Samsung and Intel join FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm

Qualcomm continues to have a rough start to the first half of the year after being sued by Apple and the United States Federal Trade Commission in separate lawsuits over anti-competitive practices. On Friday, Samsung and Intel both filed briefs backing the FTC in its case against Qualcomm, claiming they have been “harmed” by the misconduct.

Although Samsung develops its own chips that compete with Qualcomm’s, it uses its competitor’s chips in its smartphones — such as the Snapdragon 835 processor in the Galaxy S8. “Despite having requested a license from Qualcomm, Samsung cannot sell licensed Exynos chipsets to non-Samsung entities because Qualcomm has refused to license Samsung to make and sell licensed chipsets,” Samsung said in its brief, calling Qualcomm’s actions “exclusionary.”

Intel, on the other hand, claims in its filing that Qualcomm’s practices have “inflicted and continues to inflict precisely the harms that the antitrust laws seek to protect against,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Qualcomm has maintained an interlocking web of abusive patent and commercial practices that subverts competition on the merits. These practices have illegally coerced mobile phone manufacturers into purchasing the chipsets they need from Qualcomm and Qualcomm alone,” Intel wrote on its website.

While Qualcomm has not commented on Samsung and Intel’s briefings, it did warn investors in its most recent earnings report that growing legal challenges may affect its financial outlook. Qualcomm’s motion to dismiss the FTC suit is slated for June, and will be heard in a federal court in the Northern District of California.

Lowe’s prototype exoskeletons give warehouse workers a boost

Hardware chain Lowe’s is outfitting employees with a simple exoskeleton to help them on the job. The company has partnered with Virginia Tech to develop the technology, which makes lifting and moving heavy objects easier. The non-motorized exoskeletons are worn like a harness, with carbon fiber rods acting as artificial tendons — bending when the wearer squats, and springing back when they stand up.

“It feels very natural,” Kyle Nel, the director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, tells The Verge. “When the person is walking and bends down to pick something up, the rods collect potential energy. And when they stand back up it puts that energy back into their legs and back. It’s very smooth, and it feels like this heavy thing [they’re lifting] is much less heavy.”

Lowe’s has issued four of the custom-built suits to employees at a store in Christiansburg, Virginia. The equipment has been in use for over a month and the company says early feedback is extremely positive. “[Employees] wear it all day, it’s very comfortable, and it makes their job easier,” says Nel, adding that Lowe’s is working with scientists from Virginia Tech to conduct a proper survey of the technology’s usefulness. “It’s early days, but we’re doing some major studies,” he says.

The exoskeleton is worn like a harness, and Lowe’s says it’s comfortable enough to have on all day.
Photo: Lowe’s

Many companies and research institutes have developed simple exoskeletons of this type. Swiss firm Noonee sells a harness that lets wearers sit in midair, alleviating strain when squatting; and General Motors has teamed up with NASA to develop a motor-assisted glove that makes it easier to grip and lift heavy objects. More advanced exoskeletons like Panasonic’s powered suits are also available. However, as with this foray by Lowe’s, the actual number of exoskeletons deployed in the field is still small.

Lowe’s is confident that technology like this will help the chain stay efficient and productive. The company’s Innovation Labs has previously worked on projects like bespoke 3D printing (tested on the International Space Station) and creating a robot that guides customers around stores. This latest venture, though, seems more likely to yield results speedily, and Lowe’s says it kept the suit simple to make it easy to improve.

“We didn’t want to over-engineer it, make it too fancy, or give it too many bells and whistles,” says Nel of the exoskeleton. “We’re putting it in the rough and rumble world of a real store and will iterate on top of that.”

Asus reportedly killing its ZenWatch line of Android Wear watches

Asus is reportedly ending development on its ZenWatch line of Android Wear smartwatches, according to a report today from Digitimes that cited sources in Taiwan’s supply chain. The report is unconfirmed and The Verge has reached out for comment.

The Digitimes source claims that Asus is shipping an average of just 5,000 to 6,000 ZenWatch units per month across the product line, sales that are low enough that Asus is expected to discontinue the product line.

If true, Asus exiting the Android Wear business would mark yet another major hardware manufacturer bailing on Google’s smartwatch platform, alongside companies like Motorola (which has put off smartwatches “indefinitely”) and Samsung (who has shifted focus to its own Tizen-based Gear line). The ZenWatch products were among the most affordable Android Wear devices, too.

But even as traditional hardware companies are backing away from Android Wear devices, fashion companies seem to be picking up the slack; a host of new Android Wear 2.0 watches is set to arrive later this year from decidedly less tech-focused brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss.

George R.R. Martin blogged a bunch of teasers about the Game of Thrones spinoffs

George R.R. Martin did some Sunday night Livejournal blogging yesterday, addressing his involvement in four in-development Game of Thrones spinoffs recently announced by HBO. Uncommonly for Martin, who loves to tease fans with vague promises about the long-awaited sixth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, the post contained some useful and specific information.

For starters, there are now five spinoffs in development, though Martin said he wouldn’t name the fifth writer. The only hint he added was that the writer is a “great guy and a fine writer” and he loves the world of Westeros a lot.

Martin also addressed some speculation about which of his stories the new series might follow, squashing the popular demand for a show about Robert’s Rebllion — the conflict that occurs shortly before the beginning of the current series and pits Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon against the “Mad King,” Daenerys’ father.

Martin explained that choice adding, “By the time I finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire, you will know every important thing that happened in Robert’s Rebellion. There would be no surprises or revelations left in such a show, just the acting out of conflicts whose resolutions you already know.”

Some other things the spinoff shows won’t be about: any characters that viewers have previously met on Game of Thrones or the popular prequel novellas Tale of Dunk and Egg. Martin says all five pilot scripts will be prequels, but he’d prefer you call them “successor shows.” Martin himself pitched two different ideas to HBO in August 2016, and he says one of those ideas is currently being developed by one of the five writers. Some of the scripts might not even be set in Westeros, though Martin says he has no idea how many will actually make it to air.

He also clarified that he has met with all four writers (originally Variety reported that he was working with two of them), to drink margaritas and talk about his books.

Speaking of his books: “And yes, before someone asks, I AM STILL WORKING ON WINDS OF WINTER (emphasis his) and will continue working on it until it’s done.” Thanks for the update, George.

Google I/O 2017: what to expect from the big developer conference

Google I/O begins on May 17th, 2017 at 10AM PT / 1PM ET with CEO Sundar Pichai taking the stage for the keynote. Held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA, there will be one main keynote, a developer keynote that same day, then events running throughout the rest of the week.

Under Pichai, Google has developed a new cadence for its product announcements. It’s not quite as rigidly predictable as Apple’s, but it’s getting there. So for the annual developer conference, Google I/O, we can be fairly confident in a few things: there won’t be a new phone, machine learning will get plenty of stage time, there will be more details on the next version of Android, and there will be some weird surprises.

If you’re wondering what the rest of that yearly cadence looks like and how Google I/O fits into it, here’s a quick primer:

That schedule doesn’t tell us exactly what to expect from I/O, though it does mean that we can bet on a handful of beats that matter to Google’s developer community. But don’t think that a consistent timeline is the same thing as focus: the I/O keynote often feels as scattershot as Google itself. There will likely be lots of different divisions getting stage time to talk about their products, and keeping up with them all will be a marathon-length sprint. Fortunately for you, we’ll have a liveblog with myself, Casey Newton, Adi Robertson, and Vlad Savov to explain everything in real time.

When we try to predict what to expect from I/O this year, we end up looking at a mix of sure things and wild speculation. So let’s get into all of it!

Google Assistant, Home, and AI

google assistant on the pixelgoogle assistant on the pixel

It’s a sure thing that the Google Assistant will get a lot of attention this year. Firstly, Google is still making a push to improve its capabilities in the Google Home speaker while also making sure it works on a ton of other devices. It is also tied into one of Google’s core strengths: powerful machine learning algorithms.

Basically, Google Assistant is the product that touches nearly everything Google makes and is the most obvious, direct example of Google’s AI chops. It’s also generally regarded as better than its competitors Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. Google will want to show it off.

But that lead isn’t as strong today as it was a couple of years ago: Alexa’s wild and wooly developer ecosystem means that the Echo talks to more software and devices than Google Assistant. Apple can (and often does) make a strong case that Siri does a better job of protecting your privacy than Google. And Microsoft isn’t sitting idly by either, as Cortana-powered home speakers are coming soon. Heck, even Samsung is getting ready to take a run at Google with Bixby on the Galaxy S8.

So for Google, the pressure on the Google Assistant to maintain (or widen) its lead is very real. What exactly that looks like for Google isn’t totally clear, though. A lot of the innovations we’ve seen on previous iterations of Google’s consumer AI haven’t really achieved their potential: Google Now is mostly ignored by the majority of people and Now On Tap has been relegated to a single button almost nobody presses inside the Assistant.

Chances are we’ll see a mix of new features, new devices that can run the Assistant, and updated developer tools. Pay special attention to that last one: Google finds itself behind Amazon in terms of mindshare for home speakers that “do things,” so it needs to close the gap there.

We should also get an update on Google Home and its capabilities — again, Amazon is pushing hard on the home speaker front. And don’t forget about TensorFlow, Google’s machine learning platform, it’s likely to get a lot of stage time.

Android O

  Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

As we had last year with Nougat, we’ve already got an early look at the next version of Android, O, in the form of a developer preview. And as we saw last year, the developer preview only has some of what to expect. At Google I/O, we’re sure to find out more details of what’s coming in Android O.

Will we find out the full name? Last year Google held a contest to announce the name. This year it may do the same even though the conventional wisdom choice of “Oreo” feels like a fait accompli. (Or, given the dessert theme, a parfait accompli. Sorry not sorry.)

But first, here’s what we know about O so far:

  • Snoozing notifications: You’ll be able to half-swipe notifications and hit a “snooze” button, so they’ll appear later, when you actually want to deal with them.
  • More granular notification control: Apps will be able to better “group” their notifications so you will be able to block just the ones you don’t want without having to hunt through app settings.
  • Improved battery life: It seems like Google promises this every year. And this year, it’s doing it by more strongly limiting what apps are allowed to do in the background. That’s a little more like the way iOS handles its multitasking.
  • Better Bluetooth: Sony has chipped in some code to improve Android’s Bluetooth audio performance.
  • Cleaner settings: Whether you’re Google or Samsung or LG or whomever, Settings is your favorite app to mess with and change every year. Because trying to make sense of Settings is awful. In O, the main page will be simpler and cleaner, hopefully helping you find what you actually want faster.
  • Change buttons: Deep in the System UI Tuner, there are options to mess with the core trio of Android buttons at the bottom of every phone, as well as options to change the quick launch apps on the Lock Screen.
  • Improved support for physical keyboards: Official support for Android apps is coming to Chrome OS eventually, and when it does you’ll want to be able to use Android apps with your Chromebook’s keyboard more easily. Done and dusted.
  • Picture-in-Picture video: Finally.
  • Theming options: Maybe! We know that Android O will allow for differently-shaped icons, a core part of most theming. There are some other signs theming could happen.

Take all that together and you’re looking at a pretty healthy maintenance release, a “let’s fix a bunch of stuff under the hood” update. The question is whether Google will be satisfied with that or if it will want to do something a little more ambitious. Last year, we saw similar feature bullets in the preview and then had Daydream VR unveiled at Google I/O. This year? There haven’t been very strong rumors about something that big, but maybe Google will surprise us.

Android apps on Chrome OS

Google Play on a Chromebook PlusGoogle Play on a Chromebook PlusPhoto by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Android apps work on Chrome OS right now, but they’re in beta and they don’t run super well. I’ve heard that they were originally developed on the Android M platform and the end goal is to release Android on Chrome OS on the same cycle as Android on phones and tablets — so in a worst-case scenario we might be waiting until O is official. Even if Google has decided that it needs to take a little more time to get Android on Chrome OS right before making it official, it has to give us some sort of update on the project at Google I/O. The anticipation and demand for this sort of cross-compatibility between devices and platforms is only going to expand. So expect that update, and if we’re lucky expect an announcement of an official release date.

When that time comes, we’re assuming that the windows housing Android apps will be freely resizable and fully capable — at least as good as they are on Samsung DeX. I’d also like to see Google clean up the app launcher so it’s easier to distinguish between Android apps and Chrome apps. Beyond that, the big challenge will be getting third-party developers making apps that work well on large screens.

VR and AR

Daydream ViewDaydream View

It’s been a full year since Google unveiled its VR platform, Daydream. In that year we’ve seen only a handful of non-Pixel phones updated to support it. That’s not great. Google is facing serious competition in the VR space — and it hasn’t really had anything notable to say about augmented reality in a very long time.

So at minimum we should expect an update on what’s going on and what’s coming next for Daydream. It might be too much to hope for a standalone headset or true inside-out VR tracking with Project Tango, but nobody would really complain if Google managed to get it done.

Instant Apps, Chrome, and the web

It’s okay if you don’t remember “Instant Apps,” because beyond announcing them at I/O last year it doesn’t seem like Google has done much with them. The idea is that instead of installing an app before you run it, an Instant App can start right away and stream itself to you over the internet. Then it goes away when you’re done, just like a web site.

Instant Apps are a cool technology, but whether they’re truly viable for developers is entirely another story. Because they require specific pieces of Android to run, they’re not likely to be as widely available (nor widely adopted by developers) as more traditional apps or good old HTML apps.

But they’re on the agenda this year at I/O, so presumably Google is getting closer to making them officially available on a wider basis. It’s neat tech, and worth keeping an eye on this year.

As for the web, Google still cares about it a lot even though things like Instant Apps, Chrome-only web apps, and even AMP tend to undercut it. Google will surely show off more features available for Progressive Web Apps and AMP pages.

For Chrome, keep an eye out for anything the presenters might say about battery life and Windows 10 S availability. Microsoft has been throwing down a lot of gauntlets lately, and it would be weird if Google didn’t respond.

Allo, Duo, and Hangouts updates

Google Assistant on AlloGoogle Assistant on Allo

Allo has seen relentless upgrading since it was announced last year, but a messaging app from Google is rightly judged by how many users it has — and Allo doesn’t have very many. For I/O this year, I would not anticipate that Google will announce SMS integration or anything close to how iMessage works. The company is just too nervous about pissing off its carrier partners who are trying to get everybody on next-generation RCS messaging.

Instead, we should get an overview of all the features that have been added to Allo and hopefully a preview (if not a release) of the desktop app and multi-device support. That desktop app is likely to work the same way WhatsApp’s and Telegram’s do: on the web and tied to your phone for its key operation.

Duo, meanwhile, seems to be a small hit. We may see some updates, but this is more of an “if it ain’t broke” story. Hangouts just got a massive overhaul to become an enterprise-focused Slack competitor. We may see it demoed and may get a release date, but don’t hold out hope that it’s ever going to be good for consumers again.

We love to joke about Google’s messaging strategy, but outside of some jaunty experiments, it’s actually pretty simple:

  • Allo and Duo for consumer messaging
  • RCS support for carriers
  • Hangouts for businesses

The rest: Android Wear, Android TV, Chromecast, and more

Many of these products have had recent updates and though they all have things that should be changed or fixed, I suspect that we’re not on the right cycle to get them this May. Android TV, in particular, is basically Google’s White Whale and if the company keeps going out to sea with random attempts it’s going to be embarrassing. Instead, we should see some small, developer-focused announcements and perhaps an update for Chromecast.

Beyond all that, don’t forget that this is a developer conference, which means we’ll get updates for all sorts of developer tools like Firebase, Google’s Cloud tools, and Android Studio.

What else? Who knows! Google’s gonna Google. It should be a fun keynote.

Watch the first trailer for The Gifted, Fox’s new X-Men series

Fox has released the first full-length trailer for The Gifted, its upcoming TV show set in the X-Men universe. The show follows the Strucker family, as daughter Lauren and son Andy explore their new mutant powers, run from sinister government agents (and baby Sentinel spiders?) and yell their way through some family conflict. (The trailer shows, Dad, aka Reed Strucker, hanging around humans trapped in human-sized Juicero bags, which maybe suggests he’s not one of the good guys.) There are also some established Marvel characters poking around, including Blink and Polaris.

Here’s the official blurb: “Family adventure series THE GIFTED, from 20th Century Fox Television in association with Marvel Television, tells the story of a suburban couple whose ordinary lives are rocked by the sudden discovery that their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.” The show is written by Matt Nix of Burn Notice, and X-Men’s own Bryan Singer is directing.

Samsung’s Chromebook Pro spotted in black ahead of imminent release

Would you look at that, it’s our first glimpse at the Chromebook Pro that was originally supposed to go on sale in April. Sure we saw a silver prototype already, but this is the first time we’ve seen the device in its final black finish. Remember, this Intel-based touchscreen convertible with stylus runs Chrome OS and real Android apps. Kind of.

Here, take a closer look before I explain:

First spotted by Chrome Unboxed, the Chromebook Pro is listed on Amazon this very moment for $549.99 with an estimated release date of May 28th. Yeah, that would be a month later than originally announced, but recall what Dieter Bohn said about the Chromebook Pro’s ability to run Android apps when he didn’t review it in February:

“But because its software is still in beta right now, it’s not a dream at all. It’s the other thing. It’s a nightmare.”

Google I/O kicks off on Wednesday and with any luck we’ll find out that the beta nightmare is over.

Microsoft says governments should stop ‘hoarding’ security vulnerabilities after WannaCry attack

As news of the WannaCry ransomware attack broke last week, companies and governments scrambled first to keep it contained. Now, with more details about its origins and effects clear, those organizations are issuing their official responses.

Among the first is Microsoft, which rushed out an emergency patch for Windows XP on Friday, after formally ending support for the operating system three years ago. The company responded to the attacks with a strongly worded blog post, criticizing governments for “stockpiling” information about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and likeningthe WannaCry attack to the US military “having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”

Microsoft references the WannaCry ransomware’s source as an vulnerability known by the NSA, noting that similar security holes were revealed on WikiLeaks in documents stolen from the CIA. It says that the governments of the world should treat the WannaCry attack as “a wake-up call,” to consider the “damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits,” and to adopt the “Digital Geneva Convention” the company first suggested in February. That Convention would have a new stipulation, too: “a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them.”

But Microsoft also calls on customers to keep up their end of the bargain, too. It notes that cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a shared responsibility between tech companies and customers, the former relying on the latter to keep their critical systems updated, just as people rely on companies to put out secure systems. By keeping pace with upgrades and patches, vast networks like the UK’s National Health Service will be able to avoid what Microsoft says are the “two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today — nation-state action and organized criminal action.”

In the United States, the Trump administration called an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing threat of the ransomware, which according to Europol, has already affected 200,000 computers in 150 countries. In the UK, where WannaCry impacted the work of the National Health Service, experts warned that a second wave may be incoming as still-undetected ransomware could be triggered.

But while Microsoft’s advice to keep your computers updated is solid for most standard consumers, it’s these government and corporate networks that remain most at risk. The NHS is a good example. The service has been the target of repeated government budget cutbacks, and the country’s health minister is apparently unwilling to discuss the security of the huge, ageing network it uses. Around the world, similar organizations are likely to remain juicy targets for increasingly more organized and sophisticated attackers.

Nintendo is making a Legend of Zelda smartphone game: WSJ

Nintendo is developing a Legend of Zelda game for smartphones, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The game is likely to be released following the upcoming mobile version of Animal Crossing, which is expected to arrive sometime this year. Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima said last month that the company plans to release two to three new smartphone games in the financial year ending March 2018.

The WSJ report doesn’t offer any details on the new Zelda title, nor whether it’ll follow the one-time fee approach of Super Mario Run or the free-to-play model of Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s two previous mobile games. But the identification of the franchise alone will be enough to get many Nintendo fans excited.

The Legend of Zelda’s critical standing is higher than it’s been in decades, following the hugely successfulBreath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch and Wii U, as well as the inventive A Link Between Worlds for 3DS a few years previously. Making the relatively complex controls of a Zelda game work well on a smartphone could prove a challenge, though Nintendo did create two full-on Zelda titles for the DS that were entirely controlled by touch: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.