Belkin and Google debut USB-C cables, including low-priced Ethernet, DisplayPort, HDMI and micro-USB adapters.

googleusbc

Coinciding with today’s announcement of the dual USB-C port-equipped Chromebook Pixel 2 laptop, Google and Belkin today announced separate collections of new USB-C cables and adapters. These new options go well beyond Apple’s upcoming USB-C accessory lineup for the 12″ MacBook, while also including some familiar options at lower-than-Apple prices. They’re amongst the first USB-C accessories to be announced by major manufacturers, as inexpensive USB-C cables from smaller companies are beginning to make their way onto Amazon for pre-order…

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On the data and power side, Google’s USB-C lineup notably includes a $13 USB Type-C to USB Adapter, capable of converting a full-sized USB plug into a USB-C plug, as well as a $13 USB Type-C to USB Cable, which could connect a computer with USB-C to a full-sized USB port on typical USB batteries, wall chargers, and hubs. A $60 Universal Type-C Charger (60W) features a 12-foot USB-C cable attached to a boxy wall adapter, promising to serve as “one universal charger for your next-generation [USB-C] devices.” It’s highly likely that the first two accessories will work with the 12″ MacBook, and quite possible that the Charger will, as well.

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Google also introduced a $40 USB Type-C to HDMI Adapter, which turns a USB-C port into an HDMI-out port for half the price of Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, and a $40 USB Type-C to DisplayPort Cable, which goes directly from a USB-C port to a DisplayPort monitor. The HDMI Adapter supports up to 4K/30Hz output, while the DisplayPort Cable supports 4k/60Hz output. It’s unclear whether video accessories such as these will work with the 12″ MacBook, but if Apple supports “the USB Type-C alternate mode specifications for video,” they should work. All of the Google cables are shipping within 1-2 days.

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Belkin announced a collection of nine USB-C cables ranging from $20 to $30 in price, most notably including a USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter ($TBD), and new cables that convert USB-C to larger USB formats including Micro-USB ($20)USB 3.1 Micro-B ($30)USB 2.0 Mini-B ($20), and USB 2.0 USB-B ($20). Belkin will also offer a USB-C to standard USB Adapter ($30), a USB-C to standard USB 2.0 Cable ($20), and a USB-C to USB-C Cable ($30). All of Belkin’s cables will ship this summer.

Is Apple planning its own search engine?

Apple Search Siri

What is Apple Search? That’s a question a lot of people will be asking over the coming months, after we spotted a job ad that references the as-yet-unknown service. The job summary calls for a project manager to work on “a search platform supporting hundreds of millions of users” and “play a part in revolutionizing how people use their computers and mobile devices.” That could mean any number of things, but let’s play a guessing game.

Assuming that Apple really is building a search engine, chances are it’s not likely to be a direct attack on Google — no one is going to switch their search engine to applesearch.com, and Apple knows that. Instead, any search effort is far more likely to be baked into Siri, Safari and Spotlight, i.e. places where most won’t dig through the options and change their search engine. Why? Let’s look at some history.

After initially being the best of friends, Apple and Google are in the midst of a not-so-cold war, thanks largely to Mountain View’s decision to get involved in the smartphone battle. That’s led to Apple reducing its reliance on Google, even doing things that upset its users like removing Google Maps and YouTube as default iOS apps. More subtle changes have come through Siri, which taps services like Bing, Yahoo and Wikipedia for information, rather than Google. These small changes have helped marginalize Google’s hold on iOS users, and flipping the switch on Apple Search in Safari would be a continuation of its efforts in this area.

A search engine would marginalize Google and Microsoft’s hold on iOS users

But why build your own engine when alternatives already exist? We’ve already established that Apple is in a quite a Google-free place right now, but it’s not exactly standing on its own two feet. Its reliance on Bing, in particular, may be daunting given Microsoft is a direct competitor in many areas. Apple Search would be a good way of breaking those ties.

An Apple search engine, as crazy as it sounds, could have a big impact on Google in the long run. Take a look at Firefox. Mozilla removed Google as the default search provider for its browser just a few months ago, and it’s already led to Google’s marketshare dropping sharply, according to StatCounter. Even though users have the option to set their default search engine, usage of Google on Firefox fell from 82 percent to 64 percent over the past three months. Applying the same tactic to Safari would seriously affect Google’s marketshare. The average Engadget reader might have Chrome installed on their iPhone, but the vast majority of users still use Safari for their iOS browsing.

Of course, we need to temper this speculation with the fact that no one knows exactly what Apple Search is. It could just be a refined Spotlight device search, a better way to search for Apps or music on iTunes or even an internal tool written up by an over-zealous recruiter (the word “revolutionize” appears in no less than 43 Apple job ads right now). But, with over a billion iOS devices out in the wild, responsible for a lot of searches, a search engine would be an easy way for Apple to pitch a tent in Google’s backyard.

YubiKey wants to be like Touch ID for your Internet life.

YubiKey opens the way to online security. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

LAS VEGAS — Nobody wants to get hacked like Jennifer Lawrence’s iCloud account. Everyone, including Apple, is pushing two-factor authentication in the wake of the high-profile hack that exposed dozens of celebrities nude selfies, but verifying an account login with a code sent to your phone is a total pain.

In the not-so-distant future, we might all be storing two-factor authentication on our keychains.

Yubico is already providing eight out of 10 Silicon Valley companies with a tiny USB dongle called YubiKey that securely verifies an employee’s online identity. You just plug it into a computer and tap it when it’s time to log in. Now that Gmail has started supporting YubiKey on the front end, anyone can use it as the second verification step for getting into their inbox.

In a demo at International CES, Yubico was quick to point out that many big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc.) supply their employees with YubiKeys to use internally. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been able to offer any value for average users like you and me. That won’t happen till everyone supports Yubico’s open-source security standard, like Google already does with Gmail.

Here’s the scenario: You’re logging in to Dropbox on your Mac with two-factor verification enabled. Instead of Dropbox sending a temporary passcode to your phone as the second step, you pop the YubiKey in and gently tap it. The key supplies a one-time password string that Dropbox verifies and uses to log you in. Easy enough.

The YubiKey is designed to work on any computer, and while it doesn’t have fancy biometric scanning like Touch ID, ubiquity could propel it forward. Or not. Most people don’t worry too much about their passwords until something nasty happens.

Siri might ditch Nuance so it can finally understand what you’re saying.

Apple-Siri
For many people, Siri has been more of a nuisance than an empowering personal assistant since debuting on the iPhone 4s in 2011. Sure, she’s received some upgrades and is getting even more in iOS 8, but fancy new features mean nothing if she can’t understand what you’re saying.

Siri’s favoriting line, “Sorry I didn’t get that,” might soon be a thing of the past though as a report from Wired says the time is ripe for Apple to unleash a neural-net-boosted Siri.

Despite using Nuance technology for years, Apple might be looking to move away from licensing the voice recognition technology in favor of its own neural network engine built by Apple’s team of speech recognition experts.

Over the last three years of development, Apple has turned Siri into its own search of sorts. Drawing on third-party sources like Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, Wikipedia, and Shazam. Siri can help with your math homework, find new songs and buy them, tell you sports scores, but understanding what you’re saying could be the biggest upgrade of all.

According to the report, Apple hired Alex Acero to be the senior director in Apple’s Siri group after researching speech technology for 20 years at Microsoft. Apple has also poached top speech recognition talent from Nuance.

“Apple is not hiring only in the managerial level, but hiring also people on the team-leading level and the researcher level,” says Abdel-rahman Mohamed, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, who was courted by Apple. “They’re building a very strong team for speech recognition research.

Microsoft, Google have been using neural network algorithms to power Skype and Android Voice Search with noticeably better results. Apple is the only major tech company that hasn’t adopted the technology. Nothing was mentioned at WWDC, but if Microsoft’s head of research is right, Siri could get its new neural network super powers within six months.

Apple will now alert you when the NSA wants your data.

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The data-hungry tentacles of the NSA have managed to choke America’s top tech firms into silent submission on data requests, but after months of demanding more transparency, Apple is ready to defy authorities and let you know when the NSA wants your data.

Prosecutors warn that such a move will undermine investigations by tipping off criminals and allowing them to destroy sensitive data, but according to the Washington Post, Apple and others have already changed their policies.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are also in the process of updating their policies to let users know in advance when their data has been swept into an investigation, giving users the option to fight disclosures in court.

Alerts to data requests won’t affect those approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which are automatically sealed by law, or subpoenas from the FBI that carry binding gag orders.

Apple and others say the new policies come with some exceptions, like if a potential victim is in imminent danger, especially if a child’s safety is vulnerable, but they argue the exceptions should be decided by a judge, rather than a company lawyer or investigator.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Google Buys Tony Fadell’s Nest, The Apple Of Smart Home Tech.

Nest-thermostat

Today Google confirmed its acquisition of Nest Labs, the hot startup founded by the father of the original iPod, Tony Fadell. Nest has been making forward-thinking gadgets for the home like its popular thermostat since 2011. The Nest Protect smoke detector was just announced in October of 2013.

Google paid a hefty $3.2 billion for Nest, and the search giant has promised that Nest will remain its own distinct brand and operate under the leadership of Fadell.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, said: “Nest’s founders, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, have built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the Google family. They’re already delivering amazing products you can buy right now–thermostats that save energy and smoke/CO alarms that can help keep your family safe. We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!”

Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest, said: “We’re thrilled to join Google. With their support, Nest will be even better placed to build simple, thoughtful devices that make life easier at home, and that have a positive impact on the world.”

Source: Cult of Mac.

Use this trick to cache offline maps in the latest Google Maps for iOS.

The latest version of Google Maps for iOS released yesterday brought a number of new features. The most notable addition is support for the iPad, but there’s also a really cool easter egg Google added into the app. The easter egg allows you to cache maps for offline use inside the app. It has actually been available in the Android version for a while, but this is the first time it has made its way to iOS.

To cache your maps for offline use, first zoom in to the area of the map that you want to save. Be careful you aren’t trying to cover an extremely large area or else this trick won’t work. Once you’ve zoomed into an area you want to save for offline use, tap on the search field and type “ok maps.” Then tap the search button on the keyboard to start downloading your offline map.

If you’ve zoomed in far enough, you’ll then see the Google Maps icon briefly appear onscreen and then at the bottom of the screen a black bar with white text will appear displaying a message that says, “The onscreen map has been cached.”

After the map is cached, you can access it by simply navigating back to that portion of the map at any time. This trick is immensely handy for people with WiFi-only iPads and iPod touches, as they’ll be able to be out and about with no internet connection and still see maps of areas important to them. This trick is also handy for those with 3G connections since cached maps will load faster and save roaming data charges if, for example, you are traveling in a foreign city.

Google Maps for iOS is a free download.

Source: TUAW.