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Industry & Technology

T-Mobile/Sprint merger is in danger of being rejected by DOJ

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 10:49pm

Enlarge / T-Mobile CEO John Legere (left) and then-Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure during an interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on April 30, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

T-Mobile US and Sprint are facing potential rejection of their proposed merger at the US Department of Justice.

DOJ staffers "have told T-Mobile US and Sprint that their planned merger is unlikely to be approved as currently structured," The Wall Street Journal reported today, citing people familiar with the matter.

"In a meeting earlier this month, Justice Department staff members laid out their concerns with the all-stock deal and questioned the companies' arguments that the combination would produce important efficiencies for the merged firm," the Journal wrote.

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Why $249 is an unsustainable price for the first all-digital Xbox [Updated]

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 10:10pm

Enlarge / Microsoft needs to give customers a better deal to convince them to give up discs for good. (credit: Dazzied / Flickr)

[Update: Since Microsoft's announcement, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition has appeared for pre-order on retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy for the MSRP for $249.99. As outlined below, the more capable, disc-drive-equipped Xbox One S currently sells for the same price at those very retailers.]

Today's announcement of the previously rumored "All-Digital Edition" of the Xbox One S is one of the few instances when a redesigned version of a home console is, from a features perspective, strictly worse than the version that came before it. The removal of the disc drive means the All-Digital Edition can't play Blu-rays, DVDs, or old disc-based games you (or GameStop) might have lying around, and it won't let you resell any games you might buy for it. The new box isn't even any smaller, even though the bulky optical drive has been removed.

Microsoft intends to make up for this loss of features with a lower price point for the new unit, which will sell for a $249 MSRP starting May 7. But that suggested price point—while technically lower than the official $299 MSRP for a 1TB Xbox One S bundle—doesn't seem likely to convince many people to invest in the disc-free console future.

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Everything we know about the first discless Xbox One, coming May 7 for $249

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 10:09pm

The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition will be the first major home console in the disc-media era to ship without an optical drive, Microsoft has confirmed. The new system will launch on May 7 in the United States and bears such a resemblance to the existing Xbox One S that they share an identical outside shell and motherboard, only with a plastic blocker where the disc drive's slot used to be.

In an interview with Ars Technica, Microsoft's Platform and Devices GM Jeff Gattis confirmed an MSRP of $249, which includes the discless console (currently only in "bone white"), one matching Xbox One controller, an internal 1TB hard drive, and three bundled game-download codes: Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Forza Horizon 3. This model will launch "in most Xbox One markets" on May 7, Microsoft says, and all existing Xbox One accessories will be compatible with the All-Digital Edition, owing to its identical motherboard.

Gattis explained that this price point will "pass the value of removing the disc drive onto the customer." I asked him, however, how he reckons that with the fact that, as of press time, most retailers list existing Xbox One S bundles (complete with at least one pack-in game) at a $249 price point.

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Apple and Qualcomm settle patent fight after one day in court

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 8:56pm

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during a product launch event on September 12, 2018, in Cupertino, Calif. (credit: NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)

A high-stakes trial between Apple and Qualcomm kicked off yesterday in a San Diego courtroom. But this afternoon, the companies announced that they had reached a deal in the case.

The news sent Qualcomm stock soaring more than 20 percent. Apple stock saw little change.

Apple and Qualcomm had been locked in a global, years-long legal battle over patent royalties. Qualcomm demands that companies license its patent portfolio before they can buy the company's chips. It's an unusual arrangement, and critics argue it is an abuse of Qualcomm's dominant position in the wireless chip market.

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TED 2019: Twitter boss offers to demote likes and follows

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 6:58pm
Jack Dorsey has been talking at TED about the changes the platform is considering.

Report: Microsoft is jumping onto the wireless earbud bandwagon

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 6:23pm

Enlarge / Microsoft's Surface Headphones. Its on-device dial controls are great. Battery life and noise-cancelling, not so much, for the price. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

It appears that Microsoft is going to expand its range of audio hardware. Last year the company released the Surface Headphones, a pair of premium-priced wireless noise-cancelling headphones with integrated microphones. They will be joined by a set of wireless earbuds, according to a report by Brad Sams at

Apple's AirPods have made wireless earbuds the must-have accessory. Amazon is expected to release its own Alexa-connected earbuds, and Samsung has its own Galaxy-branded earbuds. Distinguishing them from traditional earbuds, these all contain microphones so you can talk to Siri, Alexa, or Bixby. For Microsoft, Cortana would be an option, but it's more likely that you'd be talking to Siri or Google Assistant, given Cortana's diminishing presence.

Microsoft has shipped earbuds before: the Zune media player came with earbuds with a feature that sounds simple but is actually ingenious: the earbuds were magnetic and would stick together back to back. The result? Much less cable tangling when you put them in your pocket or bag. Surface Headphones seem to be competitive with other noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones: their wireless range is great, the noise cancelling is solid, and their volume and noise-cancelling dials are a joy to use, but their battery life and Bluetooth audio standard support are both weak. As such, Microsoft is not totally without experience in this area and has shown that it can engineer thoughtful, compelling designs. How the putative earbuds will stand out from the crowd remains to be seen, of course.

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Dealmaster: A bunch of Amazon devices are back on sale this week

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 6:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a new handful of discounts on Amazon devices.

The deals here cover just about all of Amazon's Fire TV lineup, with the highlight likely being the Fire TV Stick 4K streaming dongle available for $40, which is a $10 discount. The 1080p Fire TV Stick is $10 off as well, while the Fire TV Recast over-the-air DVR is down by $40. If you feel like buying in bulk, there are also discounts on three-packs of the company's Echo Dot speakers and Fire tablets. Finally, nearly the entire product lineup of its Ring subsidiary is on sale as well.

At this point, you probably know where you stand with regard to these things. If Amazon's handling of personal data makes you uncomfortable—and there are perfectly good reasons to feel that way—we have loads of additional deals on video games, laptops, iPads, headphones, and the like. If not, then these are all capable devices at prices that are relatively low for a period outside of the major holiday season. Either way, have a look at our full selection below.

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PlayStation 5: Sony reveals first details of next-gen console

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 5:37pm
Sony's next-gen console, which will replace the PS4, will be much faster and include improved audio.

Google Fiber exits Louisville, pays city $3.8M to clean up the mess it left

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:45pm

Enlarge / A Google Fiber van in Louisville. (credit: Google Fiber)

Google Fiber yesterday shut off service in Louisville, Kentucky, and has agreed to pay the local government $3.84 million to remove exposed fiber cables left behind by the ISP's failed nano-trenching experiment.

Google Fiber service was scheduled to be shut off at midnight last night, according to a Louisville Metro Government (LMG) announcement of the exit agreement. Google Fiber had announced its intention to leave Louisville two months ago, admitting that it did such a bad job with fiber installation that it would have to "essentially rebuild [the] entire network" in order to fix the problems.

In Louisville, Google Fiber reportedly was burying cables in nano-trenches that were just two inches deep. The method was supposed to speed up deployment, but it didn't work as Google Fiber expected.

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Apple will dramatically expand iPhone production in India

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

After years of building the iPhone primarily in China, Apple is preparing for a major expansion of iPhone manufacturing in India. Terry Gou, chairman of contract manufacturer Foxconn, says the company is planning to invest $300 million to expand iPhone manufacturing capacity there—with much more investment possible in the future.

Taiwan-based Foxconn has long been the main company Apple has relied on to manage iPhone assembly in China. Bloomberg reports that Apple already has a limited manufacturing presence in Bangalore, producing older iPhones. But now Foxconn will be dramatically expanding iPhone manufacturing in the country, producing the latest iPhones near the southern city of Chennai.

Producing iPhones in India will give Apple some regulatory advantages in the large and fast-growing Indian market. According to Bloomberg, it will allow Apple to dodge 20 percent import duties and enable Apple to open its own stores in India.

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Google won’t build that flagship retail store in Chicago after all

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:23pm

Enlarge / A rendering of 851 W. Randolph Street in Chicago. (credit: Newcastle Limited)

Last year, a report from the Chicago Tribune claimed that Google was "close to finalizing a lease" for a flagship retail store in Chicago. The 14,000-square-foot space would have been Google's first major retail space that wasn't a temporary pop-up store or a demo area inside a third-party electronics store. Eight months later, the Chicago Tribune is back to report that the deal is off after "Google halted plans late in the leasing process."

When we first wrote up the news eight months ago, it came a caveat: "When it comes to Google and retail, nothing is certain until the store actually opens." You can add this store to the growing list of started-and-stopped retail projects. Who remembers the infamous Google Barge, a floating modular retail space with a "party deck" built out of an old container ship? Then there was that time in 2015 when Google leased a 5,000-square-foot retail space in New York City, spent $6 million renovating it, and then canned the idea before the store opened.

When asked to comment by the Tribune on this latest deal falling apart, Google only offered the usual “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

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Electric vehicles are center stage at the 2019 Shanghai auto show

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:15pm

The 2019 Shanghai auto show is now underway, and electric cars are thick on the ground. If there was any doubt about how important the Chinese market is to the world's car makers, this year's show should put it to rest, with forward-looking vehicles on show from established OEMs and startups. Some, like the Audi AI:ME point the way to a possible future of autonomous transport. The AI:ME is a followup to 2017's AIcon, this time showing us the company's idea of a much more compact self-driving vehicle.

But plenty more are closer to reality. Volkswagen took the wraps off yet another ID family member—the ID Roomzz joins the ID range alongside the Crozz, Buzz, Vizzion, and Buggy. A three-row SUV, this one goes on sale in 2021 and unlike the compact ID itself, we're pretty sure that includes the US market as well as Europe and Asia.

It's not all SUVs, either. Though we keep hearing that time's up for the humble four-door, the evidence at Shanghai points to that idea being premature.

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Video: Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s horror relied on a bit of cheating

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:10pm

Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

2010 video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an obvious candidate for our eventual "best games of the '10s" list, owing to its revolutionary take on interactive horror. The indie game ushered in a new era of horror gaming, thanks in part to its brief, focused scope and its utter lack of weapons or combat. But how did the designers at Swedish game studio Frictional Games pull off Amnesia's scariest stuff?

The mouth of madness

In our video interview, Grip talks about how Amnesia came about after the completion of a creepy puzzle-platformer series called Penumbra. That series was built upon a physics system that let players pick up, stack, and contend with objects in the world in order to proceed, and Friction wanted to follow those games with a "good horror" experience, inspired in part by Konami's Silent Hill series.

The studio's original thinking for Amnesia revolved around forcing players to survive with a very old-school system of a life bar, but play-testing revealed that this focus either annoyed players or didn't scare them. The above interview delves a little more into experiments with things like a light-and-dark hiding system and how the game's "sanity" meter originally worked like a traditional "hit points" counter.

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As Ebola outbreak rages, vaccine is 97.5% effective, protecting over 90K people

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 4:05pm

Enlarge / A nurse working with the World Health Organization (WHO) shows a bottle containing Ebola vaccine at the town hall of Mbandaka on May 21, 2018 during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign. (credit: Getty | Junior D. Kannah)

An experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus is 97.5 percent effective at preventing the disease, protecting well over 90,000 people in the massive, ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to preliminary data.

The outbreak has flared since last August, involving 1,264 cases (1,198 confirmed; 66 probable) and 814 deaths (748 confirmed, 66 probable), making it the second-largest Ebola outbreak recorded. So far the outbreak has stayed within the DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which sit on the eastern side of the country, bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. But, response efforts have been severely hampered by community distrust of public health campaigns. One result of this distrust has been several attacks by militants on medical facilities, injuring medical staff and, in one case, killing a police officer. Some public health experts fear the outbreak will continue to spread without new strategies and more aid, possibly across nearby borders.

Still, the outbreak could have been far worse if it had not been for an experimental vaccine. The rVSV-ZEBOV-GP Ebola vaccine, made by Merck & Co, contains a live attenuated virus harmless to humans that researchers genetically engineered to carry an Ebola glycoprotein. Ebola usually uses this protein to interact with human cells, but in the vaccine, it triggers the human immune system to generate powerful antibodies to attack the virus. Early tests of the vaccine seemed to confirm this, suggesting it is safe and effective. And a World Health Organization Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has given responders the greenlight to use the vaccine during outbreaks, based on an Expanded Access/Compassionate Use protocol.

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Sony’s PS4 successor sports 3D audio tech, faster SSD storage

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 3:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Sony hardware architect Mark Cerny has revealed the first official details on "the as-yet-unnamed console that will replace the PS4" in an exclusive story offered to Wired reporter Brian Rubin.

While Cerny was not ready to talk about details like a price or release date, he did tell Wired that the coming console will not be ready by the end of 2019. All indications are this console won't be another PS4 Pro style mid-generation upgrade, but instead what Cerny calls a "fundamental change" in what is possible with a game console.

Cerny did go into some detail on the system's hardware configuration, which will include an eight-core AMD Ryzen CPU, built on the 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture, and an AMD Radeon-based GPU with ray-tracing support. Aside from graphical benefit, Cerny hinted that the ray-tracing GPU will also include a "custom unit for 3D audio," that can similarly trace in-game sound back to its source. That unit will allow for a more immersive surround-sound-style experience that Cerny says won't require any additional hardware outside of your TV speakers.

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Logitech’s latest universal remote gives Alexa the keys to your home theater

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 2:10pm

Logitech on Tuesday announced the Harmony Express, a new universal remote that features the Alexa voice assistant.

Amazon’s increasingly ubiquitous helper comes built into the device and is accessible via a large circular button at the top of the remote. The idea with the Harmony Express is to use Alexa to control the various devices in your home theater. Past Logitech Harmony remotes have been usable with an associated Alexa skill for those with separate Echo devices, but here the voice controls are baked in.

The Harmony Express costs $250 and is available starting Tuesday.

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iPad Air and iPad mini 2019 review: Apple’s tablets strike an ideal balance

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 1:50pm

Apple's iPad lineup has had a gap in it lately.

At the top end, you had the 2018 refresh of the iPad Pro—an immensely powerful, envelope-pushing tablet priced and positioned as a laptop replacement. At the bottom, you had the entry-level iPad, which lacked many of the best features in newer Apple products and shipped with a CPU much slower than what's in the latest iPhones.

You were either buying a monster of a tablet for a monster price, or you were getting a tablet that compromised a lot to compete with Chromebooks at the low end. Apple was still making an iPad mini last year, but it was woefully outdated.

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Game of Thrones: Now TV glitch hits Apple TV owners

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 1:19pm
Sky's Now TV app failed to load for some viewers while displaying a degraded version of the show.

How much will the Moon plan cost? We should know in two weeks

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 11:30am

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gives keynote remarks at the Space Symposium on April 9, 2019. (credit: NASA)

A little more than three weeks have passed since Vice President Mike Pence tasked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine with returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Since then, the Oklahoman has been hotfooting around the country to build support—testifying before Congress, huddling with White House budget officials, speaking at major space conferences, and, this past weekend, visiting his alma mater, Rice University.

During the visit to Houston Saturday, Ars met with Bridenstine to talk about these efforts. We discussed his biggest concern at present, which is building political momentum to fund the plan. This involves developing an amendment to President Trump's Budget Request for fiscal year 2020, which will seek additional funding for the accelerated Moon program. Realistically, Bridenstine said, this amendment will be ready "by the end of the month."

This is a critical document, as the White House will only really have one chance to get this request right if NASA is to have a realistic chance of making the 2024 goal. To begin funding lunar lander development, design new spacesuits, and make related plans, this new funding must arrive at the start of the fiscal year on October 1, and Bridenstine realizes this will only happen with a broad political consensus.

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Epilepsy charity calls for social media seizure warnings

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 9:48am
People with epilepsy are being exposed to flashing images, some deliberately, says a charity.

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