorts of glitches, or they don’t have the music that I’m looking for,” he says.

Barrett is studying to be a pastor, so he’s not inclined to steal music, but he’s got a perfectly honest way to get free music on YouTube.

“I type in, for instance, Man of Steel OST, so I get the original soundtrack of the Man of Steel movie and it plays every song and it just keeps going,” he says.

When asked what would persuade him to pay for music, Barrett couldn’t think of anything. He joins the majority of Americans, most of whom have actually tried streaming music services, according to a survey by Nielsen Entertainment.

But only 5 percent pay the $10 a month or so that most of these services charge. Another 10 percent say they might be willing to pay if given a reason, Dave Bakula of Nielsen says.

“There are some people that say they have a willingness to pay,” he says. “There are some people who say they would pay for particular features or functions or access.”

And Apple Music has a leg up on Spotify — Taylor Swift. Swift won’t put her music on Spotify because she says its free ad-supported service doesn’t pay enough.

Apple planned to launch its service without paying artists for the music during the three-month free trial it offers users, but after Swift wrote a blog post saying she wouldn’t put her music on Apple under those conditions, Apple changed its tune.

So, now Apple’s got Swift’s hit album 1989 and Spotify doesn’t.

Apple’s got another advantage as it enters the streaming market — it has sold nearly half a billion iPhones.

Monica Gonzales has a lot of friends who are musicians, so she wants them to get paid. That’s why she became a Spotify subscriber. But she says she might consider making the switch to Apple.

“If Apple’s is as good or better than Spotify, I would probably be more likely to go with them,” Gonzales says. “It would be easier to move from a streaming service that’s already in Apple to then buying an album that I like, because then you can just do it all in one place.”

That is if you are a person who lives in the Apple universe. Jay Frank, the CEO of music marketing firm DigMark, says there’s room for more than one streaming service, and consumer choice may be about which phone someone has.

“One of the things that I predict that will get very interesting may be that the dominant service may vary by country,” Frank says. “That variation may actually be somewhat predicated on how deep iPhone penetration is against Android penetration.”

Though ultimately it still boils down to getting people to pay for something they can largely get for free. Mallory Cloutier, a 28-year-old San Franciscan, is paying for Spotify’s streaming service after trying its free ad-based service.

“The ads really sneak up on you quickly,” she says. “I actually bought in on a special in which the monthly streaming rate was greatly reduced so I could really experience what it would be like to pay and it was worth every moment of it.”

Still most Spotify users don’t appear to be bothered by the ads. Spotify has 20 million paying subscribers, but 55 million additional users stream with the free ad-supported service. Apple’s offering only three free months before you pay, and that may not be enough.

Instagram has launched a new revamped Explore tab which features Trending Tags, Trending Places, curated content and also a new Places Search.

Instagram has launched a new revamped Explore tab which features Trending Tags, Trending Places, curated content and also a new Places Search.

Instagram has 300 million users and 70 million photos are uploaded per day.

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According to Techcrunch.com, the Instagram’s Trending section atop Explore offers a collection of real-time trending topics based on hashtags, or places users have checked into. Users would either tag the event or check-in on Instagram and then Instagram populates the trending content at the top of the page.

The Instagram team will refresh the collections at the top of the Explore page on a regular basis for now.

Live streaming from apps like Meerkat and Periscope aim to deliver the same sort of in-depth ground view as events happen in real-time.

Blake Barnes, Instagram project manager said the focus was on trending topics and that Instagram did not have plans for live streaming at this time. He also said that the platform could easily leverage its much larger audience of already built-in content providers to take command of that space if it wanted.

The new Explore tab is released in U.S for now, but everyone will now have the new search, which lets user look for people, tags and places from a single box. Instagram tells us the new feature will be released for everyone else after ‘fine-tuning’ the product.

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Twitter has rolled out lists of trolls that can be shared among users and enables a one-click block from harassment on the social network.

The new feature forms part of Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo’s pledge to help users protect themselves and deal with being attacked and harassed by trolls – a common problem for certain users on the social network.

Twitter rolls out shared block lists to help combat trolls

“This feature is yet another step towards making Twitter safer for everyone and will be available to some of our users starting today and all users in the coming week,” said Twitter user safety engineer Xiaoyun Zhang in a blog post.

Blocking an account stops trolls from viewing a user’s profile, sending them mentions or interacting with them in their feed. Until now each account had to be blocked individually.

The system worked fine for most users who were only occasionally forced to block singular users from time to time. However, those who are subject to coordinated or sustained attacks by trolls can be quickly overwhelmed by hundreds of users, making blocking them all difficult. Shareable lists are aimed at solving that problem.

Twitter also allows users to mute accounts, which does not block them from viewing their feed, but does stop mentions from troll accounts showing up on their timeline.

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Google I/O conference is one of the most awaited technology event, Engineers, developers and tech experts eagerly wait for the invitation card of the conference.

The event is one of the biggest competitors of Apple’ WWDC event.  Both the firms try really hard to make their event better than the other.

LATEST LEAKS OF GOOGLE I/O CONFERENCE PROJECTS

Latest leaks and rumors give some hint about the upcoming projects of Google I/O conference. Some of the noteworthy ones are Android TV, project Fi and Android M Talk. Leaks about the rest of the projects are still surfacing.

But, interested people should bear in mind that all these are rumors. Nothing has been confirmed yet.

Google has not released any statement regarding Android M. The firm only reported that Android L is expected to release in the month of June. Earlier, the biggest search giant promises to unveil the project in the November 2014.

Project Ara is the second most prominent thing of Google I/O Conference. It is scheduled to start till the end of 2015. It is the latest Google hardware specially designed for highly modular smartphones. The firm’s primary objective is to design an innovative wearable.

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Facebook-owned Oculus VR has announced that its virtual reality headset will be ready to ship in 2016

Oculus Rift, the long-awaited virtual reality headset from Facebook-owned company Oculus VR, will start shipping to consumers in the first quarter of 2016, with pre-orders beginning later this year.

Until now, Oculus VR has only sold prototype headsets intended for video games developers. However, the consumer model will have a new “industrial design” and feature an “improved tracking system” that supports both seated and standing gaming.

The company is not revealing much at this stage, but said it will announce more details about the headset’s technical specifications in the coming weeks, along with a number of previously unannounced virtual reality games.

Oculus Rift virtual reality headset

“The Rift delivers on the dream of consumer VR with compelling content, a full ecosystem, and a fully-integrated hardware/software tech stack designed specifically for virtual reality,” said Oculus VR in a blog post.

“It’s a system designed by a team of extremely passionate gamers, developers, and engineers to reimagine what gaming can be.”

Oculus Rift first launched as a Kickstarter project in 2012, promising to “take 3D gaming to the next level”. The project surpassed its target in less than 24 hours, and by the end of the campaign had received almost $2.5 million from 9,522 backers.

Since then, four different versions of the headset have been revealed to the public. The most recent version, known as Crescent Bay, features a greater resolution than the previous version, a lower weight, built-in audio, and 360-degree tracking thanks to the presence of tracking LEDs in the back of the headset.

During a panel at SXSW 2015, Oculus VP of product Nate Mitchell also revealed that the Crescent Bay prototype uses two screens instead of one as previously thought.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose company bought Oculus VR for $2 billion (£1.2bn) in March 2014, said that one day virtual reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.

“Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home,” he said.

“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones.”

News by telegraph.co.uk

Sony has announced the Xperia Z4, its latest flagship smartphone, in its home country of Japan. Like the Z4 Tablet announced at Mobile World Congress last month, the Z4 isn’t a dramatic departure from earlier Xperia devices like last fall’s Z3.

Xperia Z4

The Z4’s 6.9-mm-thick, 144g metal-and-glass body is very much in line with the company’s prior design language, and houses a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD screen, a 20.7-megapixel camera, a 2930mAh battery, a 2GHz 8-core 64-bit Snapdragon 810 processor, and 3GB of RAM. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and is water- and dust-resistant. Unlike the Z3, no smaller “Compact” edition has been announced.

xperia z4

 

As yet there’s no word on a release in other regions, but if you’ve been waiting on a new Sony flagship phone despite the company’s mobile troubles, know that there’s one coming soon to at least some parts of the world. The Z4 will be out in Japan this summer with white, black, copper, and “aqua green” color variants available.

NinthApp Mobile News

Who do your friends snap the most? Snapchat’s replacement of the “Best Friends” list with “Friend Emojis,” released on Monday, gives users new clues into their friends’ social habits.

In the past, the Best Friends list revealed which usernames people snapped most often. Now, the app uses a series of emojis to categorize users’ relationships with each other as well as users’ mutual friendships. The Los Angeles, Calif.-based company announced the change in a post on the Snap Channel of Discover, its news and media feature that launched in January. The emojis aren’t necessarily intuitive labels. However, they do give users more ways to track their socializing patterns and those of their friends’.

The app used photos of Beyoncé with other celebrities to explain each emoji. A gold heart means two users both snap each other more than they snap any other person; a grimacing emoji means two users send more snaps to the same third user than they do to any other user; a sunglass-wearing emoji means two people have a best friend in common and send many snaps to this person; a smiling emoji indicates that a friend is among the people a user snaps most often; a smirking emoji means the friend sends many snaps to the user, but the user does not send many snaps to that friend; and the fire emoji means two users have been snapping each other for consecutive days.

Snapchat also added a “Needs Love” section to show which friends you haven’t been snapping as much as you did in the past. In addition, the app made an image and video brightening button in the shape of a crescent moon to improve shooting in dim lighting.

snapchat

The messaging service’s latest round closed last December, when it raised $485 million, giving it a valuation of more than $10 billion. Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, plans to invest $200 million in Snapchat at a valuation of $15 billion, according to reports earlier this month. Last month, Snapchat was aiming to raise about $500 million in its next round, Bloomberg reported, citing people close to the matter.

For years, the app’s security and privacy policies have fallen under scrutiny. In 2013, the FTC launched an investigation challenging the service’s claim that it offered “disappearing” photos and videos. Snapchat ultimately settled with the FTC, creating a comprehensive privacy policy to protect user information.

Snapchat also announced several new security and privacy changes in a Medium article last week. The company has joined Facebook, Google GOOGL +0.52% and Yahoo YHOO -1.09% in reporting the frequency of requests for user content and information from government agencies, is expanding its “bug bounty program” and aims to completely ban third-party apps, according to Medium.

“We actually consider it a competitive advantage that we care that much about users’ privacy and security,” Snapchat’s vice president of engineering Timothy Sehn told Medium. “We care enough to delete their data. That is something that most companies don’t do because that data is valuable.”

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The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge and the more conventionally shaped Galaxy S6 are Samsung’s most elegant phones yet, by a country mile. The high-end materials, shimmer-effect cases and smooth finishes all project a classiness the company has rarely had before.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

Both phones have similar features and capabilities but here I’ll be looking at the S6 edge, with more stuff to come about the regular S6 presently.

Where the S5 had a plastic back, as did most Samsung phones until now, this phone has a metal chassis and a Gorilla Glass 4 back. While some phones like the HTC One M9 and iPhone 6 have metal backs, the advantage here is that you can plonk the S6 edge onto a wireless charging pad to let it replenish its energy. Plugging in isn’t exactly arduous but wireless charging is a surprisingly enjoyable benefit.

The glass back feels great and the S6 edge is a very tactile handset overall, though the projecting camera lens is rather noticeable – a drawback to slim phones in general.

Gorilla Glass 4 is also used on the front of the phone, aiming to reduce scratches or the chance of shattering when you drop it. I haven’t tried this, but Gorilla Glass and this latest version are well thought-of.

The Home button at the base of the screen is more noticeable than before, not least thanks to a silvery edge. The Home button is where the new fingerprint sensor is housed and it’s a marked improvement on last year’s which required a swipe rather than, as now, just resting your thumb on the button. This makes for a much more natural-feeling way to use the phone and it works reasonably well, rarely saying it doesn’t recognise your finger. This wakes the screen, which is glorious. It’s exceptionally high-resolution (577ppi) and looks beautiful. You may feel your eyes won’t benefit from this large a number of pixels, but there may yet be uses, such as the Virtual Reality headset attachment which may need those extra pixels for 3D and HD effects.

But just on its own the screen looks pretty smashing and if you choose not to set the fingerprint lock, the screen unlock animation, a puddle of water on top of the screen below, is attractive.

Incidentally, this doesn’t mean the phone is waterproof, like the last Samsung phone was, so don’t drop it in the bath. The reduction in water resistance is about the only feature that has been removed this time around, but it’s important to note if you’ve been lackadaisical near water with your S5, say.

The S6 edge is a real performer, with quick responses at all times and smooth video playback, for instance. This is partly down to the processor, a Samsung-built model unlike previous Galaxy handsets which have tended to rely on Qualcomm for their brains. The chip has two processors on it to offer greater versatility so it can rely on the less demanding processor for suitably less-demanding tasks.

This does mean that the battery, though carefully optimised, doesn’t last as long as on some rivals, such as the Sony

Xperia Z3. Even so, I found that I got through a regular day with no problems. And the S6 edge bounces back fast. Samsung claims that ten minutes’ recharging gives the phone enough oomph to play back a two-hour HD video. I didn’t test this specifically but certainly it did seem to recharge faster than I expected.

The distinctive sloping edges to the screen are there so you can utilise extra functionality. Chief among the features is the People Edge which means that if a call comes in from one of your five specified special contacts, the edge throbs in a particular colour. So even if the phone is face down you can see which of your friends is calling.

It’s cute, especially since you can end the call without turning the phone over just by resting your finger on the heart rate sensor on the phone’s back. Even so, I didn’t find I used it that often.

The edge can also be used to display notifications and other information. Twitter updates, missed calls and more can be displayed though not, sadly, the measuring tape found on the Galaxy Note 4. Other items for the edge screen can be downloaded, so with luck this will be one of them. Or you could buy a ruler, I suppose.

The camera on the S6 edge is a big improvement on last year’s model. First, it’s a 16-megapixel model and has optical image stabilisation so your images are steady even if you’re not. Second, you launch it by double-pressing on the Home button even if the fingerprint lock is active.

And third, it’s improved by simplifying the interface. Extra detail is available but it’s not in your way by default.

The front camera is a 5-megapixel sensor for wide-angle selfies and the like. Both cameras are quick and effective and the results were impressive.

Not long ago I said the HTC One M9 was the best-looking Android camera around. Sorry, HTC, but this one just pips it. Actually, I’d go further. This is the most stylish Android phone out there but it’s also the most effective thanks to its gorgeous screen, impossibly fast processor and excellent camera. Some will mourn the fact that the battery is not removable as previous Galaxy batteries were, and the price tag on this phone may put some off.

But overall, in my eyes this takes the crown as the best Android smartphone.

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