To our YouTube TV members: an update to our content and price

From the Youtube TV blog:

As we continue to evaluate how to provide the best possible service and content for you, our membership price will be $64.99. This new price takes effect today, June 30, for new members. Existing subscribers will see these changes reflected in their subsequent billing cycle on or after July 30.

I get that the content business is a cutthroat, low margin world. But we’re slowly getting into cable prices – which defeats the entire purpose of services like YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV.

Casting Google’s Speakers Aside

See what I did there? As mentioned recently, I have switched over to Apple Music from Spotify. Part of the decision was based on personal preferences around the 2 services, but the reason that I was reluctant to drop Spotify in the first place was the lock-in I had with Google’s Chromecast ecosystem. As it […]

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Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs scraps its ambitious Toronto project

From Ars Technica:

But Sidewalk Labs’ vision was in trouble long before the pandemic. Since its inception, the project had been criticized by progressive activists concerned about how the Alphabet company would collect and protect data, and who would own that data. Conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, wondered whether taxpayers would get enough bang from the project’s bucks. New York-based Sidewalk Labs wrestled with its local partner, the waterfront redevelopment agency, over ownership of the project’s intellectual property and, most critically, its financing. At times, its operators seemed confounded by the vagaries of Toronto politics. The project had missed deadline after deadline.

I’m always torn when I see these sorts of smart city initiatives pop up. In reality, it’s about how I feel about smart home stuff in general. On one hand, I’m excited about the promise of an efficient and “always learning” city that can help planners optimize. In a world that will be increasingly affected by climate change, finding ways to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of the existing infrastructure is obviously a win.

However, rarely do these things come without hidden complexity or tradeoffs. In this case it’s cost overruns, privacy implications and half-baked solutions.

Google and Apple launching coronavirus contact-tracing system for iOS and Android

From The Verge:

Apple and Google will introduce a pair of iOS and Android APIs in mid-May and make sure these health authorities’ apps can implement them. During this phase, users will still have to download an app to participate in contact-tracing, which could limit adoption. But in the months after the API is complete, the companies will work on building tracing functionality into the underlying operating system, as an option immediately available to everyone with an iOS or Android phone.

This is super interesting. Contact tracing and testing are the 2 best bets to getting us back to a sense of normal. Glad to see the big guys are getting along and building tools that can make contact tracing easier. I love that it’s so privacy focused as well. The article goes on to point out some of the flaws in a system like this that could produce a lot of false positives or not provide the level of the risk involved:

The method still has potential weaknesses. In crowded areas, it could flag people in adjacent rooms who aren’t actually sharing space with the user, making people worry unnecessarily. It may also not capture the nuance of how long someone was exposed — working next to an infected person all day, for example, will expose you to a much greater viral load than walking by them on the street. And it depends on people having apps in the short term and up-to-date smartphones in the long term, which could mean it’s less effective in areas with lower connectivity.

Still, I’m heartened by the fact that the tech industry seems to be showing their promise during this pandemic.

Project Connected Home over IP

Apple Newsroom:

Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance today announced a new working group that plans to develop and promote the adoption of a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among smart home products, with security as a fundamental design tenet. Zigbee Alliance board member companies such as IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian are also onboard to join the working group and contribute to the project.

While this is just a press release, it’s still good to see these companies trying to move closer together, not further apart. I’ve been slowly migrating things in our house over to a Homekit / Homebridge setup but still using our Google Homes to trigger a lot of actions with voice. Ideally, keeping things platform-agnostic would allow me to just choose the best tech and then all of the main voice assistant vendors would work with them.

The name Project Connected Home over IP really rolls off the tongue, eh?

My favorite 2019 tech things

As we head into the holiday season, I thought I’d throw my hat in the “best of the year post” ring with a list of a few of my favorite personal tech items of the year. Some of these are bigger than others, but I wanted to list out some things I’m thankful for this […]

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Google’s smart home ecosystem is a complete mess

From CNET:

While Google might argue its new system will be good for users in the long run, the fact remains that customers spent money on a product, and Google is taking that product out of customers' hands and replacing it with something different. In effect, Google just unplugged many of its users' smart homes, all while asking them to kindly move into a new, Google Assistant-branded tenement. In the long run, Google assures us, things will get better. Its track record with killing products doesn't inspire confidence.

I found myself nodding my head a ton while reading this article. I’m moving to Alexa/Sonos over the next few months.

Hey, Siri (and minimum wage contractors) … 

From: Siri records fights, doctor’s appointments, and sex (and contractors hear it) | Ars Technica

These cases bring up a series of questions. What can Apple and its colleagues do to better protect user privacy as they develop their voice systems? Should users be notified when their recordings are reviewed? What can be done to reduce or eliminate the accidental activations? How should the companies handle the accidental information that its contractors overhear? Who is responsible when dangerous or illegal activity is recorded and discovered, all by accident?

Now it looks like your Siri voice recordings can be heard by contractors roughly 1% of the time.

I think my issue with all of this is that it’s not opt-in other than the “by using this software you agree to …” BS all tech companies shove down our throat. I think one solution to this problem would be to allow users to opt-in to have humans review your recordings as long as they are properly anonymized. There’s still a chance an accidental wake word could trigger some of the scenarios mentioned in the article but at least give folks the ability to make decisions about how much they want to contribute to making these voice assistants better.

I’ve turned off the “raise to talk to Siri” on my watch long ago but we do have Google Home devices in our house and “Hey Siri” is still activated on my phone. I could shut off the wake word functionality on my phone but I’m not even sure you can do that with the Google Homes. I’ll be honest, I’m starting to lean toward yanking most of the voice assistant stuff out of my house in favor of dumb speakers hooked up to Chromecasts or maybe just going full Sonos (although that has it’s own privacy issues).

Update: Looks like Apple is halting the program for now and will be adding a way to disable this in the future. Good for them.

HomePod questions

Apple has been a little late getting their HomePods out to consumers, but it looks like 2/9 is the big day. In short, it looks like these 7 inch tall speakers are Apple’s take on the smart speaker, but with a heavy focus on the speaker part and less on the assistant side. It has […]

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