Android Auto finally gets Waze road alert integration

Waze has cooked up a new dashboard integration for Android Auto that allows drivers to keep their eyes off their phones for their directions and focused on the road ahead.

The navigation app is now projected directly onto the car’s infotainment screen via Android Auto, which, in theory, makes Waze’s real-time alerts less distracting and more accessible than when you use the regular smartphone version.

The phone version was the only place you could use Waze up until now, which put a lot of drivers in a tough spot. Do you look away from the road at your phone to take advantage of the app’s unique ability to mark potential obstacles, or just let them pass without mention for the next driver?

I got a chance to take an early test drive around New York City with Waze for Android Auto to put the system through its paces before the public rollout. The integration succeeds in bringing the Waze experience to the car’s dashboard for the most part, although there are some bumps along the road that might throw drivers off course.

My high-tech chariot was a fresh red Chevy Cruze, which ran on diesel and drove like a dream. Its MyLink infotainment system served as the platform for Android Auto, which was integrated directly onto the dashboard’s 7-inch touchscreen. Cycling between the car’s built-in options and the smartphone menu was easy, as I jammed out to the Sirius XM radio for most of my drive time while running other apps.

I’m primarily an iOS user, so once my Google Pixel loaner was plugged into the car via USB, I was able to launch Waze from the navigation icon on the left bottom corner of the screen. (Android Auto still requires a USB connection to work, but wireless connectivity was announced at Google I/O 2016 and is coming soon.)

Hitting the road

My first attempt at using the new integration in the city wasn’t successful. The address I typed into the Waze search bar resulted in nothing but a spinning circle as it struggled to pull up the route, even after killing the engine and restarting the car.

I discovered my Pixel’s network connection was the issue, which meant I had to take advantage of the Cruze’s built-in Wi-Fi hotspot to access any of the smartphone features. Once I was connected, I was able to use Waze as intended — but I had to restart the phone and reconnect it to the Wi-Fi every time I started the car, which added a painful number of steps to the process.

This hopefully won’t be a common issue for drivers when the integration is rolled out, but it highlights a potential flaw for people driving in areas without reliable network coverage.

I was able to get Waze to work as advertised, so I took the car for a spin outside of the city to give the system a real test on the highway, where the app has been the most useful for me in the past.

The app’s real time, crowdsourced road alerts make driving less of a solitary experience, along with its more obvious benefits of highlighting potential pitfalls (and Dunkin Donuts stores) on the road ahead.

Once I plugged in my destination, I was able to use my finger to scroll ahead on the touchscreen to check out where the route led, or just tap the arrow next to the mileage and ETA estimates to check out some more details, like alternate routes. I experienced a momentary lag where I was driving ahead of the route’s directions, but that only happened once, and corrected after only a few moments.

The large screen is where the integrated version of Waze really shines. When I’ve used the app in the past, I’ve been distracted by all the information on my phone’s small display, especially when it’s in my hand or on my lap. By laying everything out in front of me, I was able to take note of everything on the road ahead, both on the screen and IRL.

I felt much more confident pulling up the Waze alerts menu, which is easily accessible at all times via a round orange icon on the screen. Reporting an alert is no more difficult than changing the radio station on the dashboard, a much less laborious process than tapping through the menu on a phone.

The actual navigation was exactly what I’d expect from Waze. I drove about an hour outside the city without a hitch, and the system later confronted a surprise closed street in the middle of Manhattan with no problem, taking me exactly where I needed to go within the maze of one-way roads and wider avenues, where I usually walk or ride the subway underground to get around.

The only other issue I had with the system was using voice commands. I tried in vain to tell Waze where I wanted to go, but was rebuffed at every attempt.

Once I was off the road, I took a closer look at the connected phone and activated Google Assistant on the device. That solved the problem, and I was able to use a simple voice command to enter a new destination. The feature worked — but again, it felt like there were too many steps needed to get there for a system that promises to be fully integrated.

Bringing Waze to your dashboard

Waze isn’t the first navigation app to make its way to Android Auto-connected dashboards. The automotive platform launched back in 2015 with Google Maps built in, but this is the first chance for drivers who prefer Waze to use their favorite app after a long wait. Google has owned the company since 2013, and first teased a Waze integration for Android Auto in 2015.

That delay, to some degree, comes from the challenge of translating the app’s experience from the phone to the dashboard.

“It was a big challenge and took quite a while to get the design for this implementation,” Waze Product Lead Jens Baron told me over the phone. “Android Auto is a framework that has to be approved for all kinds of driver distraction guidelines around the globe.”

The new, less distracting version of Waze could lead to even more user engagement — in my short time driving with it, I found myself much more likely to make a report on the road. Baron told me increased engagement is something Waze is hoping for, but hasn’t estimated how much of a boost the Android Auto integration might bring.

“At the moment it’s still early, so we’ll have to roll it out and see,” he said. “Later we’ll analyze the data and see if there’s more reporting, as soon as we have some time to get the product out. Maybe we’ll learn even more for the main app, and for Android Auto in general.”

Some features still aren’t fully functional at launch, though; for now, you can only use voice commands to tell Waze to lead you to a specific address or pre-programmed “Home” or “Work” destination. Waze says voice will eventually be expanded, adding the ability to report hazards and more in the future.

The mobile app’s social features like carpool, “beep beep,” gas price tracking, and map chat will also be included in Auto-specific updates, along with the Waze speedometer, the exclusion of which elicited “strong feedback” from the company’s pool of 5,000 beta testers according to Baron. He said there’s no set schedule for the updates, but it’s “something we’re looking to introduce very quickly.”

I checked out the integrated Google Maps feature too, to really compare how Waze stacked up. My route with Google Maps was noticeably smoother than the Waze navigation, with no lag whatsoever and more clearly marked merge directions.

Part of that superiority came from the cleaner interface, which is less cluttered than Waze — but it’s the realtime alerts and driver interaction that make the app so popular in the first place, drawing in 65 million monthly active users across the globe.

The Android Auto integration brings a slightly stripped-down version of Waze to dashboards, but that in itself doesn’t make it an inferior product, especially with updates on the way. Just like the mobile versions of the maps, what you should use really comes down to personal preference — you’ll still get directions to where you need to go.

Waze for Android Auto launches today, and is available for all Android Auto-enabled vehicles around the world.

Moto Z turned the modular smartphone from pipe dream to a reality

In short time, Motorola has turned the modular smartphone from pipe dream into reality. And not just any reality, but a successful one at that.

This success comes after a few public trials of modularity that, well, didn’t pan out so well… or at all. LG immediately comes to mind with its LG G5’ Friends line of hard to find, awkwardly engineered accessories that require users to power down the phone to swap one out. And who can forget Google’s troubled, but promising Project Ara concept that never came to fruition?

There was no shortage of buzz around modularity in the world of smartphones before the Moto Z, but almost nothing to show for it. But with its Moto Mods program, Motorola has grown from modularity student thanks to its early work on Ara to essentially teaching the workshop in how such an ambitious idea can succeed in the mobile space.

Moto obviously wasn’t the first to leap onto the buzz around modular smartphones. But compared to the others, its first attempt was remarkably solid in that it didn’t require the high levels of sacrifice that the others did.

There’s no risk of accidentally shutting off your phone, virtually no learning curve and no if’s or but’s about compatibility. Moto Mods are plug-and-play at its finest. They just work.

The MotoMod difference

Many, including myself, were convinced that every aspect of a smartphone had to be swappable to truly be considered modular. But Moto met expectations halfway with the Moto Z, making the core guts of the phone internal while allowing for more functions through an magnetic port. Instead of putting its focus on the gimmick, so to speak, Motorola let the growing variety of Moto Mods speak to the strength that stems from choosing to seal up the device.

These mods aren’t just convenient and clever, people really seem to have taken to them. At the launch of the new Moto Z2 Force, Motorola vice president of North America Rudi Kalil, he shared that user satisfaction is between 80-90% for Moto Mods, whereas general satisfaction with accessories is usually much lower. Impressive that the user satisfaction is so high, especially given the high cost of some Moto Mods.

Not just that, consumers are actually using the Mods they buy to fill specific needs on a regular basis. Looking at usage data, Jim Thiede, a product manager at Motorola, told us that people who buy the JBL SoundBoost Mod are using it for 8-10 hours per week on average. The Insta Share pico projector mod and Hasselblad True Zoom mods get about 5-6 hours of use weekly.

The real kicker Moto has discovered: people who tend to buy one Moto Mod usually follow through with buying another.

Honor thy customer

The ease with which one can connect a Moto Mod to a Moto Z phone is a big part of the appeal. So is the added feature that comes from using one. But perhaps the most persuasive aspect to buying into Moto’s modular lineup is that it comes with the comfort of knowing that each and every one of these investments works with its Z phones from the past, present and future.

The worst part of buying a new phone is loading it up with pricey accessories, but Moto Mods eliminates that process entirely. This is good, as Moto’s new Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z2 Play each offer a few noteworthy improvements that might make upgrading something that you’ll want to consider. Things like a hearty boost in power and a slim, streamlined design are small, but noticeable changes that might make all the difference for some.

It’s not just Moto in the ring

While I’m not saying that Motorola has found the future of smartphones with its Moto Mods program, there’s definitely something exciting about offering consumers customization that other brands are taking note of.

You’ve likely heard about Android co-creator Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone, the latest flagship to join the ranks. It, too, can expand its abilities with optional accessories.

It’s obvious that the potential of modularity planted its seed in many minds some time ago and it’s awesome to see how companies, even big ones, have tried to crack the egg. Some have failed and honestly, it’s difficult to tell how “successful” Moto’s success story really is.

But from my chair, things are looking good. So good that down the line, it wouldn’t surprise me to find even more competitors adding an element of modularity to their products.

And unless one has figured out how to successfully hot-swap components without diminishing the user experience, Moto has likely landed on the de facto method for smartphone modularity for the foreseeable future.

The final LawBreakers open beta runs this weekend

Cliff Bleszinski’s Boss Key Productions held an open beta for its upcoming law-of-gravity-breaking online FPS LawBreakers last month, and it seemed to go pretty well: Laws were broken, people were shot, and a good time was had by all. Unfortunately, it was a time-limited beta that came to an end on July 5. But the good news for those of you who missed it (or who would just like to give it another shot) is that one more open beta is set to begin on Friday.

The final beta will feature a number of changes from the previous event, including balance tweaks and new features based on player feedback. Players will be able to unlock and equip any launch-day “Stash Drop” content including skins, stickers, and profile pics, have a look at the launch-week-exclusive Wraith and Assassin’s Kinetic Blades weapons, try out matchmaking improvements, and play with Twitch features including account linking and broadcasting.

The final beta will begin at 7 am PT/10 am ET on July 28, and is scheduled to come to an end at the same time on July 31. To avoid wasting any of those precious hours on downloading the game, it’s available for pre-load now on Steam, so you can make with the violence as soon as the flag drops. It’ll also be helpful for PC players in North America who will be automatically entered into the “Early Bird Beta Contest” for a replica Aerator rifle or 1080Ti graphics card if they play at least three matches within the first four hours of the beta launch.

Boss Key also released a new trailer looking into the role played by Battle Medic class that you can check out below. (Short version: he’s not a guy you’d want as your family doctor.) LawBreakers is set for release on August 8, and will go for $30/£25/€30, or a little bit more the Deadzo Deluxe Edition. And since you’ve got a little time before the beta begins, you should probably make sure your drivers are in order, too.

PUBG next monthly update pushed to August 3, in-game skin system not due till launch

As teased by Brendan Greene earlier this month, PUBG’s latest monthly update promises first-person servers, an FOV slider for first-person view and a new rifle. As a result of “complications with a [recent] client crash bug”, these features won’t be implemented till August 3 (which could mean next month sees two monthly updates), however in-game skins designed to “further customize your character” won’t launch this side of Early Access.

“We would like to provide more content as well as test the basic crate and key system we want to implement in the final version of the game,” so reads a Steam Community update post. As such, on August 3, Thursday of next week, Bluehole will launch three new crates.

The developer continues: “All three crates will contain items inspired by the Battle Royale movie, some of which you may have seen in our older artworks. The first and second crates, named the Wanderer Crate and the Survivor Crate, will be free to open. Each of these crates will include one set of the themed clothing, on top of other cosmetic items. The third crate named the Gamescom Invitational Crate will have the most diverse pool of themed clothing.”

Speaking to that last point, a group of the “best Battlegrounds content creators” are set to be called up to run daily events at this year’s Gamescom conference in Cologne. The Gamescom PUBG Invitational marks the game’s first ever offline event of this kind that will see attendees compete in daily qualifiers.

As for how this relates to the aforementioned crate and key testing, Bluehole adds: “We have implemented a very basic key and crate system for this test. You can use your Battle Points (BP) to buy the crate on the Rewards page. While the Wanderer Crate and the Survivor Crate will be free to open, the Gamescom Invitational Crate can be opened with a key which you can buy for $2.50 each.

“Proceeds from the sale of the keys to open the Gamescom Invitational Crate will be used: to provide funds needed to organize the event, to provide a prize pool for the invitational winners, to support a selection of charities.”

Bluehole notes that once Gamescom wraps up on August 27, the Invitational Crate will no longer be available.

The following teaser images are dubbed “movie inspired cosmetic items”:

Hackers hijacked PCs using Source Engine kill animation exploit

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and other Source Engine games were all affected by a particularly nasty exploit until recently. Basically, by uploading custom assets into a custom map, hackers could use them to trigger a “buffer overflow vulnerability” which resulted in the victim PC being open to remote code execution.

In other words, merely shooting at an enemy could cause your machine to be remotely hijacked. The exploit was identified by One Up Security (via Motherboard) who notified Valve.

“Valve’s Source SDK contained a buffer overflow vulnerability which allowed remote code execution on clients and servers,” OUP’s statement reads. “The vulnerability was exploited by fragging a player, which caused a specially crafted ragdoll model to be loaded.

Multiple Source games were updated during the month of June 2017 to fix the vulnerability. Titles included CS:GO, TF2, Hl2:DM, Portal 2, and L4D2. We thank Valve for being very responsive and taking care of vulnerabilites swiftly. Valve patched and released updates for their more popular titles within a day.”

For a demonstration of how it worked, this very short video tells you all you need to know. Death has never been so scary.

Adobe Officially Killing Flash by the End of 2020

The end of an era is near.

Adobe on Tuesday announced plans to officially “end-of-life” Flash Player; it will cease to update and distribute Flash at the end of 2020.

“As open standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly have matured over the past several years, most now provide many of the capabilities and functionalities that plugins [like Flash] pioneered and have become a viable alternative for content on the web,” the company wrote. “Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating plugins.”

The news is probably music to the ears of IT security pros everywhere. In 2015, the plugin was deemed “the most frequently exploited product” by security firm Recorded Future, which said it provided “eight of the top 10 vulnerabilities leveraged by exploit kits.”

And yet, the plugin is still used by many websites to run videos, animations and similar content.

Adobe, which ceased development of mobile versions of Flash 2011, said Tuesday it’s “committed to supporting Flash through 2020, as customers and partners put their migration plans into place.” Until then, the company plans to issue regular security patches, maintain operating system and browser compatibility and add new features and capabilities as needed.

Adobe added that it will work with partners like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla to “maintain the security and compatibility of Flash content.” Those companies have already started the transition away from the technology; their blog posts about the transition are linked above.

Apple — never a fan of Flash — started moving way from Flash on the Mac in 2010; it’s now off by default and requires explicit approval on each website before Flash will run.

Adobe added that it plans to “move more aggressively” to kill Flash in “certain geographies where unlicensed and outdated versions” of the plugin are being distributed.

 

Roomba Is Mapping Your House to Make IoT Gadgets Smarter

Have a Roomba? Maps of the inside of your home could soon wind up with tech companies like Apple, Amazon or Google parent Alphabet.

In a recent interview with Reuters, iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle said his company may sell maps of users’ homes to third-party companies working on smart home devices. Collected by the company’s high-end Roomba models, those maps include data about “the dimensions of a room as well as distances between sofas, tables, lamps and other home furnishings,” according to the report.

The company could reach a deal to sell this data in “the next couple of years,” Angle tells Reuters. He reportedly thinks iRobot’s mapping data can help smart home devices like lights, thermostats and security cameras better understand their physical environment.

The news has, of course, raised privacy concerns. In a statement, Angle told PCMag said iRobot is “committed to the absolute privacy of our customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products.

“No data is sold to third parties,” he said. “No data will be shared with third parties without the informed consent of our customers.”

Right now, he said, the company is building maps “to enable the Roomba to efficiently and effectively clean your home.” The company’s top-of-the-line robot vacuum, the $900 Roomba 980, can, for instance, build a map of your home as it cleans and keep track of its location until it has tidied up an entire level.

“In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better,” Angle wrote. “For example, if you wanted your home to understand which connected lights were in which rooms so your voice command device would work better, your Roomba would be able to provide that. But to be clear, this is only if you opt in. It is still unclear what — if any — actual ‘partnerships’ would be needed to make that happen.”

Meanwhile on the robotics front, the co-inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, Joe Jones, recently unveiled a new product: the Tertill weed-killing robot. The cute little device is solar powered and waterproof; it lives in your garden, collecting sunlight during the day. Once the battery is fully charged, it starts roaming and hacking away at any weeds it passes over.

Every Small Business Needs a Computer Crash Plan

As business owners, we all know that in one form or another, at least one of our company computers is either going to completely crash, be lost/stolen or will fall victim to virus problems. When most people think of data loss, they think of a crashed hard drive. I did a little digging into hard drive failure rate. Credible and easy to understand research was surprisingly hard to find. But, I did find a self-study conducted by Backblaze. Backblaze is the company I choose to utilize for online backup storage. (Note: I do not receive any compensation for this mention. I just found them to be the best.) The summary from their study is that hard drive failure rate grows to more than 50 percent after 4 years.

But what about laptop loss, dropping a computer, getting hacked and/or held hostage or falling victim to virus problems? These events happen on a daily basis. Having an ongoing and easy to manage computer backup plan is critical. Imagine what would happen if your data suddenly became inaccessible for even a whole day, much less multiple days. Your strategy should be to prevent — not fix — an issue.

Here are seven easy to implement tips to prevent a computer crash crisis.

1. Keep critical files on a cloud-based hard drive.

This will create and almost real-time offsite backup for your critical files. I prefer DropBox because I feel they don’t profit as much as Google from indexing and sending advertisements based on personal data. Have you ever tried to store an encrypted file on GoogleDrive? It rejects it. This is because Google makes money reading your data. I spend the $99 for DropBox. It’s easy to use, and I feel more private.

2. Have a local computer backup solution.

On the Mac, this is a no brainer. Buy an external hard drive, plug it in, and use Apple’s built in Time Machine solution. This works amazingly well. If you’re on a Windows 10 machine, have a look at Windows File History and Windows Backup and Restore solutions. These are bare-boned and basic, but they also work very well. For Windows users, take a look at an article by LifeHacker that walks you through it.

3. Have an offsite computer backup solution.

What happens if your computer and external hard drives are stolen, burned or something similar. You’ve still lost all your data because the computer and backup drive are in the same location. This is why you should have an offsite backup solution. I personally use BackBlaze. I tested the various solutions and found them to be the best. They have awesome customers service too.

4. You should have virus protection on both your Mac and your PC.

I use Sophos Personal for my personal machines and Sophos Business for my company computers. It works very quietly in the background. It’s also free for personal machines. I pay for my work machines and no, I’m not receiving any payments for promotion. I never really know this is working, and it never gets in my way. Once in a while, it will give an alert about suspicious activity, but it’s very rare.

5. Ensure you have a modern router and all your firmware is up-to-date.

This is very important. Most people install their routers and just forget about them. It’s nice not to think about them, I get it. But, once a month or once a quarter, log into your router, and ensure you have the latest firmware/software updates. In most cases, these updates will add security features and increase performance. It takes just a couple minutes and is usually a breeze to complete.

6. Ensure all the steps above are active for each computer in your office.

If you have more than 10 computers in your office, it’s probably time to think about a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution for local physical backups. Otherwise, you’re going to manage a whole bunch of drives. It’s up to you. But you should still have offsite backups, cloud drive storage for critical files and virus protection for each computer.

7. During your annual strategy meeting, audit your computer backup solution.

Don’t spend much time on it. Just ensure everything is up to date and running well.

The trick to preventing a data loss crisis is to keep it simple and redundant. I am not an IT expert, but I was an engineer at Apple before building business strategy simulations at Simulation Studios. I believe in keeping solutions simple and redundant. These basic tips will get you started.

Google’s app that helps loved ones find you in an emergency is now on iOS

Smartphones allow us to stay in contact with our loved ones more closely than ever before, but some of the most important features, like location sharing, are only functional when everyone uses the same operating system on their devices.

That’s about to change. Google is bringing its Trusted Contacts location sharing app to iOS, making it even easier for families that span the Android-iPhone divide to keep track of each other during emergencies.

The app comes to iOS after debuting for Android last year. Users can now proactively share their location with their in-group or search for the last place a friend or loved one was active on their phone if they suddenly go silent, no matter their OS.

iOS devices already have a similar feature with Find My Friends, but Trusted Contacts expands the scope of the tracking abilities across operating systems. That means a loved one with an iPhone can pinpoint the last active location of a Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, and vice versa.

The new iOS Trusted Contacts app comes with a round of updates for the service for all users. You can now add people to your “trusted contacts” list by their phone number, and the app sends an SMS to them to connect.

Users can also choose how quickly their location will be automatically shared if they know they’ll be away from their phone and unable to answer. The default setting had been five minutes, but now the response time can be set at any time from immediately to an hour.

Privacy might be a concern for people who don’t want their loved ones to have a constant bead on their location — but if it’s that big of a deal, those people don’t have to download the app. Google told Mashable last year at the launch of the Android version that Trusted Contacts is “necessary” no matter the privacy concerns, since emergency situations can make it impossible for people to respond to messages.

The Trusted Contacts expansion follows Google’s new SOS alerts, a set of features for Search and Maps designed to make emergency information more accessible to all in the event of a crisis. Google might not be able to prevent disasters, but it’s taking steps to help those affected.

Elon Musk Shows Off The Boring Company Car Elevator

The SpaceX and Tesla CO on Wednesday posted an Instagram video showing how his congestion-avoiding underground tunnel project is coming along.

Elon Musk seems to be making progress with his underground tunnel transportation idea.

The SpaceX and Tesla CO, who late last year announced his intent to build a network of underground tunnels to help drivers avoid congestion, on Wednesday posted an Instagram video demonstrating how that project is coming along.

The video shows a Tesla vehicle slowly rolling onto a platform before the platform lowers and the car disappears underground.

“Testing The Boring Company car elevator,” Musk wrote in the video’s caption.

The new footage comes after Musk’s Boring Company in April offered a first look at the underground transportation system it’s hoping to develop. The idea is that drivers will pull their car onto a metal platform on the side of the road, and the vehicle would then be lowered into the underground tunnel system.

Drivers would then be able to sit back and take a break. The car would remain on the metal platform (reportedly called a “skate”) and be transported through the tunnel at around 124mph.

Musk announced the idea in December; while some thought it was a joke at first, the entrepreneur is obviously serious about it.

“Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…” he wrote at the time.

There’s at least one major problem holding back this plan at the moment: tunnel boring is a ridiculously slow process. Musk and The Boring Company are aiming to build a better boring machine — one that can dig a tunnel and reinforce its walls at the same time — to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, Musk last week announced he has received “verbal govt approval” for The Boring Company to build a Hyperloop underground tunnel connecting New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C.

“Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly,” he wrote.

The Hyperloop is another Musk moonshot. He first proposed it in 2013, outlining a system whereby passengers would be transported at super high speeds via tubes that are constructed above or below the ground.