Tag: ces2018

Huawei and its peers won’t win over the US without trust

Standing in front of a slide simply titled "Something I want to share," the CEO of Huawei's consumer product division is about to break tradition. Richard Yu is going to directly address the reported partnership with AT&T that fell through at the last minute, pulling back the curtains, ever so slightly, on a business that is largely conducted behind closed doors. The Chinese electronics company recently overtook Apple as the world's second-largest smartphone maker in sales, but it still struggles to gain the approval of the American public.

You can almost hear the trepidation in Yu's voice as he begins. "You know today, uh ... Many people are waiting [for] me to announce that we are, uh, partnership with a carrier. Many of you guys have seen the newspapers that something is happened. That, uh, unfortunately this time, we cannot, uh, have this, uh, uh, to sell this phone, you know, from the carrier channel." Yu laughs nervously as he says this. "Everybody knows that in the US market, that, uh ... over 90 percent of smartphones are sold by the carrier channels," he adds. Whether it's due to nerves or frustration, his almost-candid rantlet is refreshing, his motivation clear. Yu has had enough.

For years, Huawei has made phones that are well-received by global and American media alike. In the US, however, the company's devices are consistently criticized for not being sold through a carrier. Like Yu says, a vast majority of phones bought in the US are from carriers, and the apparent inability to make a phone that passes stringent carrier requirements not only limits Huawei's access to American customers but also makes the company seem incompetent.

The thing is, Huawei is anything but. In recent years, its phones have greatly improved in quality, especially when it comes to design. It seemed to have finally gained enough momentum to achieve carrier buy-in, with multiple reports saying the company had clinched AT&T's approval to sell the Mate 10 Pro. Yu's speech seems to confirm this, although he never mentions the reason for the dissolution of the partnership. The Information reported that political reasons were behind the last-minute pullout while Reuters said shortly after that Congress lobbied for AT&T to drop the deal.

In its official statement, Huawei doesn't directly address the deal and why it fell through. "We have the strongest confidence in our products and will continue to innovate and break new ground. At the same time, we believe that U.S. consumers deserve equal opportunity and the choice to enjoy the best technology and more smartphone options through more channels, just like other satisfied Huawei users around the world," the company writes.

Huawei isn't the only major Chinese company with its eyes locked on America. Baidu, which is Google's equivalent in China, showed off a trio of smart speakers at CES, and company reps told Engadget that it definitely wants to bring its products to the US. Alibaba, also known as China's Amazon, also wants to establish a presence in America. But there are many challenges clouding these companies' ability to forecast a timeline.

In Baidu's case, tweaking its smart speakers for the US involves a complete overhaul. Its natural language interface DuerOS not only needs to be tailored for different consumer behavior but also has to learn an entirely new language (and all the associated nuances). Basically, American and Chinese people have different habits and tastes, and a product for one market cannot simply be reskinned to suit the other.

Chinese companies simply don't have a good reputation in the US.

Chinese companies also frequently have names that Americans find hard to pronounce, like Xiaomi and Huawei. This affects the consumer's ability to recall the brand when deciding what to buy, making it even more difficult for Chinese companies to appeal to the US market. The problem is so bad that Huawei has had to launch a massive ad campaign teaching Americans how to pronounce its name ("who-ah way" in Chinese, "wah-way" in Cantonese, "wow way" in the company's unfortunately inaccurate marketing material). Xiaomi, which is frequently mispronounced as "show-me" actually sounds closer to "see-ow me."

But it's not just language and cultural differences that get in the way. Chinese companies simply don't have a good reputation in the US. Right after Yu's press conference at CES, Congress quickly proposed a bill to ban government agencies from working with Huawei and ZTE. These two companies were also the subject of a 2012 report from Congress claiming they "cannot be trusted."

Huawei writes in its official statement that "privacy and security are always our first priority. We are compliant with the world's most stringent privacy protection frameworks, including all GAPP and GDPR privacy protection requirements." Both ZTE and Huawei also stated back in 2012 that they felt they were being unfairly singled out in Congress' inquiry.

When your government makes such statements, it's hard to feel safe buying anything from these companies.

Recently, Homeland Security also issued a memo saying it believes DJI drones are spying for China, while the office of the US Trade Representative continues to blacklist Alibaba over counterfeit goods. Whether these claims are valid or not, when your government makes such statements, it's hard to feel safe buying anything from these companies, not to mention something as personal as your cellphone.

In the years since, though, ZTE has managed to sell low-cost phones through T-Mobile, MetroPCS and Boost Mobile. Most recently, ZTE's folding dual-screen phone launched exclusively in the US via AT&T, although the rest of the company's higher-end Axon series is still only available on the open market. Upstart OnePlus, which branched off popular Chinese phone maker Oppo, is also well-received in the US, although it isn't sold via a carrier.

Why ZTE was able to achieve what Huawei couldn't isn't clear -- perhaps its low-cost appeal is greater than the perceived risks. Other companies, like Lenovo, operate smoothly in the US largely due to acquisitions of established local brands and convincing most of the existing execs, in this case from IBM, to stay.

Other countries around the world have much less of a problem with Huawei and ZTE than the US does.

But the American public's mistrust of Chinese tech companies isn't unfounded. In 2017, we watched as Tesla wannabe LeEco crashed and burned after expanding its business to the US, amid reports of shady financial practices including multiple debts and breaches of contracts. LeEco former CEO Jia Yueting is now reportedly refusing to return to China as authorities there begin investigating him, something he's apparently done before during a corruption scandal. Huawei itself was sued by T-Mobile in 2014 for not only trying to copy the Uncarrier's phone-testing technology but also for attempting to steal it.

We don't know of many other obvious, confirmed cases of Chinese companies engaged in illicit dealings. We do know that other countries around the world have much less of a problem with Huawei and ZTE than the US does. In Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, Huawei and ZTE phones are well-received. In fact, Huawei's handsets are so popular that even without the American market, it's become the second highest-selling brand worldwide. "We have gained the trust of over 150 million customers in the past year alone, and now sell our devices through more than 45 of the top 50 global carriers," Huawei says in its statement.

Meanwhile, US brands continue to court China and its massive market, often with the help of local partners. For example, Chinese startup Mobvoi helped Google bring Android Wear to the People's Republic, while Alibaba said it has helped small-to-medium-size American businesses like Real Techniques, OtterBox and Stadium Goods develop their brands and sell to locals. Apple has made a large push into China in the past two years, while Lenovo's smart speaker was designed in part to help Amazon bring Alexa to the Asian superpower.

America doesn't want to allow Chinese brands, barring a well-established few, to sell higher-end products in its borders.

Chinese technology is as good as, if not sometimes even better than, what we have in the US. At Alibaba's booth at CES 2018, I tried out a face-recognizing receptionist robot that could conveniently clock employees in and out, a real-time translating chatbot, and a speaker that taps into almost every available online service to enable things like food delivery or video calls with your family. To some extent, you can already do that with the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but it's important to note that healthy competition ultimately benefits the consumer. Alibaba is already testing how to sell Ford's electric vehicles with vending machines in China: How long will Americans have to wait for that sort of convenience?

Chinese businesses need to make products that are so desirable to Americans that blocking them from the US would be difficult. Meanwhile, the US needs to consider how open it wants to be when it comes to trading with China. America is happy to continue feeding its goods to the People's Republic and keep profiting off the relatively cheap labor that nation provides, but it doesn't want to allow Chinese brands, barring a well-established few, to sell higher-end products in its borders.

This one-sided relationship may not be sustainable. America can continue to profit from trade with China, but it has to come up with a strategy that not only protects domestic interests but also welcomes foreign innovation.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


Watch the first footage from Kodak’s reborn Super 8 film camera

Even if you think that film has had its day, there's no denying it evokes a dreamy nostalgia that digital video can't match. Kodak got a lot of folks, including A-list Hollywood directors, excited about its hybrid Super 8 camera based on that idea, and has now revealed the first footage that seems to deliver on that promise. Shot by cinematographers like Nick Green and GQ fashion photographers, the video reveals the soft grain, organic-looking flares, low resolution and high contrast you (might) love with Super 8 film.

The Yves Behar-designed camera, which will cost between $2,500 and $3,000, has a 3.5-inch LCD, variable speed control and C-mount lens support. However, it was first revealed at CES 2016, and CES 2018 has now come and gone. During a discussion at the Las Vegas show this year, Kodak's Holger Schwaerzel and Steve Parsons explained that the delay is partly because the technology behind film cameras has largely been forgotten at Kodak.

"Our biggest challenge has been rebuilding the engineering knowledge that's been lost over the last few decades since the last Super 8 cameras were produced in volume," said Parsons. "Our design engineers have had to re-learn lessons that at one time were common, accumulated knowledge in the industry, so there's been some trial and error as we've gone through that process."

Kodak promised that the Super 8 camera will be as easy to use as a DSLR, and unveiled a new online platform for film development called the Kodak Darkroom. That'll let you purchase the film, processing and shipping all at once. You then just need to send it off, and Kodak will process and scan the film digitally, then upload the scans to Darkroom so you don't have to wait to get the physical media back.

As mentioned, Kodak has let filmmakers test the camera, and engineers have incorporated their suggestions into the latest designs. Schwaerzel and Parsons say that has resulted in improvements -- for instance, they're still using the same cartridge design, but have made the film run steadier in the gate where the image is exposed.

That does beg the question as to whether Kodak will be ready with the camera in 2018, as promised, considering that at this point, they haven't even tested their latest design. Kodak's name also took a knock (and it's stock went way up) when it unveiled a new blockchain scheme and very sketchy-looking bitcoin mining device.

Source: Kodak


Facebook’s Hugo Barra says standalone headsets are key to social VR

Even though Oculus didn't have an official presence at CES this year, its leader, Hugo Barra, made a surprise appearance at Qualcomm's press conference to make an important announcement: Xiaomi would be its global hardware partner for Oculus Go, its first standalone VR headset. What's more, Xiaomi would also be making a special variant of the Go, the Mi VR Standalone, especially for China. In an interview with Barra following the press conference, he explained the reason for the push in standalone headsets: social VR.

"This is a product category that will help us bring the most number of people into VR and really start unlocking these opportunities for social presence," said Barra. "It's the idea of having a completely self-contained product that you can just put on and start using it. You can do everything in one step."

"Everything is integrated together in one device," he continued. "That is the best experience that we think can be created."

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stood on stage at last year's Oculus Connect and said that he wants to bring VR to a billion people, he really meant it. And a key reason for doing so is not just to sell hardware or games -- although that's obviously a pretty good incentive as well -- but it's to further Facebook's agenda of connecting the world via social VR.

"The vision that we have is for VR to enable people to spend time together and to do things together that they otherwise wouldn't be able to," said Barra. "It could be something as simple as Facebook Spaces, where you get in a place together with your avatars and interact. But it could also be watching something together, or playing a game together or doing any number of things together."

"And, of course, the more people we have in VR, the more people are going to start spending time together [in VR]. Which brings us back to why standalone VR is a huge focus for us."

In 2016, Oculus first showed off Project Santa Cruz, a prototype of its higher-end standalone headset, to a select group of reporters. But last year, it announced that it was working on a lower-end and much more affordable version of it called the Oculus Go. It'll be priced at just $199, and importantly, it's the product that Facebook hopes will drive the VR category to the masses.

The other part of Oculus' quest to spread VR to as many people as possible is its new partnership with Xiaomi. "[Xiaomi] is a very exciting, innovative company," said Barra of his former employer. But more important, he said, Xiaomi has a history of making high-quality products at very affordable prices. Also, while the Mi Standalone VR does share the same core features as the Oculus Go, Barra said there are aspects to its hardware and, more importantly, its software, that makes it highly localized to the Chinese market.

"It was very important for us to work with a partner who could bring a lot of leadership and expertise about the Chinese market," he added. "It's a market that is very important for us because we want to bring VR into as many hands as possible."

There's certainly evidence to suggest China's importance in the VR industry. According to a Canalys report, China accounted for 40 percent of VR shipments in 2016, while an IDC report suggests that China is on pace to become the world's largest market for virtual- and augmented-reality headsets by 2020. This is in part due to China's billion-plus consumer base, but also the rapid growth of VR-related startups in the country in recent years.

Facebook isn't the only company investing in standalone VR. Google, for example, unveiled a standalone Daydream headset, the Lenovo Mirage Solo, at CES. The Mirage Solo sets itself apart from the Oculus Go with Google's WorldSense technology, which gives it six degrees of freedom and positional tracking without external cameras or sensors. But the Mirage Solo is also tentatively priced at around $300, which is $100 more than the Oculus Go.

Barra doesn't seem worried about the competition. "We pride ourselves first and foremost on being the leaders in VR," he said. "We've been doing this for a very long time. We have a pretty high degree of confidence that the Oculus VR experience is the best, by a wide margin, from anything else you see out there."

Facebook's heavy investment in standalone headsets doesn't mean that it's giving up PC or mobile-based VR. "Standalone is the newest one, and is obviously one that we're really excited about," said Barra. Mobile VR is still very important, because it's the lowest barrier to entry, while the Rift offers the highest-quality VR. "We believe in all three," he said.

But in the end, Barra believes that standalone headsets are the future. It will be, he says, the easiest way to get people to use VR. "The Oculus Go will be our most successful VR product on the market," he said. Whether or not that will ultimately lead to mass social VR adoption, however, remains unclear.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


The totally normal, completely unsurprising lack of women at CES

There's a spot on the corner of Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas where you can stand, facing the convention center, and see ads for Huawei, Hisense, Bosch and naked women. The tech-branded tents and billboards have now disappeared, soon replaced by different ads specific to a different industry, but for one week in January every year, Sin City is overrun with technology companies for CES.

The newsstand offering images of nude women isn't directly connected to CES, but it's still there, in the background of the entire show -- this idea of women as a commodity, rather than thought leaders, creatives, entrepreneurs or even a viable market. The Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES every year, came under fire in November when it announced the 2018 lineup of keynote speakers, all of whom were men. White men, in fact, aside from one speaker.

Tech-industry leaders, people on Twitter and groups like Gender Avenger noticed the lack of women in the keynote lineup and started the hashtag #CESSoMale. Others compiled lists of female tech leaders who could potentially host a keynote address, noting that this would be the second year in a row with no female keynote speakers.

"When the lineup was announced, I immediately imagined all the women like me, sitting in a dark room, watching the stage and waiting for that sign of a future in which they could see themselves -- and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and having that not happen," Sonos chief marketing officer Joy Howard said. "That feeling is really demoralizing when you're trying to be a part of the future of technology."

CTA senior vice president Karen Chupka penned a blog post in December addressing the outcry. It reads, in part, as follows:

To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry. As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions. We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better.

Chupka and CTA president Gary Shapiro promised to add women to the keynote lineup, but they didn't. The CTA did, however, redesign the keynote page, adding women from smaller conferences to the main hub.

For many women at CES, the lack of female representation in the keynote wasn't surprising. It wasn't even the CTA's sole fault. A 2016 study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology found women held 57 percent of all professional occupations, yet only 25 percent of all computing jobs. These figures were even lower for non-white women: Asian women held 5 percent of jobs in the computing industry, black women held 3 percent and Latinas just held 1 percent.

To be in 2018 and still have a CES where there are no female [keynotes] -- it's really disappointing. I can't say surprising, but disappointing to say the least.

Dr. Knatokie Ford, founder of Fly Sci

A handful of tech industry leaders have recently lost their jobs over claims of sexual harassment or encouraging a sexist culture, including Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Because of these facts, and based on copious amounts of personal experience in the tech space, Dr. Knatokie Ford wasn't shocked at the CES keynote lineup. She's founder of consulting group Fly Sci Enterprise and served as senior policy adviser for the White House Office of Science and Technology under President Barack Obama.

"It's disappointing most of all, especially given that there have been so many conversations happening for so long about the importance of diversity and inclusion," she said. "To be in 2018 and still have a CES where there are no female [keynotes] -- it's really disappointing. I can't say surprising, but disappointing to say the least."

Ford was a speaker at the Boom Boom Room, a CES-adjacent event for women in technology hosted by Sonos. It was an intimate, four-hour session held in the Villas at The Mirage, featuring women leaders in tech and music. The talks were held outside on the first day of CES, in a small white tent under gray skies and pounding rain, but the event itself was warm. Laughter regularly punctuated the rolling drops of rain as women like Dr. Ford and iHeartMedia EVP and CMO Gayle Troberman shared stories of challenges and triumph in male-dominated workspaces.

The Boom Boom Room extended beyond tech to include members of the music industry as well. Leah Julius is the bassist of the band Thunderpussy, which was featured at the event.

"I wish I was surprised," she said about the lack of female representation in tech. "No, I'm not surprised. It feels really similar actually to the music industry in that it still is very male-dominated, obviously. But it feels like this year, and just kind of this time, things are feeling different in general. Talking to other women here in tech, it seems like they're feeling it, too."

Sexism and sexual harassment are hot topics on the mainstream stage, with women across a range of industries speaking out about their own experiences and demanding change. The #MeToo movement saw women around the globe sharing personal stories of sexual harassment at work, while the Time's Up campaign dominated the dialogue at the Golden Globes, as female actresses wore black and stood with activists on the red carpet. With events like the Boom Boom Room, the tech industry is part of this conversation, too.

One point that many female tech leaders come back to is the idea that companies are making a bad business decision by essentially ignoring half of the population -- half of their total addressable market. Liz Klinger is CEO of Lioness, a company that makes smart vibrators and recently launched Artgasm, a project that turns female orgasms into works of art. Klinger noticed a lack of women-led companies at CES in 2017 and she vowed to get Lioness at the show this year. Though she said Lioness ticked all of the CTA's boxes for inclusion in Eureka Park, its application was denied and the company was eventually even turned away from a women-focused event in the CES Girls' Lounge. Lioness ended up showcasing Artgasm at the Hangover Suite at Caesar's Palace and at a booth in the Sands center, thanks to interested investors.

Klinger published a blog post about her experience, where she writes the following:

CES could not only do a lot of good by having more female-centric companies showing at the officially sanctioned show  --  but also it's good business for attending retailers and industry partners. Especially considering that women are 50 percent of the customers and users in the world. It's not just a feel good thing or a politically correct thing, though I'm certainly biased towards providing more options for women. It's also a money-making opportunity for everyone involved.

This is an important message, according to Dr. Ford. She said companies -- and the CTA -- won't simply do the right thing because it's right. They're looking out for their bottom line. It's a good thing then, she said, that diversity is good for business.

"It's not going to be overnight and it's not going to be easy, but I do think that we will see progress, especially because we have a couple things in our favor, especially when we talk about diversity in business, whether it's in tech or entertainment," Dr. Ford said. "There's this tremendous case for the advantage of it. It's not going to be at the detriment of the bottom line."

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


Nanoleaf wants you to control your smart home with a dodecahedron

A few months ago, Nanoleaf revealed a "Rhythm Starter Kit" that let you synchronize its colorful Aurora light panels with music. At CES, the company released a product designed to control it and more: the Nanoleaf Remote. But instead of a typical handheld remote control, the Nanoleaf Remote is in the shape of a 12-sided polygon -- a dodecahedron if you will -- which changes the lights depending on which side it's on. And the beauty of it is that you don't have to use it with just Nanoleaf products -- it'll work with compatible Apple HomeKit products as well.

So, for example, you could turn one of the sides to adjust the temperature, or you could flip it to another to lift your blinds. Or if you like, you can map one of the sides to a particular "scene" that will do things like turn on your lights and play a favorite song at the same time. And, of course, all of the functions can be designated and assigned using the Nanoleaf companion app.

I checked out the Nanoleaf Remote at the company's booth at CES, and was enamored by its ease of use. Admittedly, I was also very amused by its die-like shape, and I asked a spokesperson if you could roll the Remote like you could a pair of dice. He said yes, you could, but he did warn that there's a chance it could break if you did it that way. At the same time, he said it was made out of a durable plastic, so you could try it out at your own risk.

Changing lights is really as easy as shifting the dodecahedron from side to side. Each side lights up in a different color after it's face up, as a visual cue that an action has been triggered. In our demo, all the Remote did was change the Nanoleaf light panels from one color palette to another, but it did so pretty easily and quickly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the Remote isn't the only thing on display at Nanoleaf's booth. It also gave a preview of an upcoming product, which are Nanoleaf's new square light panels. Like with the triangular panels, they can be customized with other Homekit products. The cool part though, is that while you can only connect up to 30 triangular panels together, you could potentially connect up to 1,000 of these square panels together to create a truly immersive experience.

What's more, the square displays are designed to be water-resistant, and you can touch and glide your hand around on them to change their colors. The reason for the waterproofing? According to a spokesperson, Nanoleaf envisions that these square displays could eventually be installed as a high-end backsplash in a kitchen, or perhaps even a bathroom. That sounds pretty crazy to me, but it would make for quite a conversation starter at your next dinner party.

The Nanoleaf Remote will go on sale later this spring for $50, while the availability and pricing of the square displays are still to be determined.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


Fox Innovation Lab showcases Wes Anderson VR and Movies Anywhere

During CES, a Fox Innovation Lab event focused on tech it's pushing this year like HDR10+, but the most important parts were a slick VR experience tied to Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs and discussion of the recently-launched Movies Anywhere. While VR experiences built around movies are hardly new, this one took an unusual tack.

Fox

Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson and Jeff Goldblum provided voices for the dogs they play in the movie, talking as themselves or in character while I viewed them in VR, sitting on set pieces in the stop-motion animation studio as animators walked around in the background. The combination of dogs talking in "real time" before you while animators whisk by accelerated behind creates a surreal effect that also highlights all the work that goes into making a movie like this. The full experience is going to be released later this month tied to the Sundance Film Festival, initially for Google Daydream headsets.

The other part of the event was a chance to talk to some of the people behind Movies Anywhere, as we checked in on the digital locker setup. After some initial waiting, I was able to successfully link all of my accounts to the service, and even use it to search out and buy movies very easily. According to general manager Karin Gilford, people have already moved around 80 million movies onto the new platform, which unlocks titles across iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu and Google Play, and have streamed more than 3 million hours.

Something we can expect to see more of is tie-ins between movies that are just arriving in theaters, like Fox's exclusive featurette pushed with The Greatest Showman. That's because they've found people tied in with the service see more movies in theaters than the average person. Other than potential deals with new partners, the push in 2018 will be to improve the experience on TV screens, new features and making it a better companion for film fans.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


Meltdown and Spectre flaws loomed large over CES

The Meltdown and Spectre CPU vulnerabilities hung like a shadow over the festivities of CES. What's typically a celebration of consumer electronics was instead a stark reminder of just how far-reaching these issues are. And that's especially the case for Intel and AMD, both of whom unveiled fast new processors that are still vulnerable to future Spectre exploits. They each had statements about what they're doing to secure their hardware, but there was no escaping that the threat of Spectre is the new normal. That's particularly troubling when tech companies are hoping to launch smart home solutions that seep into every aspect of ours lives.

Intel faced the brunt of the early criticism, when initial reports pegged the potential exploits as something that affected only its chips. It turns out that's not the whole story. The Meltdown vulnerability is specifically aimed at Intel's hardware, but Spectre will be an ongoing issue for every modern CPU. All the same, no massive security hole was going to put a stop to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's opening CES keynote -- not when its big-budget show was being held at a giant music venue at the Monte Carlo hotel.

After an opening act that featured virtual instruments and a virtuoso child dancer, Krzanich went into crisis response mode almost immediately. "The collaboration among so many companies to address this industry-wide issue across several different processor architectures has been truly remarkable," he said, praising the unusual way competitors rallied together. "Security is job number one for Intel and our industry. So the primary focus of our decisions and discussions have been to keep our customers' data safe."

Krzanich went on to assure the audience that Intel hasn't heard about anyone using these exploits to steal customer data. And he also gave us more clarity about the company's response, noting that it plans to fully patch its product line from the past five years by the end of the month. As for reports of fixes slowing down processors, he reiterated Intel's line about the impact being "highly workload dependent." Microsoft gave us a bit more insight into what that means the next day -- basically, you can expect noticeable slowdowns with Intel's chips from 2015 and earlier.

As for AMD, its CTO, Mark Papermaster, told press and analysts that it still believes there is "near zero risk" for its users. Thanks to architectural differences from Intel, the Meltdown (aka "Rogue Data Cache Load") vulnerability doesn't affect AMD's chips. When it comes to the two Spectre vulnerabilities, he said Variant 1, otherwise known as "Bounds check bypass," will be fixed through OS and software patches.

Papermaster reiterated that there's "near zero risk" for its architecture to Variant 2, or "branch target injection." Specifically, he noted, "vulnerability to Variant 2 has not been demonstrated on AMD processors to date." That carefully worded statement leaves room for the possibility that hackers could come up with new exploits that take advantage of that flaw.

This CES was a particularly ill-timed launch for one of the strangest collaborations in the tech industry: Intel's new 8th-generation Core CPU with AMD's RX Vega GPU. When we first heard about the chip, we were intrigued by the possibilities. It finally gives computer makers the flexibility to make ultraportables with solid gaming chops. But now, with the threat of Spectre, the chip's luster is ruined a bit. Similarly, it's just tough to get too excited about AMD's upcoming Ryzen desktop CPUs. Even its promising Radeon Mobile GPU, which could bring even faster performance to laptops than its Intel collaboration, is still tainted by its connection with AMD's affected processors.

In an interview with Engadget, Jim Anderson, AMD's Radeon head, said, "Regardless of Spectre and Meltdown, we are always focused on continuing to improve our security. ... It's key for two very important markets for us, both data center and the commercial PC market." As for any potential performance hits, Anderson said the impact should be "negligible." Since our chat with AMD, Microsoft has halted patches for Windows systems running the company's chips. It turns out the update ended up bricking some machines. Microsoft blamed AMD's documentation for not conforming with earlier instructions, and it's unclear when the patches will resume.

It'd be bad enough if Spectre affected only individual devices, but this year at CES, tech companies also doubled down on connected platforms built on user data. LG has its ThinQ AI, and Samsung is bringing Bixby and SmartThings to more products. And on a similar front, we're also seeing more companies integrating with smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. It'll be more important than ever to ensure that smart home platforms are secure locally in your home, and that the servers powering all of the assistants are also as secure as possible. (Google, Amazon and Microsoft all say they've patched their servers against known exploits.)

The worry isn't that a hacker could discover your Netflix guilty-watch queue. Instead, there's the potential for them to tap into smart home platforms to track your location, use your home cameras to peep on your family and access the microphones spread throughout your home. Indeed, we've already seen how vulnerable connected baby monitors were, which allowed people to spy on kids and potentially communicate with them. As gadgets reach deeper into our lives, so does the potential for serious attacks.

Tim Alessi, LG's director of product marketing for home entertainment, assured us that the company has "always had a history of making our devices as secure as possible." And when it comes to the widespread data collection that LG's ThinQ smart devices will employ, he noted, "We're not just collecting data for data's sake. It's to help people get the most out of their TVs. And, during setup, it's very clear during the opt-in process to make their own decision."

LG Electronics marketing VP, David Vanderwaal, showing off the company's new CLOi AI-powered robot and smart home devices.

Steve Marcus / Reuters

Going into CES this year, we knew the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities would be something every major tech company would be thinking about. And their response was what you'd expect: They're working hard to fix the immediate issues, and they'll keep an extra eye on security in the future. Intel, which initially deflected blame, vowed to be more transparent with the public.

Other major chipmakers, like NVIDIA and Qualcomm, aren't worried about the implication of Spectre. The former claims that its GPUs are entirely immune, while Qualcomm's CEO, Cristiano Amon, seems confident that the company's December patches were enough to mitigate any major issues. He also pointed out that mobile users download software from app stores, which are far more secure than desktops and servers that can run software from just about anywhere.

Until we start to explore entirely new processor designs, we won't be entirely free from the dangers of Spectre. And that's not an easy feat. The x86 CPU architecture powers nearly every desktop, notebook and server. And Spectre remains a flaw in ARM-based mobile processors. While there's a chance that chip makers might be able to tweak their existing designs, that could have unintended consequences. Up until now, the main push for chip companies has been to shrink their existing technology down to smaller fabrication techniques. But, more than ever, there's a need for whole new architectures, which could take years and untold amounts of R&D funding to develop.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.

LG CLOi photo: Steve Marcus/Reuters


Assistive hearing is the next big thing for wireless earbuds

The number of companies that sell true wireless earbuds has exploded in the last year. B&O, Bose, Sony and Samsung all joined the craze Bragi started back in 2014. Thanks to a bill signed into law last year, some hearing aids and assistive audio devices will be available over-the-counter without the need for a prescription. Headphone companies are also using their tech to help people with hearing problems, especially those suffering from tinnitus.

According to the CDC, around 50 million Americans suffer from some degree of tinnitus or ringing in their ears. The organization further explains that about 20 million of those people have a chronic issue, while around 2 million suffer from debilitating tinnitus -- and that's just in the US. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 that was signed into law last August aims not just to make hearing aids more accessible, but to give people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss more options besides having to get a doctor's prescription. It allows millions to manage their own health care. As part of that law, the FDA will create a new category of hearing aid, mostly to make sure a manufacturer's claims meet the standards expected for medical devices.

Accessibility is one big part of what will change under the new law, but it will also go a long way to reducing the stigma surrounding hearing loss. Doppler Labs' KR Liu told Engadget in an interview this week that more and more companies are interested in accessible tech, most specifically adding features or products to help people hear better.

Over 50 million Americans have hearing loss, yet fewer than 15 percent will go get hearing aids mostly because of cost and stigma," she explained. "[This legislation] will allow technology companies to sell devices over-the-counter devices to consumers with hearing loss."

Liu also worked closely with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to pass the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act with almost unanimous bipartisan support. "Today, if you want to do that, it's a highly regulated medical device," she continued. "You still need guidance from the FDA, but it allows the technology industry to sell to this community, which will drive prices down and also bring the conversation around hearing to be more socially acceptable."

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The Bragi Dash

Being able to run down to the store and pick up one of these new hearing aids will be tremendously helpful to those with hearing loss, but true-wireless earbud maker Bragi is going one step further. At CES 2018, the company announced Project Ears: an initiative with Mimi Hearing Technologies that will add personalized hearing enhancement to its line of Dash earbuds. The idea started with an early Bragi customer who modified the Dash to help with tinnitus. Although Project Ears will certainly help those suffering from that chronic ringing, it will also assist those with hearing loss.

Bragi founder and CEO Nikolaj Hviid told me that the move is all about the next step in wearable computing. "It's about extending what the Dash can do," he explained. "Physically it's the same -- from a hardware perspective." Through software tweaks, the company can make its products perform two functions and further extend what Bragi refers to as "wearable computing."

Like much of what Bragi does already with this audio gear, Project Ears will be customized to each person. Thanks to Mimi's customized hearing maps, the earbuds will offer a hearing solution to each individual based on the results of a hearing test. In fact, there's already a so-called Earprint test from the collaboration -- what's better known as a pure tone threshold test, if you want to get technical.

"No two people hear the same, much like glasses," Hviid said. "Project Ears is the concept of glasses for the ears, predominantly focusing on the people who have tinnitus. We thought we could modify our software so that these people could be helped."

There are some sacrifices that have to be made. Not all of Bragi's tracking features and embedded storage will be available on these new devices, though the hardware will be exactly the same. "Initially we made the choice to take a lot of the features out," Hviid continued. "It's a very sophisticated product, but it needs to be simple."

Nuheara's IQBuds Boost

Bragi isn't the only firm trying to help people hear better. A number of companies at CES, including Nuheara, offer devices that can help with hearing issues or just help you understand someone in the chaos of a noisy office, construction site or other hectic environments. In Nuheara's case, the company is on version 2.0 of its true wireless earbuds that offer assistive audio. The first, called IQBuds, was announced at CES last year and the follow-up IQBuds Boost made their debut earlier this week. Like Bragi plans with Project Ears, Nuheara offers a solution that's catered to an individual's hearing profile. The company's software, known as Ear ID, can calibrate the wearable devices so they work best for you -- again, much like Bragi plans to do with its assistive-audio solution.

Though a number of companies have followed Bragi's lead with true wireless devices of their own, it will take some work for them to offer assisted audio or sound amplification. As Hviid explained in an interview with Engadget, Bragi believes the tech in the Dash and Dash Pro is much more powerful than just wireless earbuds. There are sensors and other tech that enable the gesture control and other features that make Bragi's products unique. It's not a matter of just adding sound amplification to an existing product line and calling it a day: Bragi also plans to earn FDA approval for its assistive hearing devices.

"We were part of creating a space that became very popular, but the space for us is not just true wireless headphones," Hviid said. "What we're making is computers for the body and the ears, and you'll see us expand that by creating computers that enable and protect you."

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.


Nissan shares its vision for our autonomous EV future at CES

Not surprisingly, autonomy and electrification dominated transportation news at CES 2018. Toyota introduced its e-Palette concept mobility solution (which proceeded to dominate Engadget's Best of CES awards), while Silicon Valley startup Robomart unveiled plans to bring produce shopping to your front door. Automakers also announced a slew of upcoming self-driving technologies, ranging from Alexa integration and automated emergency brakes to Level 5 personal transport pods that do away with the steering wheel altogether.

But even among the most adventurous concepts floated at this year's trade show, Nissan's vision for the future stands out. One in which driver and vehicle could someday work in perfect harmony, thanks to a brain machine interface that instantly translates your thoughts into the vehicle's actions. It's one of a number of ideas the company is pursuing, Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan's global head of design, explained to Engadget as we walked around an IMx concept vehicle mock-up at the Nissan booth.

The IMx, much like Byton's recently unveiled Concept SUV, is packed with sensors and ringed with cameras -- everything you'd expect an autonomous vehicle to come equipped with. But it's what Nissan does with that data that's novel.

"If someone walks on the other side, you can see them walking through the wood [and LED-screen paneling on the interior of the passenger side door]," Albaisa explained. "Because what happens, especially on an SUV, is the visibility around the car below is not so good. So if a child or something is walking, you don't see them." But with this system, the driver can monitor the sides and rear of the vehicle in real time, without having to adjust the side-view mirrors. That's a good thing, given that the IMx forgoes its exterior mirrors in favor of cameras. Unfortunately, neither Nissan's nor Byton's vehicles will be going mirrorless anytime soon, due to federal NTSB regulations.

Albaisa sees electric-vehicle and autonomous-navigation technologies as intrinsically linked. "The EV has inspired everyone to bring other innovations," he said. "Because autonomous driving and EV, they're kind of related in the sense that the issue of drive-by-wire, ship-by-wire, it's usually linked. And to ensure that autonomous EVs operate safely, "you need those kind of intelligent controls systems," Albaisa said.

The spread of EV technology will have a number of impacts on the design of tomorrow's vehicles, often in ways that the public might not initially appreciate. "The fact that the floor [of the IMx] is completely flat is a major deal for the people in the car companies," Albaisa said. "Because usually you have to deal with exhaust, with transmissions, and drivetrains. We don't have any of that in the future. So you're able to have this completely open space" in the vehicle's interior that opens up a slew of unconventional configurations, with seats that rotate or recline completely flat.

"Also, the EV models are getting smaller and smaller," Albaisa continued. "Eventually [the electric engines are] going to jump into the wheels. This is the next big thing... it is going to then free up most of the [vehicle's interior] volume."

While Albaisa credits the interplay between his team and Nissan's engineering department with continually generating new ideas, he doesn't limit his inspiration to the automotive industry. Narration has emerged as a potent ideal in Albaisa's designs. "One of the things that I do now is hire filmmakers," he said, because of their ability to tell stories.

The problem Albaisa hopes to address here is how to help drivers make sense of the myriad disconnected pieces of information generated during an autonomous car ride. "There's a bunch of information that's not related," he lamented. "There's the speed of technical issues within the car, there's also where the car is going, all of the data from the cloud, all the apps, the curiosities of the customer, not related." Albaisa argues that the storytelling skills that filmmakers possess could help the drivers of tomorrow to more easily and seamlessly understand what is happening in the car around them.

For example, he points to the distracted-driving issue as a way in which seamless transitions might make driving safer in the future. "People are expecting to be able to access Instagram and Facebook while they're driving. That's the definition of distraction," he said. Car companies must make it so that drivers can access the information they want -- whether on a central display cluster or otherwise -- without losing focus on the road and without irritating the vehicle's occupants.

Autonomous navigation can be applied in this situation, enabling drivers to safely take a break from actively driving, get their social media fix and then retake command of the vehicle. Unfortunately, "the customer doesn't understand why you need to transition," he said; they simply expect things to work.

The other major obstacle facing Albaisa's team is one of weight. Take the vehicle's wheels, for example, which are among the heavier components in a modern car. Nissan engineers are currently exploring new materials such as composite plastics and thinner, lighter designs that offer the same structural integrity and performance as a standard alloy rim but at a fraction of the weight.

The Nissan IMx is an all-electric crossover concept vehicle offering fully autonomous operation and a driving range of more than 600 kilometers. The innovative concept vehicle provides a glimpse into the future of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, Nissan’s approach to changing how cars are powered, driven and integrated with society. It’s designed to strengthen the link between car and driver as a close, reliable partner that delivers a safer, more convenient and more enjoyable drive.

But it's not just wheels, mind you. "I don't know how much people feel it, but for us in the companies, everything is in play," he said. "Everything has to be thought about in a different way."

Take an action as simple as opening the door, for example. The IMx doesn't actually have any door handles. Instead, cameras mounted in the B-pillars will scan the driver's face as he approaches, leverage facial-recognition algorithms to confirm his identity, then automatically pop the door open.

"You just have a solenoid lock that releases the door and just opens it a little bit using the hinge geometry. It's cool, but also it's a massive weight reduction," Albaisa said, pointing out that such a design conforms to his ideals of seamlessness. The same is true for the interior, where, despite individual pieces being small and light, removing the various plastic bits in the cabin can add up to significant weight savings.

The trick moving forward, Albaisa believes, will be one of balancing cost and quality. "At the end of the day, the customer expects the car to be the same price," he said. "We've actually started loading things that are, you know, screens -- these are not free. And the computing power to operate screens and to operate apps is expensive."

"So that's the biggest challenge we have," Albaisa concluded. "How do we do these things in a way that is affordable to people? Because it would be a shame if all of these technologies are only for the rich."


After Math: CES 2018 by the numbers

After a week in the desert, CES 2018 has finally come to a close. Booths were trod, products were demoed and the conference was visited by only one of the biblical plagues. Puffco debuted one of the only cannabis gadgets seen at CES in recent memory, a gaming robot beat virtually every human who challenged it in Scrabble, and Toyota's "E-Palette" mobility concept turned all of the heads. Numbers, because how else will you tally votes for the Best of CES awards?

20 seconds: That's how long it takes for the Puffco Peak concentrate vaporizer to fully heat up -- a fraction of the time it takes e-nails to do the same and far less flammable than the butane torch method.

5 years: That's how long we'll have to wait for regulators to work their magic before hopping into Volocopter's 18-rotor autonomous sky taxi. Just make sure wherever you're flying to is within the 30-minute range limit.

$120: That's how much you're going to pay for the Vortx gaming accessory if you want to have air puffed into your face during your next Overwatch session.

82: That's the age of first-time CES exhibitor Carol Staninger, who's here to help save the lives of children by alerting an adult when said ankle biters are left unattended in hot cars.

112–81: That was the final score in a friendly match between Engadget managing editor Terrence O'Brien and ITRI's Scrabble-playing AI. The AI won handily, despite its hands actually being manipulators.

2 hours: That's how long the Las Vegas Convention Center was thrust into darkness on Wednesday. Oh, the sweet, sweet irony of the world's largest electronics expo losing electricity for hours on end.

3: That's how many Best of CES awards the Toyota e-Palette mobility concept took home: Best Transportation Tech, Best Innovation and the coveted Best of the Best of CES award. Fingers crossed it actually makes it out of testing and onto our roadways.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.