Apple pays off its $15.4 billion Irish tax bill


Apple

The EU is to drop its litigation against Apple over its cosy tax relationship with Ireland now that the iPhone-maker has paid back 13.2 billion Euros ($15.4 billion) in back taxes, plus interest of 1.2 billion Euros ($1.4 billion). That sum is going in an escrow holding account pending Dublin and Apple’s appeal against the ruling.

Ireland’s finance minister Paschal Donohoe, announced on Tuesday that the government had recovered the full amount from the so-called “sweetheart deal,” which saw the trillion-dollar tech giant paying taxes as low as 0.05 percent as part of its arrangement with the country.

“The government fundamentally disagrees with the [European] Commission’s analysis in the Apple state aid decision and is seeking an annulment of that decision in the European courts,” said Donohoe. He added that as a committed EU member Ireland had “always confirmed that we would recover the alleged state aid”. Apple is refusing to comment on the decision, instead rehashing a statement from last year that said it is cooperating with the recovery process and was confident the decision would be overturned.

The EU deemed Ireland’s tax break to Apple illegal in 2016 as it gave the company a “significant advantage” over its competition. Apple was ordered to pay back the taxes it owed for the period between 2003 and 2014, along with interest. Unsuccessful appeals followed until Apple began paying back the money, starting with a $1.76 billion payment in May of this year, into an escrow fund.

“In light of the full payment by Apple of the illegal State aid it had received from Ireland, Commissioner Vestager will be proposing to the College of Commissioners the withdrawal of this court action,” European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an email to Reuters.

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Netflix comes to Sky Q boxes in November

Earlier this year, Sky announced that it would allow its customers to access Netflix through its set-top boxes. Now the company has revealed that the streaming giant will hit Sky Q boxes in November, and how exactly the whole thing will work.

Existing Sky Q customers get two choices, the first of which is to sign up for the Ultimate On Demand pack as a bolt-on to your existing subscription. For £10 extra a month, users can get Netflix’s standard plan, offering two streams of HD content.

Sky Q Premium users, meanwhile, will get the Netflix UHD package, offering 4K video where available and up to four simultaneous streams. The Ultimate On Demand plan is on a 31-day rolling contract, and will also include access to Sky’s own Box Sets offering, worth £5 a month on its own.

If you already subscribe to both Netflix and Sky Q, then you have to weigh up if you’d rather just input your Netflix login into the app. That, Sky tells us, will work, but you’ll lose the benefits of deeper integration into the Sky Q package, including universal search and curated discovery on the homepage (pictured).

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The Morning After: PlayStation Classic and iPhone XS


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Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Sony picks up a strategy from Nintendo, and we have our first impressions of the iPhone XS family. It’s Wednesday, so update your old iPhone without fear and take a look at an awe-inspiring early image taken by NASA’s TESS spacecraft.


$100 for 20 gamesPlayStation Classic jumps on the retro trend December 3rd

Apparently Sony has been watching the success of Nintendo’s miniature Classic systems because this holiday season, it’s reaching back for a PlayStation Classic. It’s 45 percent of the size of the original and comes pre-loaded with 20 titles (so far Sony has only confirmed Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, Jumping Flash and Wild Arms). It comes with two PS1 controllers (no analog sticks), a virtual memory card and buttons that help change or suspend games, but you’ll have to bring your own USB power adapter.


Expect our full review soon.iPhone XS and XS Max, Day 1: A clear step forward

We’re still in the middle of testing our iPhone XS and XS Max — you can expect our full, detailed review soon. In the meantime, we’ve picked up on a few things that you should definitely keep in mind before these new flagship phones go on sale. So far, the camera is noticeably improved from the iPhone X, and the faster Face ID makes unlocking feel even more magical. If you’re still rocking an older iPhone, either of these would be phenomenal upgrades, but the colorful, fascinating iPhone XR is right around the corner and might be a better bang for your buck.


Has Bose been dethroned?Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones review

These aren’t just a great pair of noise-canceling headphones, they’re quality cans, period. While you used to have to choose between great sound quality and decent noise reduction, the 1000XM3 does both while being a blast to listen to.


Welcome to the current day.Nintendo Switch Online lands

A premium online and multiplayer experience is finally available for the Nintendo Switch. The biggest change subscribers will notice is that their saves are no longer tied to one console (as long as they keep their subscription active) for games that support its new cloud save feature. If you don’t want to pay the $20 annual fee, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to play Fortnite — good to know if you snag the special edition Switch bundle that’s going on sale October 5th with some extra bonuses.


Planned unobsolescence?Don’t be afraid to upgrade your old iPhone to iOS 12

At WWDC this year, Apple said iOS 12 would deliver improved performance on devices as old as 2013’s iPhone 5s. After spending the last day or so playing with iOS 12 on his iPhone 6s, Nathan Ingraham can say that Apple has definitely breathed new life into the device.

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Time to go find some planets.NASA’s TESS spacecraft captures ‘first light’ image

The planet-hunting spacecraft’s four cameras have taken their “first light” image — the first astronomical photo after a telescope has been assembled — showing the satellite’s full field of view. The whole photo, which TESS captured during a 30-minute period on August 7th, shows a dozen constellations. It represents one of the 26 sectors TESS will monitor over the next two years. The spacecraft will observe one sector for 27 days each, with the first half making up the southern sky taking place during its first year.


Produced by Marvel Studios, not Marvel TV.MCU heroes could get their own shows on Disney’s streaming service

According to a report from Variety, Disney may be preparing big-budget TV series featuring characters (and the actors who play them) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. They’d be exclusive for its streaming service that will launch next year and give viewers even more reason to consider it as a Netflix complement or alternative. The idea apparently is to focus on second-tier super-powered characters who haven’t had a solo movie, like Scarlet Witch or Loki.

But wait, there’s more…


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American Airlines offers free live TV through Dish


Dish

You might not be stuck watching a handful of mediocre movies (or your offline copies of streaming shows) the next time you’re on a long-haul flight. American Airlines and Dish recently started offering free live TV for domestic US flights aboard 100-plus aircraft with Gogo’s 2Ku satellite access. It won’t match your service back home, but you will have access to a dozen major networks including CNN, ESPN, NBC and Telemundo. And you don’t have to squint at a small seatback display — you can stream the channels directly to your laptop or mobile device.

The service will spread to AA’s fleet of over 700 mainline, narrowbody aircraft throughout 2019. The company is in the midst of an upgrade plan that will bring more power outlets to its aircraft, too, reducing the chances that you’ll reach your destination with a low battery.

This could make the airline more alluring if you’re not in the mood to read books or listen to podcasts in mid-flight. However, there’s also a decided advantage for Dish. This serves as a kind of ad for Dish’s satellite and streaming TV offerings. If it works well, you might be inclined to subscribe to one of those services when you’re back on terra firma.

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Renault’s EZ-PRO is a workspace, coffee truck and rolling post office

Renault, one of Europe’s major automakers, is trying to help us imagine a world with fewer cars. Earlier this year, it unveiled the EZ-GO concept, a sort of anti-Uber autonomous ride-sharing vehicle for the masses. Now, it has taken the wraps off EZ-PRO, a last-mile autonomous electric delivery vehicle system that can double as a coffee truck, portable office and postal outlet on wheels.

The EZ-GO was one of the most interesting concepts we’ve seen this year, so how does the EZ-PRO stack up? At the company’s TechnoCentre near Paris, we get a closer look at Renault’s multitasking, multipurpose self-driving solution.

“EZ-GO was the first chapter, where we showed how mobility services can be applied to personal transportation,” Renault Corporate Design Director Laurens van den Acker told Engadget. “EZ-PRO is our vision on urban mobility for utilitarian use, for commercial use. It’s another side of mobility services that we expect to increase enormously in the years to come.”

EZ-PRO is a lot different from Toyota’s e-Palette, the Mercedes Vision Urbanetic and other delivery concepts we’ve seen so far. The system consists of two parts: a “Leader Pod” that can hold both parcels and a human concierge and “Robo Pods” that carry packages or act as a food truck, portable grocery store, or whatever else the operator wants to do.

When I saw it at the TechnoCentre, the EZ-PRO was pretty much a static display unit, though all the ports (doors, retractable steps and screens) work. Renault did move the Leader and Robo Pods forward and backwards a few times at the end of the event and promised it will be more dynamic when it’s shown off at the Hanover Auto Show starting September 19th.

The Leader Pod and Robo Pods can depart as a sort of train, linked together electronically in a platooning mode. After they head out, the Robo Pods can leave the platoon to do separate drop-offs or stick together for large-volume deliveries. The Robo or Leader Pods can also deliver independently of each other.

The Leader Pod is made of two parts: a cab for the concierge and a rear hold for the packages or merchandise. Rather than driving, the human passenger can sit in an office-like section of the cab and focus on coordinating package deliveries or doing administration chores. If need be, they could take over driving using a joystick and other controls. It also has a traffic-connected control screen, an iPad, USB sockets and more. Lighting adjusts to suit driving or working, and a glass partition behind the concierge lets you see the cargo.

Gallery: Renault EZ-PRO autonomous last-mile delivery EV | 27 Photos

The Robo Pods, meanwhile, are autonomous and reversible, with lights that show which way they’re going (white at the front and red at the rear). They can take multiple forms depending on the jobs they have to fill: lockers with client-specific keys for small packages, a large hold for merchandise, a food truck or even a mobile store. To illustrate that, Renault teamed with a logistics delivery firm, coffee supplier, champagne company and chocolate manufacturer to show off pods with several configurations.

The EZ-PRO pods are vaguely van-shaped but look more like a train locomotive and its companion carts than road-going vehicles. They’re autonomous and electric, like the EZ-GO, and share the same platform, with rear-wheel drive, a battery on the floor and an active suspension to avoid jarring people and goods.

They have four-wheel steering for maneuverability, but the wheels are covered by rather impractical fairings which hold the driving sensors, including radar, lidar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras. Renault hasn’t specified the EV range or battery sizes because, well, it’s a concept.

The EZ-PRO automatically plans the routes for its pods, taking into account traffic conditions, traffic lights, parking space availability and other factors. “This ensures more efficient deliveries that are more secure, smoother and reduce road congestion,” Renault explains. It can park by itself in GPS-identified spots and will never double park or block pedestrians.

As automakers tend to do, Renault describes the EZ-PRO with a lot of PR-talk, saying the colors “express technical complexity, efficiency and minimalism.” The tl;dr is it’s adorned with drab grey and green to better blend into its urban-concrete environment. The designers even considered the reflectivity of the side glass to reduce the visual impact of the cars. That’s in stark contrast to most other concept vehicles that are designed to stand (way) out.

For the interior materials, Renault used wool felt for the non-technical areas, black cork on vertical surfaces and leather for seating. The inspiration for this came from a pretty weird source: “The combination of some of these materials and the surface treatment directly reflect the spirit and the use of sportswear,” it said.

(All the design minimalism and social responsibility talk sounds grand. Rather than passing unnoticed, though, the EZ-PRO would still likely draw slack-jawed stares if it rolled down the street.)

Renault has thought through the EZ-PRO operations in serious detail, considering it’s still just a concept. For large-scale deliveries, trucks coming from a port or warehouse could carry containers pre-loaded with merchandise. They could then be brought to a hub and installed on EZ-PRO platforms. The loaded Robo Pods could then form a convoy and head to their delivery points.

Gallery: Renault EZ-PRO autonomous EV concept press gallery | 26 Photos

For smaller deliveries, packages could be delivered to a location of the customer’s choice, using lockers that open to a code sent to a smartphone, for instance. A customer could also drop off his dry-cleaning to a Robo Pod, then pick it up at a set location from another pod later in the day. More valuable goods could be hand-delivered by a concierge.

Daily deliveries could be made from a large wholesale market to a florist in the city or as home grocery deliveries. Companies using the system could customize the vehicles in its colors or change the configuration depending on whether they’re picking up supplies or delivering the final goods to consumers. It could also be used to make daily deliveries to residential or commercial hubs.

Finally, the Leader or Robo Pods could be adapted for jobs other than deliveries. They could function as food, coffee or automatic vending trucks, either with or without someone to serve up the goods. Renault showed off this idea with a pod with equipment from coffee company Jofi, transforming it into a sort of Starbucks on wheels.

On top of the social responsibility angle, Renault has some pretty solid reasons to get a jump on the autonomous delivery market. Renault is the top manufacturer of electric utility vehicles in Europe and no doubt wants to keep that position. It notes that 78 percent of folks will be living in cities in Europe by 2030, with deliveries expected to grow by 20 percent, and a whopping 125 percent in China. Costs for the last-mile delivery of a package amount to 35 to 50 percent, and totaled $86 billion around the globe last year.

So it’s thinking ahead to get a jump on the market, though autonomous deliveries are, despite the hype train, still a long ways off. Renault also fancies itself as a car manufacturer for everyone and not just the rich, so projects like EZ-GO and EZ-PRO are a way to flaunt its social bonafides.

“We want to provide an easy life for customers and that also applies to utility vehicles,” said van den Acker. “It’s a logical extension of our activities because we’ve been leaders in utility vehicles for more than 100 years. We want to be at the forefront of urban mobility, and we are already everywhere, so we will make sure to have a good solution.”

Toyota created a blueprint for multi-use autonomous delivery vehicles with the e-Palette. Unlike Renault, it essentially married the delivery and transit ideas into one vehicle. That way, they can be used not just for parcel deliveries but also mass transit and even temporary accommodation. It also partnered with various firms, including Amazon, Uber, Mazda and Pizza Hut to show what the concept could do.

Mercedes, meanwhile, has a single platform with swappable consoles for ridesharing, a shuttle bus, cargo and other chores. All you need to do is swap out the modules, and hey presto, you have an autonomous van or delivery cube.

Renault has a lot of the same ideas but has split it into two separate vehicles. By doing so, it was able to make the EZ-PRO more business and delivery specific, with the idea of a concierge and multiple vehicles running together in a platoon configuration. The company will reportedly be launching a third EZ-class vehicle soon, one that’s more about personal luxury transportation.

If these concepts are ever to be commercialized, first automakers will have to nail down at least level 4 autonomy — and the closer we get to that goal, the farther away it seems. For now, however, Renault, like Toyota, Mercedes and other automakers, has shown how concepts can be more than cool designs and raw horsepower. Rather, they can represent a company’s complete vision of the future and generate discussion around ideas like autonomous city transportation. In that sense, the EZ-PRO is already a success.

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PlayStation Classic jumps on the retro trend December 3rd for $100


Sony

With “Classic” game systems occasionally outselling modern ones, Sony is bringing back its own old school system. The PlayStation Classic will launch in December, loaded with 20 “generation-defining” games in their original format for $100 (€99.99 RRP). It’s 45 percent smaller than the original system and uses a virtual memory card for saves. It will arrive with two PS1-era replica controllers from the time before analog sticks for local multiplayer and connect to modern TVs via HDMI-out, but you’ll have to bring your own USB power adapter.

Gallery: PlayStation Classic | 7 Photos

Naturally it doesn’t load any real discs and it doesn’t sound like it will be able to install new games after purchase, but the button and logo layout matches the original console. Pressing “Open” changes the virtual disc so you can swap games, while “Reset” suspends games. Sony’s website hasn’t listed all of the titles that are included, but Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, Jumping Flash and Wild Arms are all confirmed, and others will be announced via the PlayStation Blog.

Pre-orders are available now on Best Buy’s website. GameStop.com also shows a listing in its search results, and while the linked page is blank, you can add it directly to your cart. If we see any other listings pop up we will update this post.

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Google gives its Slack rival the ability to snooze notifications


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You can now stop Hangouts Chat notifications from breaking your concentration when you’re in the zone… or taking a short nap after a stressful task. Google has updated its Slack rival with the ability to block notifications for a set amount of time — just click on your status button and choose from the snooze notification options in the drop-down menu. You can choose to block alerts for as short as 30 minutes to as long as 8 hours, but you have to do so manually each time and can’t set a schedule for it.

According to 9to5google, your colleagues will know if you’ve only blocked alerts by looking at the status indicator. A purple crescent moon means you’re online but have snoozed notifications, and opening the private chat window will show until what time you can’t be disturbed. It works pretty much like its Slack counterpart, so we doubt anybody would have a tough time figuring it out.

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Capcom closes Vancouver studio behind ‘Dead Rising’


Capcom

Video game publisher Capcom is shutting down its Vancouver studio and around 158 employees will be let go. The company told Variety that operations were suspended Tuesday and a skeleton crew would remain on board until January in order to finalize the closure. “Capcom has been focused on increasing the efficiency and growth of its game development operations,” a spokesperson told Variety. “To support this objective, new R&D facilities and annual hiring have been underway at the Osaka headquarters. In consideration of this process, as a result of reviewing titles in development at Capcom Vancouver, Capcom has decided to cancel the development projects at this studio and will concentrate development of major titles in Japan.”

Capcom Vancouver, known for its Dead Rising series, was hit with layoffs earlier this year as well. While the company confirmed that a number of titles were now cancelled, it didn’t say what plans it had for Dead Rising.

“We appreciate the hard work and contributions of all the studio team members in creating unforgettable gameplay experiences for the Dead Rising series and Puzzle Fighter,” Capcom said.

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AI can identify objects based on verbal descriptions


Christine Daniloff/MIT

Modern speech recognition is clunky and often requires massive amounts of annotations and transcriptions to help understand what you’re referencing. There might, however, be a more natural way: teaching the algorithms to recognize things much like you would a child. Scientists have devised a machine learning system that can identify objects in a scene based on their description. Point out a blue shirt in an image, for example, and it can highlight the clothing without any transcriptions involved.

The team started with an existing approach where two neural networks process the images and audio spectrograms, learning to match an audio caption with images containing a given object. However, they modified the image-handling neural network so that it would split the image into a grid of cells, while the audio network cuts up the spectrogram into short (1-2 second) snippets. After pairing the right image and caption, the training process scores the AI system based on how well the audio segments match objects in the cell grids. Effectively, it’s like telling children what they’re looking at by pointing at objects and naming them.

There are a number of potential uses, but the researchers are most enamored with the potential for translation. Rather than asking a bilingual annotator to make the connections, you could have people speaking different languages describe the same thing — the system could assume that one description is a translation of the other. That could make speech recognition viable for many more languages than just the roughly 100 that have enough transcriptions for the old-fashioned method.

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Amazon helps others make accessories for Echo speakers


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There aren’t many Echo-oriented accessories beyond Amazon’s own Echo Button, but that’s about to change very shortly. Amazon has released a beta Alexa Gadgets Toolkit that lets hardware brands make Echo-focused Bluetooth accessories that respond to Alexa commands. You can have a cuckoo clock that responds to your Echo’s wake word or a notification, a switch that releases dog food after an alarm, or a chime that sounds when time’s up. A future update will even allow visual interaction with music — it’s easy to see a lamp that pulses in sync with Amazon Music tracks.

Child-oriented updates will also let developers build gadgets that include compatible kid-friendly skills.

The toolkit is invitation-only and focused on businesses in the US, UK and Germany, so this isn’t available to absolutely anyone. Amazon does have big name partners like Hasbro, TOMY and WowWee , and the first products (including smart plush toys and Gemmy’s Big Mouth Billy Bass) are due before 2018 is over.

While the restrictions aren’t going to make do-it-yourself enthusiasts happy, this does promise to significantly expand the Echo ecosystem. Companies won’t need to implement sophisticated processors, audio capture or cloud services. Instead, they can let an Echo do the heavy lifting and focus on a gadget’s special features. Don’t be shocked if an Echo quickly becomes a must-have component for play time, or even around-the-house widgets like clocks and timers.

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