Essential phone is exclusive to America’s 4th biggest carrier

It’s worth noting that, while Sprint will be the carrier partner for the PH-1, it’s not the only place you’ll be able to score one. An unlocked, all-network version of the device will be available from Essential’s website for $699, or $749 with the 360-degree camera accessory.

The logic of such a carrier partnership, however, will fascinate armchair business critics for years to come, who will fall on one of two sides. The first, as already outlined on this site, is that new entrants in the smartphone market need the patronage of a monolithic mobile network. After all, there’s little profit to be made in mobile devices these days, leaving little cash for a new startup to spend on marketing.

Sure, brands like OnePlus have earned acclaim and a cult following without big advertising budgets, but that’s among enthusiasts. Companies like Samsung, meanwhile, spends around $10 billion a year on establishing its brand in the minds of the everyday consumer. Sprint has pledged to market the Essential PH-1 as a “hero” device, putting wealth and advertising dollars behind the device that should help it succeed.

Sprint has also been working very hard to recapture its third-place ranking in the US carrier market which it lost to T-Mobile. The network has tried a variety of innovative strategies, including at-home salespeople, to make buying new devices easier for the consumer. Big Yellow is also trying plenty of other ideas, like a $50 unlimited plan, viral videos, six months free Tidal and, uh, a merger with T-Mobile, to win some more trust.

On the other hand, Essential is an as-yet untested brand from one of the minds behind the T-Mobile Sidekick and Microsoft’s Kin phones. Rubin’s track record with hardware isn’t exactly littered with successes, and the Sprint partnership may alienate early adopters. Plus, teaming up with a company that, despite being backed by SoftBank, contrived to throw away its third place position, might make this a coalition of losers.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/06/12/essential-phone-is-exclusive-to-america-s-4th-biggest-carrier/

AI creates fictional scenes out of real-life photos

Researcher Qifeng Chen of Stanford and Intel fed his AI system 5,000 photos from German streets. Then, with some human help it can build slightly blurry made-up scenes. The image at the top of this article is a example of the network’s output.

To create an image a human needs to tell the AI system what goes where. Put a car here, put a building there, place a tree right there. It’s paint by numbers and the system generates a wholly unique scene based on that input.

Chen’s AI isn’t quite good enough to create photorealistic scenes just yet. It doesn’t know enough to fill in all those tiny pixels. It’s not going to replace the high-end special effects houses that spend months building a world. But, it could be used to create video game and VR worlds where not everything needs to look perfect in the near future.

Intel plans on showing off the tech at the International Conference on Computer Vision in October.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/17/ai-creates-fictional-scenes-out-of-real-life-photos/

Your timely reminder: Not all hacking requires a computer

At this year’s Def Con the Telephreak team organized a hacking challenge that played out like an alternate reality game (ARG). It was the brainchild of Telephreak members, TProphet and Lion Templin. After a few weeks of plotting and scheming, the two brought it to life and unleashed it on the unsuspecting attendees of Def Con.

The main thrust of the event? Why spend days or weeks trying to bust into a network when you could pick up a phone? You could pretend you’re a helpless coworker and talk someone into giving you access to the company network, or figure out a person’s login credentials based on their personal information.

While crypto-puzzles and capture the flag events are standard at Def Con, this year the Telephreak team went with a game that involved breaking into the fictitious organization Ellingson Mineral Company (from the movie Hackers) by pretending to be a wayward employee.

Your timely reminder: Not all hacking requires a computer

This type of approach is far more prevalent that many are aware. In fact “social engineering” is how journalist Mat Honan’s digital life was compromised. It’s also why losing an employee badge with details like your name, ID and various company phone numbers can be a huge security problem. Logging into a remote computer is hard, talking an operator into sharing confidential information is often just a matter of how charming the caller is.

The deep study and, sometimes, exploitation of telephone systems for fun and profit (known as phreaking) started in the 1950s — decades before the average person got their hands on a computer. In addition to figuring out how to get free long-distance phone calls and routing calls through multiple switching stations around the globe, phone phreakers also figured out how to exploit vulnerabilities in PBX systems.

Social engineering though (often the key ingredient in successful phreaking); that’s been around as long as humans have communicated. Phishing is the most common use of the method, but sometimes it simply involves talking to people. Often the person trying to get information from an operator is working from a script that’s undergone hours and hours of trial and error. Other times it’s just a matter of sounding like you know what you’re doing. Or, better yet, pretending you don’t know what you’re doing and you need help. It’s tough to turn down a coworker in distress.

The Def Con game started with TProphet dropping 50 Ellingson Mineral “employee badges” around the conference. On the back of each badge was a series of phone numbers that contestants would call and try to swindle the operators to share information about the company and, eventually, to take down the company’s power distribution unit.

The Telephreak team went as far as setting up a call-center in Minnesota with people that would adjust their replies to the callers, based on the amount of Twitter chatter around the company. the more people tweeted about the contest, the tougher it would be to get info from the “employees.”

The contest was scheduled to run until Sunday evening at 6pm PT, but the company was successfully hacked by a team called Psychoholics late Saturday night. In addition to getting kudos from the Telephreak organizers, the winning team got an “Uber” badge from Def Con — which means it’ll have free access to the conference for life. That part wasn’t expected by TProphet. “It was a total surprise to us when Def Con named it a black badge competition. We weren’t even an official Def Con contest,” he said.

De facto Psychoholics team-leader Jason Thor Hall said that he handled most of the social engineering work, but by the end of the challenge even some of the shy team members were getting into it and picking up on social cues. “Being able to read other people is huge in any walk of life, so I am glad they got to experience it and see how social engineering works in practice,” he said.

Your timely reminder: Not all hacking requires a computer

But his team’s involvement wasn’t planned. In fact they didn’t even know a challenge was happening. “We had actually never interacted with the Telephreaks before this and didn’t even know the challenge existed. Someone walked by and threw a badge in my lap when I was sitting down in a hallway and said ‘You dropped your badge’ and ran away,” Hall said.

During the challenge the would-be phreakers had to do more than just make phone calls and remember dial tones, they also had to figure out voicemail passwords. One was an employee’s birthdate. Another was the last four digits of their employee ID. Sadly, these are typical mistakes made by actual people in the real world. That alone should frighten the security team of any company.

While the Telephreaks challenge was great piece of nostalgia (who doesn’t love Hackers) wrapped in an immersive game, it pulls directly from how things are done in the real world today. An IT department might bolster its software security, yet practically ignore the colleagues that have access to it — a company is only as secure as its chattiest employee. Phishing tests are all the rage, but maybe it’s time to speak to employees about what they should and shouldn’t talk about over the phone and encourage good password practices.

Hall loves puzzles and was impressed by the level of detail of the challenge. “They kept it very realistic throughout the experience. This story can be and has been played out all over the world many times. Employees losing their badges/accounts and getting owned through social engineering.” Remember, like the challenges at Def Con, to the person on the other end of the phone trying to access your company, you’re just another riddle to be solved.

Images: United Artists (Hackers GIF); Jason Thor Hall (Ellingson Mineral)

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/16/your-timely-reminder-not-all-hacking-requires-a-computer/

ESPN’s Apple TV app streams four live feeds at once

Of course, you don’t have to watch four at once. You can also choose to watch one, two or three feeds and arrange them in one of five different layouts that suits you best. And yes, you can re-order the feeds, select audio and change to fullscreen view when the action gets intense. When you want to go back watching to all of your streams at once, you can do so easily.

Sure, this isn’t the first app to allow multi-feed viewing as the MLB At Bat app and ABC News are among the options already employing the feature. However, with football season nearly here, it makes a lot of sense for ESPN to take advantage and allow fans to track multiple games on Saturday afternoon. Yes, the ESPN app on Apple TV requires a cable subscription — at least until next year when Disney launches a standalone service for the 24/7 sports network.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/16/espn-apple-tv-app-multicast-tvos/

Kano’s latest DIY kit turns motion into code

The challenges are, of course, pretty basic; Kano’s entire ethos revolves around making coding as accessible and straightforward as possible. But the principal is exciting. Motion sensors are invisibly embedded in cars, phones and machinery, and for many how they actually work remains a bit of a mystery. The Motion Sensor kit makes the concept tangible.

Plus, it can be plugged into other Kano kits and made to do cool new things beyond the basic introductory tutorials. Hook it up to the Pixel light board, for instance, and you could code it to light up whenever someone walks into a room, or plug it into the Kano Camera and program it to take a photo whenever it detects movement. As Kano is keen to demonstrate to curious new coders of all ages, there are no limitations.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/15/kano-s-latest-diy-kit-turns-motion-into-code/

Facebook Marketplace makes its way to 17 European countries

So, how is Marketplace better than eBay or Craigslist? Facebook says “you can feel good about buying and selling on Marketplace” since you can check out a seller’s or a buyer’s profile, see if you have any mutual friends and how old their accounts are. In an ideal world, that means you won’t ever have to worry about getting scammed (or, you know, raped and murdered) during a meetup. It’s still a young feature, though, so you might not always find what you need there and will probably still have to regularly visit its competitors.

Facebook Marketplace makes its way to 17 European countries

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/15/facebook-marketplace-europe-expansion/

Studio Ghibli reopens for Hayao Miyazaki’s new film

A re-opening normally wouldn’t be newsworthy, but at one point, it seemed like Studio Ghibli — behind masterpieces like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle — would not produce any more films. Recently, however, Amazon announced that it would stream Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, a children’s TV series directed by Miyazaki’s son Goro. Shortly after that came the news that the studio would produce a new film directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Studio Ghibli hasn’t released any details about the film itself, but many fans think it will be an adaptation of Miyazaki’s first CGI short film Boro the Caterpillar. That short was delayed, but producer Toshio Suzuki has said it will likely be released in 2019 ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

Miyazaki has threatened retirement before, and when he stepped down in 2013, the company announced it would restructure for the next generation of animators. The films, while beloved by animation aficionados and cineastes, have never made tons of money — Studio Ghibli’s best-grossing film was Spirited Away, which made $275 million back in 2001.

Over the years, however, the films have gained a much larger following thanks to streaming and DVD, so the new one will likely be met with unprecedented anticipation. Adding to that, Miyazaki will be 80 when it’s completed, so this could definitely be his last film.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/12/studio-ghibli-reopens-for-hayao-miyazakis-new-film/

Investors demand key VC firm leave Uber’s board in light of lawsuit

Benchmark’s suit is based around Kalanick’s move to create three additional seats on the board, including one for himself, after he stepped down as CEO. Benchmark wants Kalanick out completely and now other board members want Benchmark out in turn. In an email obtained by Axios, three investors — Shervin Pishevar, Ron Burkle of Yucaipa and Adam Leber of Maverick — claim that Benchmark’s lawsuit is “ethically dubious and, critically, value-destructive rather than value enhancing.” They go on to call the move “fratricidal” and note concerns that it would “cost the company public goodwill, interfere with fundraising and impede the critical search for a new, world-class Chief Executive Officer.”

The email, which was circulated to other investors who were given the opportunity to add their names to it, requests the company remove its board member and sell at least 75 percent of its Uber holdings. It also asks Uber’s board of directors, which is meeting today, to cast a symbolic vote on the lawsuit.

This is a weird shakeup in an already strange situation, but maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising anymore that Uber continues to find itself in newfound troubles.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/11/investors-demand-vc-firm-leave-uber-board/

An AI ‘nose’ can remember different scents

When the sensor detects a smell, an AI takes over and checks it against a database of known scents for “the closest similar smell determined by the smallest Hamming distance to any know code,” HSE writes. If it can’t find a match, the sensor will identify the scent as being new.

The difference between this and other scent prediction/identification tech — like the crowdfunded one from this February — is that it can sense more than one scent at a time. Useful for, say, gas mixtures.

“Essentially, we want to teach the device to discriminate between hazardous and non-hazardous gas mixtures and memorize them fast,” MIEM HSE professor Vladimir Kulagin says.

At the least, it could greatly benefit folks working in mines or enclosed spaces as sort of a digital canary, alerting folks when an unsafe gas has entered the area.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/11/neural-net-nose/

Google cancels all-hands meeting due to safety concerns

At the same time Google fired the author of a 10-page memo criticizing its diversity efforts due to “biological” differences, CEO Sundar Pichai scheduled a company town meeting for today to discuss the issue. Now, Recode and Business Insider report that he sent another email to employees canceling the event, citing websites that posted personal information about employees critical of the memo. Instead, the company plan is that “in the coming days we will find several forums to gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely.”

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/10/google-diversity-memo-meeting-sundarpichai/