Alphabet's Loon forms advisory board to score internet balloon deals

Loon, Medium

Alphabet’s Loon knows it needs to land carrier deals if it’s going to turn internet balloons into a viable business, and that means tapping industry veterans who know how to make those deals. To that end, it just formed an advisory board that will help it find partners. The initial three members aren’t household names, but you’ll definitely know the companies they’ve worked for — it’s almost a who’s-who of wireless.

Craig McCaw, for instance, is more recently known for running Clearwire, the WiMax-loving broadband provider that Sprint acquired in 2013. Ian Small, meanwhile, headed up key technology development at international carrier Telefonica and is currently the CEO of Evernote. Marni Walden is the one with the most recent telecom experience — she was an Executive VP and President at Engadget’s parent company, Verizon, where she managed Global Media and New Business.

These are only the “founding members,” so don’t be shocked if more people join the ranks. It might need to expand given Loon’s focus on providing internet access to remote or underserved areas. The current board includes people from American and European providers. It might want advisors who are particularly familiar with developing countries and other places where broadband is scarce or non-existent.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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Nike's Adapt BB is an app-controlled, self-lacing basketball shoe

We knew they were coming, but Nike has officially introduced its first self-lacing basketball shoes, the Adapt BB. These new sneakers are designed to provide a “truly customized fit for every basketball player,” according to the company, thanks to a power-lacing system called FitAdapt that can be adjusted manually or with a smartphone app. The sportswear giant says that over the course of a basketball game, a player’s foot can expand almost a half-size, which can affect their comfort level and ultimately have an impact on their movement and performance on the court. That’s the problem Nike is looking to solve with Adapt BB.

Nike’s VP Creative Director of Innovation, Eric Avar, says the company chose basketball as the first sport to showcase Adapt (and its FitAdapt tech) because of the demands that hoopers put on their shoes. Giving players the ability to quickly loosen (or tighten) their sneakers during a game, he said, is a key element that the sportswear giant believes “will improve the athlete’s experience.” Adapt BB is essentially a step up from Flywire and Flyknit, two fabric-based technologies that were created to offer individuals the feeling of a custom fit in sneakers and apparel.

The highlight of Adapt, which Nike is calling its “most advanced fit solution to date,” is that you can control its power laces manually via physical buttons on the shoe or a companion app on your phone. When you put on the Adapt BB, the built-in custom motor with trained gears senses the tension needed by your feet and adjusts itself accordingly to keep each foot snug in the shoes. Nike says its new lacing system can create 32 pounds of force, about the same energy needed to pull a standard parachute cord, allowing it to stay locked in through any range of movement from a player.


With the companion Adapt mobile application, players are able to input different fit settings over the course of a game, as well as change the LED colors on the sneakers. The other benefit to having wireless connectivity in the Adapt BB is that it will support firmware updates, which means it is expected to get extra features and improvements down the road. For instance, Nike says it’s working on a way to give NBA players different tightness settings for warm-ups, and they’ll be able to opt-in to these updates to get them as they become available.

The goal with those customization options, Nike says, is to sharpen the precision fit of the Adapt BB for athletes, along with giving them access to more “digital services” over time. A good example of this is Save Your Fit, which will let players use the app to lock in their preferred settings for the power laces. And if that doesn’t workout for them, then they can always adjust their power laces at their own discretion via manual touch. It’s good to have alternatives.

Of course, the Adapt BB wouldn’t have been possible without the HyperAdapt 1.0 from 2016. That shoe was more of a multipurpose model, but it showed Nike was capable of making a self-lacing shoe for consumers — not just a limited-edition Back to the Future Air Mag that sells for upward of $65,000. Better yet, with the Adapt BB, Nike was also able to bring the price down to $350, which is much easier to swallow than the $720 that the HyperAdapt 1.0 cost when they launched two years ago.

Nike says Adapt for basketball is just the start, as it plans to bring the technology to more sports in the near future (watch out, Puma). For now, if you want to get a pair for yourself, the Adapt BBs are set to arrive at the beginning of February.

Gallery: Nike’s Adapt BB self-lacing basketball shoe | 4 Photos

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Facebook will spend $300 million to help local newsrooms


Facebook is investing $300 million into news partnerships over the next three years in a bid to boost local newsrooms. It’s all part of its ongoing efforts to mend ties with the press while cleaning up misinformation on its site. Along with the $20 million Facebook has already doled out as part of its local news partnerships expansion, it will distribute $16 million among the following non-profits and support organizations: Pulitzer Center, Report for America, the Knight-Lenfest News Transformation Fund, the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium, the American Journalism Project, and the Community News Project.

And boy do local newspapers need the help: a recent study showed that 1,800 local news publications have closed or merged since 2004 — that’s one in five local papers. The impact of these so-called news deserts (communities that lack a local newspaper) can be felt during the elections process, with decreased voter turnout in those underserved areas.

Of course, digital advertising gatekeepers such as Facebook and Google — which is also allotting $300 million to publishers as part of its own journalism initiative — are partly to blame for this local news downfall. Last year, a Pew study also revealed that social media had replaced newspapers as the most popular news source among US adults. On the flip side, Facebook began bumping up local news providers in its News Feed last year, which should theoretically lead to more traffic referrals.

But will this latest spurt of investment be enough? Breaking down Facebook’s funding reveals a $2 million investment in Report for America, an initiative to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms over the next five years. That works out to a meagre bursary of $2,000 for each journalist in a climate where newsroom employment continues to decline, fuelled by job losses at newspapers.

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Judge rules that no form of biometric security can be used to force a smartphone unlock

Through the looking glass: Modern technology poses many issues in the legal system when old laws are applied to new devices that were never even dreamed of when legislation was being written. A court ruling has determined that biometric security on smartphones should not be used to forcibly unlock a mobile device and allow self-incrimination.

American police forces may now face greater difficulty in unlocking mobile devices related to crimes. At the US District Court for the Northern District of California, a judge has denied issuing a search warrant that would have allowed a mobile device to be unlocked via a fingerprint, iris scan, or facial recognition.

Since there is a very fine line that prevents suspected individuals from providing evidence against themselves under the fifth amendment, the California judge has ruled that all forms of login information is to be treated as testimony. Regardless of whether a phone is secured by a pin, lengthy password, or biometric sensor data, individuals may not be forced to unlock their device so as to testify against themselves.

“If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device,” wrote the judge.

“Technology is outpacing the law.”

Despite the fact that mobile devices may no longer be forcibly unlocked, device security can still be broken on a seized device. Private contractors are able to provide services to law enforcement by granting access to data contained on most mobile devices for modest fees. Nearly all Android and iOS devices are able to be compromised if enough cash is offered up.

Rulings at the district level are still able to be overturned by higher courts. Should there be something incriminating on your mobile device, utilizing a very strong password and avoiding the use of biometric options will still provide the greatest protection against the law. Better yet, just don’t do anything that results in your phone being seized.

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Microsoft is now helping Walgreens fend off Amazon’s healthcare push

Microsoft has signed a new seven-year deal with Walgreens Boots Alliance to supply cloud services to the retail pharmacy store chain. Walgreens, the second-biggest pharmacy store chain in the US, is planning to “migrate the majority” of its IT infrastructure over to Microsoft’s Azure service, and is promising “new transformational platforms in retail, pharmacy and business services” as a result of the deal. Microsoft will also roll out Microsoft 365, a combination of Windows 10 and Office, to Walgreen’s 380,000 employees and stores globally.

Walgreens is the fourth major retailer to partner with Microsoft in recent months. Walmart, Kroger, and Gap have also partnered with Microsoft, in moves that are clearly designed to fight off competition from Amazon and others. Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, and is reportedly planning to open 3,000 Amazon Go stores across the US in a threat to traditional retailers.

While Walmart and Kroger have reason to fear Amazon’s brick-and-mortar store push, the retail giant is also entering the healthcare market that Walgreens competes in. Amazon acquired pharmaceutical startup PillPack last year, and stock prices for Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS fell dramatically in the immediate aftermath. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase also announced last year that they would form an a new healthcare company in the US to rethink healthcare for their employees. Amazon hasn’t announced any major push into healthcare just yet, but it’s clearly laying the groundwork that’s making rivals nervous.

Microsoft is capitalizing on this fear. While the software giant has formed an unlikely partnership with Amazon for Cortana and Alexa digital assistants, it has been quick to offer up cloud services and software for the retailers attempting to fend off Amazon competition. Microsoft is also rumored to be working on a cashier-free store system which it could make available to retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, Gap, and Kroger.

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