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😎 Good morning! The warmest day of the year so far here! Meanwhile, my parents have flown to an island with no cell phone network data, which some people seek out for the relative silence. Still Wi-Fi at the airport, my Dad reports!

February 24, 2021
Feature rollouts: Android, Firefox 86

Google is officially rolling out (blog.google) a few new Android features in an update for spring 2021. It’s good, though there’s no reason to jump for joy, and it’s worth lingering on Google really pushing the new Password Checkup tool, though Google Maps in dark mode is probably going to be most useful.

To the features!

  • Google has integrated Password Checkup into all devices running Android 9 and above. In short, it alerts you when the password you used has been compromised, and what to do about it. It’s just like the one that is in Chrome, which means useful but not mind-blowing. It’s still a positive step for making security risks easier to understand for non-technical people especially.
  • Dark mode in Google Maps being offered widely will help people who use the tool at night, and save on battery too. Previously, Google Maps had a quasi dark mode for navigation at night, but now this feature will offer dark mode, always, no matter what you’re doing or what time of day. (When it’s available, you can enable the low-light option by choosing “Always in Dark Theme” in settings).
  • There’s a way to schedule texts, which has been possible for a while but now rolls out to more phones. It’s baked into the latest Android Messages app.
  • And in brief, Google Assistant can now work while your phone is locked by turning on the setting, and another I want to point out is TalkBack, which is useful for visually impaired people. It now makes screen reading more powerful and there are more gestures for interacting with apps and so on.

While we’re here, Firefox dropped a nice set of updates too

Firefox Total Cookie Protection
Mozilla

The really interesting ones are:

  • Multiple Picture-in-Picture for basically any web videos, including YouTube of course.
  • And more importantly, Total Cookie Protection. In short, the new Firefox 86 takes the fight to ad-tech by maintaining a separate “jar” for each individual site, meaning third-parties won’t be able to cross-reference cookies, and therefore, your data, from various sites. This prevents your data via various cookies from being pieced together to figure out who you are.
  • Mozilla has the raw dough on what that means, and from another point of view, Gizmodo capably breaks down where the claims around “Total Protection” fall a little short, mostly due to iffy definitions of cookies/trackers, meaning not all are stopped. Nothing can truly account for all of the trackers mankind has even used to try and serve us more targeted ads.
  • Still, give Firefox its dues because it’s taking it to Chrome in all the right ways. 
Roundup

🥽 Sony formally announces PlayStation 5 VR kit with DualSense-inspired controls, but won’t be out in 2021 (Android Authority).

♻ Try out a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Z Flip 5G for 100 days risk-free, with a new program in the US (Android Authority).

📺 Android TV could have some serious competition ahead with LG opening up Web OS to third-parties (Android Authority).

📳 Advanced haptics are coming to Android with Qualcomm’s help (Android Authority).

🔥 Lowest ever price on the Chromebook Duet, and more cheap Chromebook deals (Android Authority).

🎶 It’s the last day you can transfer Google Play Music over to YouTube Music (Android Authority).

🍎 Sign In with Apple reportedly under federal scrutiny (CNET).

💻 There’s a worrying M1 Mac oddity: alarmingly high SSD write usages are being reported as it appears the M1 thrashes its swapfile, even with 16GB of RAM. That could be bad news for the life of the SSDs. But some reports include older Intel Macs, so maybe a macOS issue that’s more prevalent on M1s? In any case, Apple will be working on a fix (iMore).

🔋 ‘Next-gen’ USPS vehicles can use gas or electric motors, coming 2023 (Engadget).

🃏 Stardew Valley is now a cooperative board game, for $55 (The Verge).

🔌 A guide to HDMI Cables for next-gen gaming (hint: only bother with HDMI 2.1 compatibility aka Ultra High Speed HDMI, with certification) (Wired).

📈 Are The Office and Friends bets paying off for Peacock and HBO Max? Or hurting Netflix in their absence? (The Verge).

📪 Report: Fry’s Electronics going out of business, shutting down all stores (Ars Technica).

🤔 “In what way is it expensive to be poor?” (r/askreddit).

Wednesday Weirdness

I don’t like when big companies crowdfund things.

Also:

  • “Amazon announced its “Day 1” hardware program last year as a way to build unusual hardware products in limited quantities, get feedback from users and eventually make them more widely available.”
  • “Now, the company is expanding Day 1 with a new program called “Built It.” Like Day 1, Built It features some unconventional devices, but it’s directly taking consumer interest into account when deciding whether to sell the products at all in a way that’s similar to what Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been doing.”
  • “The first three Built It products — a cuckoo clock, smart nutrition scale and sticky note printer — were announced today. You can order them now, but Amazon will only make them if they hit a sales goal by March 19th.”

This is a weird middle ground, and yes, I know Amazon announced it last week but I’ve been biding my time!

  • So, the biggest company on the globe wants you to support its plucky little self by committing to buy something in advance of it being built, shipped, tested, or reviewed, and won’t come for months. 
  • And Amazon says “it’s a whole lotta fun”. 
  • It is not fun.

In fairness, while I do get some heebie-jeebies, there’s at least one decent thing here:

  • Amazon doesn’t take your money when you agree to buy one of these devices that won’t be made for months, unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo. 
  • You only pay when it ships.

I’m still not a fan.

Cheers,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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