The FTC says it won’t stop Amazon from buying Whole Foods

The Federal Trade Commission says it won’t attempt to block Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods, despite some calls for the agency to closely scrutinize the deal.

“The FTC conducted an investigation of this proposed acquisition to determine whether it substantially lessened competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, or constituted an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act,” the acting chief of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition said in a statement. “Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further.”

Experts generally expected the deal, which also requires a sign-off from the Justice Department, to be approved, even as it was criticized by others. The FTC said in its statement that it “always has the ability to investigate anticompetitive conduct should such action be warranted.”

Amazon first proposed the $13.7 billion deal in June. Last month, Reuters reported that the FTC, as part of its review, was looking into allegations that Amazon had misled customers about discounts. A letter from a group of lawmakers around the same time also expressed “concerns” about the deal, asking whether “further consolidation” would impact communities where access to healthy foods is already limited. The FTC’s brief statement did not address any of those concerns directly.

Whole Foods shareholders, meanwhile, also approved the deal today.

Google’s US search results will let people check if they’re depressed

People in the US who search Google for “depression” on their mobile phones will soon have the option to take a screening questionnaire to test whether they’re depressed. The new feature, which Google spokeswoman Susan Cadrecha says “will be fully rolled out on mobile in the US over the next day or so,” isn’t meant to subvert a medical evaluation. It’s meant to steer you to one if you appear depressed.

Clinical depression is a fairly common condition: about one in five Americans experience an episode in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but only about 50 percent of people who have depression get treated for it.

When you Google “depression” in the US, you will see a box atop the results on mobile, which Google calls a Knowledge Panel. The box contains information on what depression is, what its symptoms are, and possible treatments. The update adds the option to tap on “check if you’re clinically depressed” and take a clinically validated screening questionnaire called PHQ-9. The self-assessment is private and is meant to help steer people who might be depressed toward in-person evaluations.

GIF: Google

“The results of the PHQ-9 can help you have a more informed conversation with your doctor,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which partnered with Google on the questionnaire.

The organization hopes that by making the questionnaire easily available on Google, more people will become aware of their own illness and seek treatment. People who have symptoms of depression — such as anxiety, insomnia, or fatigue — wait an average of six to eight years before getting treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Hulu’s live TV service now supports web browsers on PC and Mac

Hulu with Live TV can now be streamed using web browsers on PC and Mac, expanding the service beyond the mobile devices and set-top boxes it’s already on. Live TV channels can be viewed using Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge browser, and Internet Explorer 11. Taking live TV to the browser is something that Hulu’s competitors — Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now — have already done; Sling added the feature just over a week ago.

Don’t expect the most polished experience from Hulu at the moment. In a blog post, Hulu cautions that what customers will see beginning today is nothing close to the final live-TV-in-the-browser product it’s working towards. “Rather than wait until we’ve finalized our new web experience, we’re opening up a basic version to Hulu’s live TV plan subscribers so they can stream live TV via their browsers.” On-demand content is also available in addition to live feeds of channels.

The company describes this as “a very early” version that will improve over the coming months. “From point, click, and keyboard interactions, to responsive pages to fit all screen sizes; we are carefully considering all of the things that make building a web experience unique from living room and mobile devices.”

At the moment, only the primary profile associated with your Hulu account works with live TV on the web. So if multiple people in your home have their own profile, that might be one early inconvenience you run into. But there’s also more convenience elsewhere: Hulu lets you have multiple streams open at the same time with web browsers, which might prove beneficial for sports fans and is something you can’t exactly do with your smartphone or the Apple TV version of the app. Hulu is asking customers to provide feedback on the web experience as it evolves.

Samsung confirms it’s working on a smart speaker

Samsung is already working on getting into the smart speaker market. DJ Koh, president of Samsung’s mobile division, confirmed the news to CNBC today at its Galaxy Note 8 event, saying the product would launch “soon.” That timeline isn’t specific, but at least it’s something. Koh says he’s already working on the device and wants to create a “fruitful user experience at home with Samsung devices, and [he] want[s] to be moving quite heavily on it.”

He didn’t say whether the speaker would feature the company’s new digital assistant, Bixby, but I think it’s safe to assume that would be the case. Samsung has already started including the assistant in its connected refrigerators and says it wants to eventually install it across its product portfolio, including in TVs and wearables.

The key problem would seem to be that Bixby isn’t very good. Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri already work decently well, and Bixby has catching up to do, but maybe Samsung loyalists will want the assistant to run their house. Bixby is already available in more than 200 countries.

Facebook now lets you shoot 360-degree photos inside its app

Facebook has allowed users to upload and view 360-degree photos for a little over a year now, but the social media platform is also adding the ability to capture them, too. Starting today, both the iOS and Android versions of the Facebook app will allow users to create 360-degree photos without requiring a third-party app or camera.

Of course, since phones don’t have 360-degree cameras built in (yet, at least), the process resembles how you create panoramas in your phone’s camera app. To create 360-degree photos inside the Facebook app, scroll to the top of the News Feed and tap the “360 Photo” button. Then slowly spin around for a full turn, all while keeping the the graphic centered in the middle. When it’s finished, you can pick the “starting point” for the photo and publish it. You can even set it as your cover photo.

Since that capture process isn’t instantaneous, the update only applies to 360-degree photos for now. While Facebook supports 360-degree videos, you’ll still need to shoot those with a camera like the Samsung Gear 360, Insta360, or Nikon KeyMission 360, and upload them separately.

Death Note director Adam Wingard explains how Netflix saved his movie

Adam Wingard didn’t necessarily set out to be a horror director, but his love of horror films, and his deep familiarity with the genre, pushed him in that direction. He started out with low-budget, high-intensity projects (Pop Skull, A Horrible Way To Die, You’re Next), and became part of a generation of young horror filmmakers who gradually built a reputation off gruesome shorts in anthology films like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. In 2014, he and frequent screenwriter partner Simon Barrett made The Guest, a terrifically taut, John Carpenter-inspired thriller starring Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as a military vet infiltrating a family under false pretenses. That film was part of a multi-year plan to gradually ramp up to bigger movies and bigger budgets, including 2016’s Blair Witch, which premiered to mixed response. The plan may have worked — Wingard is currently attached to Universal’s Godzilla vs. Kong, a would-be blockbuster monster-movie crossover scheduled for release in 2020.

But in the meantime, Wingard has a smaller project: Death Note, Netflix’s live-action feature-film adaptation of the popular anime and manga series about a teenager who gets possession of a magical book that lets him control and murder anyone, as long as he knows their name and can picture their face. Light (Nat Wolff) sets out to clean up the world by killing criminals, and he quickly comes to the attention of quirky, troubled investigator L (Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield), who tries to hunt him down. The film, which has courted controversy by moving the action to America, launches on Netflix on August 25th. I recently spoke to Wingard about why he feels it works as an American story, how he decided to use a mix of CGI and practical effects for the demonic villain, Ryuk (played by Willem Dafoe), and why the way Lakeith Stanfield runs was both a production problem and a huge asset on set.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did Death Note come together?

It was quite an interesting process. The film was set up over at Warner Bros. for a number of years. They had gone through a lot of different directors, from Shane Black to Gus Van Sant, who was the last one attached before me. They were just looking for a director who had a take that really pulled it all together, because there’s a lot of things going on in Death Note that are not conventional. It’s a detective story, it’s a supernatural story, it’s a movie about young adults. The original version of the script I read started in high school, then skipped forward and was a college film. It didn’t really have a focus. I grounded it by taking this complicated story, and rooting it in this idea of a coming-of-age teenage tragic romance. That at least gave context to everything within it.

How did it end up at Netflix?

Warner Bros. put the movie in turnaround like two days before we were supposed to go into official pre-production. I’d been working with them on developing the screenplay for some time while I was making Blair Witch. I thought, “Okay, there’s no way this is going to happen,” because we’d already budgeted the film within an inch of its life, and we knew it needed to be rated R. So I thought, “Okay, it’s an expensive film. Who’s going to pick this up and do it the way we want to do it?” We shopped it around, and there was a lot of interest around Hollywood, but most people wanted to do it for $10 or $15 million less, or they wanted it to be PG-13.

It just so happened that everything clicked at the right time. Netflix was starting to do bigger-budget movies. Within a week, they were already expressing interest, and the thing was ready to go again. So I was really shocked at how quickly it came around. I think we just fit into a mold that Netflix is looking for. They want to be doing theatrical films that could play to a mainstream audience, while at the same time doing something off-center. This is still a pretty quirky story. In all honesty, it would be a big risk to play theatrically, because it’s not an easy film to market. Normally, these types of things get put on the back burner for that reason. But if you look at their slate, things like Okja and Bright and even War Machine, they’re bigger-budget things that fit this paradigm of being accessible movies that are doing something very different.

People complained because the movie was moved to America and cast with largely white actors, but while you made some big changes in those regards, you kept a lot of really small details, like the way L perches on chairs, or his obsession with candy. How did you decide what was important to preserve about the original Death Note?

I think the main thing was just the thematic elements, the idea of the cat-and-mouse chase, and the exploration of good and evil, and what’s in between, is there a grey area. Those kinds of things were the forefront of what was important. And then all the other little details kind of worked themselves out. We kept certain aspects of L, but we gave him a more ominous background, based on a more clandestine sort of programming. And that informed some changes. So you know certain things about him are the same, certain things are not. They main carryover for me was always Ryuk, trying to bring him to life as accurately as possible to the original source material, but in a way we had never seen before. The main thing behind that was to make sure that he was tangible, that he didn’t just look like a CGI thing. He needed to be real, so you feel like you can reach out and touch him.

Using an actor in a costume and then using motion capture on Willem Dafoe’s face certainly helped with that feeling of physicality. But how did you decide on that approach?

The character is supposed to be eight feet tall, so on set, we had a seven-foot actor in the costume, but we knew the only thing we really couldn’t achieve accurately would be the nuances, the eyes and facial expressions and mouth. So we always knew we’d just have a cutout for his face, and we’d adding Ryuk’s CGI face at the end. The mo-cap thing with Willem Dafoe was just on his face, not on his body, and it was really just about being able to inherit as much of his performance as possible, and keep that consistent, so it wasn’t just like animation voiceover: “Okay, we’ve got some voice to slap onto this CGI thing.” It was about trying to keep his performance intact.

Death Note has been described as being about the conflict between liberty and security. You’ve said you wanted to tell a specifically American story with this adaptation, and that conflict seems particularly relevant to America right now. Was that the American theme you most had in mind, or were there others?

Yeah, I think there’s an aspect to this film that is very American, in the sense that we’re a country that always seems to think we’re number one, and that it’s our responsibility to police the world. Light Turner, in a lot of ways, represents that concept. He thinks he has the moral high ground. He’s read that North Korea’s bad, so he goes after a North Korean general. He’s read about ISIS, so he blows up an ISIS camp. But really, at the end of the day, just like other American things, he really doesn’t know anything about anything, because he’s just a high-school kid. He’s kind of the embodiment of the CIA and the American military. That’s the cool thing about Death Note. It can be translated in different ways and still retain its core values. It has a different context when you put it in different places. But it has significant relevance I think, especially when you put it into America, especially now.

You don’t explore the origins of the Death Note here, or get into who trained L or where his school came from or what happened to it. That seems like a setup for an entirely different story. Do you want to continue this as a film series?

Yeah, when I went to Netflix, I pitched it as a multiple-film series, because really, this is the tip of the iceberg. It also still works as a closed loop. I think the movie thematically says everything it needs to say in the context of this film. But there’s a lot of places to go with the characters, and the background that’s only hinted at here through some esoteric symbolism. It’s purposely mysterious, and there are plenty of places to go with that. So I’d love to see where these characters go. Especially because everybody’s so damaged by the end of the film, which is a cool place for a comic-book movie to go, and not a conventional place to end.

Image: Netflix

You’re working with intense neon colors again, as you did with The Guest. But there, you were trying to achieve a 1980s look. What were you out to accomplish with the cinematography here?

I think this movie is also couched in a little bit of an ‘80s sensibility. The perspective on this is much different than The Guest, which is much more a heavy John Carpenter homage. Here, the color palette is kind of wild in places. There’s a complexity to it — it’s saying different things in different scenes, about the emotions of the characters. Ultimately, the thing that binds the story together, and gives a relevance and context, is 1980s approach, that colorful neon feel. Those things just evolve naturally with the story. The movie’s color palette does change as it goes, which I think is an interesting thing to do with a film. As the characters’ feelings and idea change, so does the world around them, to a certain degree.

The sequence here that most seemed likely to produce interesting behind-the-scenes stories was the foot chase, where L is chasing Light, and they’re smashing through people and leaping over counters. How did shooting go on that scene?

That was a really fun thing to do! I’ve always wanted to do a really cool foot chase. It was one of those things where in the script, it was like two paragraphs long. David Tattersall, who’s the DP, sat down with me, and we created like 100 storyboards on this thing. And Netflix initially was like, “Wait, what is all this. We’ve never seen this chase scene in the script!” It was developed out of a passion to take the movie to another level, especially because there isn’t a lot of action in the movie. It’s all condensed in the ending. So we wanted to really make the movie explode.

Nat Wolff [who plays Light] and Lakeith [Stanfield, who plays L] are really fun to watch in this scene, because they both had perfect running styles for their characters. Nat is like flailing all over the place, and Keith has this almost like T-1000 Terminator-style run that makes him look like a machine. So even in wide shots or shadows, it’s incredibly easy to tell who you’re looking at, at all times, because they’re so drastically different. When we were shooting — luckily, nobody ever got hurt doing it, or anything like that. The only time anybody got hurt in the film was at the beginning. In the scene with the bully, Nat actually got punched. You can actually see a couple shots where we’ve combed his hair down over this big bruise.

But there’s a shot inside the diner where Lakeith was doing his own stunts. And the reason for that is that in the first few shots in that sequence, Lakeith is getting out of a car, and jumping over a car that’s turned over. When we did that, I was like, “I don’t want Keith to hurt himself at the beginning of this chase, so let’s use the stunt guy.” That was before I’d seen how Lakeith runs. So the stunt guy did it, and he’s just conventionally running around. He’s a good stunt guy, but he’s running like anybody normally would.

And then after that, we brought Lakeith in and he started doing the rest of the scene. And I realized, “We can’t get a stunt guy do this, because he runs so crazy, nobody could imitate this kind of vibe.” So there’s a really great shot when he runs into the diner and jumps over the counter and slams a guy’s face into his soup. Then he jumps on the counter. If you watch the film, you’ll notice he slips off that counter, but he just keeps going. He never stops, he never breaks. He slipped and fell and kept it completely in character. So I have a ton of respect for him in terms of his physical abilities. Both those guys gave it their all. I mean, it’s horrible shooting those kinds of things as an actor, because you’re asked to run over and over and over and over again. [Laughs]

Image: Netflix

Without getting into spoilers… there’s something hugely important that seems like it’s going to happen in the final seconds of the film, but you decided not to show it, or to keep it offscreen. Why that decision?

We wanted the ending to feel open-ended, so the reason we didn’t show anything is because… it seems like your interpretation is pretty definitive, but some people have different ideas about what’s going on there. In some of our test screenings, some people actually thought something was going to happen to the dad at the end, or something else. So we purposely left it open, to leave the interpretation up to you about what had happened, what might happen.

Watch Samsung announce the Note 8 in 8 minutes

The Galaxy Note 8 is official, marking Samsung’s final move to get past the Note 7 incident and onto bigger, less (literally) explosive things. For a quick recap of what was announced at the keynote here at the Unpacked event in New York City, we’ve condensed all the biggest moments from a one-hour presentation to a totally unintentional (but certainly appropriate) eight-minute supercut. Eight minutes of Note 8! Isn’t that great? Good thing the event didn’t run too late. Must be fate!

Wacky poems aside, for additional coverage of today’s event, see the StoryStream below.

Apple reportedly working on self-driving employee shuttle for its campuses

We’ve heard for some time now that Apple had decided to get out of the game of trying to build an entire self-driving car itself and was instead focusing on the software side of autonomous driving. Now, in a new report by Daisuke Wakabayashi at The New York Times, we see that those smaller ambitions have a new waypoint: a self-driving shuttle to ferry employees between Apple’s current campus and the new one.

The shuttle project is reportedly called “PAIL,” short for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, and will be built on to another car manufacturer’s van rather than on something Apple itself will make. Apple has a permit to test self-driving cars and some Lexuses driven by Apple software were spotted earlier this year.

Here’s the car that #Apple‘s using to test its autonomous car technology. Story with @mhbergen. https://t.co/jHLnJDRjoSpic.twitter.com/zTezUmcZwC

— Alex Webb (@atbwebb) April 27, 2017

It’s a far cry from the original ambition for Project Titan, the codename that has been bandied about for Apple’s autonomous car efforts. According to the New York Times, some earlier Titan designs called for “spherical wheels” to replace regular tires, so cars could move laterally.

Interesting tidbit: Apple worked on car doors w motors to open silently and spherical — yes, spherical — tires https://t.co/WatZTLWdgW

— Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) August 22, 2017

Apple’s not alone among tech companies in giving up on making the whole car. Waymo is also focusing on building software for cars made by traditional manfacturers (Because everything Waymo is confusing, a reminder that it’s a division of Alphabet, which is the parent company of Google, and you previously thought of the whole thing as Google’s self-driving car because that’s what it once was.)

The New York Times also lays out some of the internal debates within Apple that led to this point — which apparently went all the way down to which programming language to use for Car OS.

Martin Scorsese is reportedly working on a Joker origin story movie

Warner Bros. has never had the clearest vision for what it wants to do with its DC universe movies, and one new idea the studio is now reportedly adding to the mix is a Joker origin story film produced by none other than Martin Scorsese. Deadline reports that the project, which is said to be in the early stages, will be directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover), from a script by the director and The Fighter screenwriter Scott Silver. According to the report, it will be part of a new sub-brand at Warner Bros. that will focus on creating original riffs on various DC characters.

As such, the project won’t feature Jared Leto, who recently played the role in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. The new Joker movie is described as a “hard-boiled crime film” that would take place in the early 1980s. Scorsese appears to be serving as an aesthetic and stylistic influence, with Deadline’s report calling out Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy as tonal references — a wild contrast from the hyped-up, Mountain Dew vibe of Ayer’s film.

Given the problems Warner Bros. and DC have had in creating a coherent cinematic universe, the news can be read as a sign that the studio may be abandoning its Marvel-esque strategy altogether. Its different movies have never really meshed, with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice coming off as far too dark, and Suicide Squad desperately embracing comedy in what could best be described as an incoherent overcorrection. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman has been the only film to truly stand on its own, but with two Justice League movies and various other sequels already in the pipeline, Warner Bros. has to see its current strategy through to a certain degree.

The new banner that the Joker film will reportedly fall under could represent a pivot in the larger strategy — a way for the studio to just focus on telling interesting, filmmaker-driven stories based around various DC characters without having to bother with the tonal and narrative continuity that Marvel has excelled at. At the very least, a Scorsese-producer Joker film would be the most prestigious DC film since Christopher Nolan left The Dark Knight franchise.

Dolby is now designing speakers for laptops

Dolby Labs, the San Francisco-based company best known for Dolby Atmos audio tools and Dolby Vision imaging technology, is now setting its sights on screens that are decidedly much smaller than theater screens: our laptops.

The company said today in a briefing with journalists that it’s now working directly with laptop makers to design speakers. Its initial hardware partner is Chinese manufacturer Huawei; and the Huawei MateBook X, which launched earlier this summer and which Verge writer Vlad Savov called one of the “best-sounding laptops” available, is the first consumer laptop that contains the Dolby-designed speakers.

Dolby has been proving various technologies to PC OEMs for around a decade now, according to the company. But the difference with this new initiative is that it is now weighing in on the speaker design process at the start of the laptop’s manufacturing process, instead of applying its audio technology to a product or program after it’s already made.

Dolby senior product manager Jeremiha Douglas said this is the “deepest level of collaboration” the company has ever had with a consumer device system, and said that it was partly driven by evolving laptop designs. As laptops sport thinner and lighter designs, Douglas added, “they have less room for audio.”

He also said that Dolby tore down various laptop models as a part of its research process into designing speakers, and that they found a lot of suboptimal laptop sound comes from having unbalanced stereo speakers — in some cases, laptops might have left and right speakers made by two different manufacturers, or a speaker that maxed out at five decibels less than the other.

At its headquarters in San Francisco today, Dolby gave two demos of its sound technology in the Huawei MateBook X, one demo with AKG headphones and one without any headphones. The sound was notably impressive, certainly some of the fullest-sounding audio I’ve heard coming from any thin PC.

Photo by Lauren Goode /The Verge

But it’s also worth nothing that the videos used in the demos were Dolby-mastered video and audio. When it comes to non-Dolby-Atmos content, an up-mixer is applied to make the stuff coming out of the built-in speakers sound at least a little bit better, but it’s reasonable to expect that the sound won’t be as great as it would be if it was native Dolby content.

In addition to the MateBook X, Dolby also designed the speakers on the gaming focused MateBook D laptop. When asked what other OEMs Dolby is now working with to design speaker systems, the company declined to say, not surprisingly; but hinted that other Dolby-designed laptop speakers are on the way.