Amazon Echo update brings brilliant new feature: here's what you need to ask Alexa

“We’re thrilled to offer customers a convenient podcast listening experience that fits their lifestyle,” said Kintan Brahmbhatt, Director of Podcasts for Amazon Music. “Never before has listening to podcasts on the move, in the car, or at home been so simple. Our customers will be able to utilise the voice functionality they know and love with music, to now enjoy a superior podcast experience and uncover a brand-new selection of favourites.”

Of course, Spotify is also increasingly looking to podcasts to differentiate itself from music streaming rivals, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, TiDAL, and more. Spotify boasts a number of popular exclusives, including The Joe Rogan Experience. It also recently acquired two vast podcast networks – Gimlet Media (known for Reply All) and Parcast (a true-crime and mystery network).

In contrast, Apple Music seems to be relying on its network of live radio stations – with presenters including Zane Lowe, Elton John, Kelleigh Bannen, Rebecca Judd, Shania Twain and others. It also benefits from being the default music app in iOS (something that cannot be changed by iPhone owners) and being bundled as part of the newly-announced Apple One subscription.

iPhone 12 killer feature DITCHED days before release? Samsung and Google will be overjoyed

Apple has already confirmed that its latest batch of iPhones will be a little delayed this year due to the ongoing pandemic – skipping the usual September launch window and instead aiming to land on store shelves sometime in October or November. And that might not be the only disappointment for Apple fans patiently saving their pennies for the latest and greatest from the Cupertino-based company.

According to one of the more prominent leaksters around, Jon Prosser – founder of Front Page Tech on YouTube, Apple has made the last-minute decision to drop the 120Hz high refresh-rate display from its latest smartphones. Originally rumoured to be announced as the headline feature of the iPhone 11 Pro, it was widely assumed that a high-refresh panel would be included in the iPhone 12 Pro.

For those who don’t know, iPhones currently use a 60Hz panel, which means the screen refreshes 60 times every second. While that’s more than good enough to watch movies (these are shot at 24 frames-per-second) and play games, the vast majority of flagship smartphones are now using 120Hz panels. These displays boast twice the number of frames – so system animations look smoother, fast-paced games are more frenetic, and the touchscreen feels more responsive as it reacts to your fingertip much quicker.

Apple has used 120Hz panels in its iPad Pro range since June 2017. Dubbed Promotion by its marketing team, Apple uses a variable refresh rate to conserve battery life – dropping to 24-frames-per-second if you’re watching a film, but cranking up to the full 120Hz when scrolling through websites and drawing with the Apple Pencil.

According to Prosser, these 120Hz panels aren’t ready to mass production in the quantity (and more importantly for Apple’s bottom-line) the yield needed for the best-selling iPhone. Prosser tweeted: “120hz (codename: d6x) didn’t make mass production now you can give up.”

iPhone owners could be tempted to cancel their Amazon Prime tonight

This was backed by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a stellar track record when it comes to details about as-yet-unannounced Apple hardware. According to Kuo, Apple will drop plans to include a 120Hz display on all four iPhone models – but not because of any production issues. Kuo states that Apple took the decision to strip out the high-refresh panel because 5G support has already severely impacted battery life on the new models, and adding a 120Hz screen would have “significantly hurt the user experience.”

If Prosser and Ming-Chi Kuo are right and Apple can’t get a high-refresh rate panel into the iPhone until late-2021 it’s going to be incredibly late to the party. OnePlus was one of the first mainstream manufacturers to bring high-refresh rates to OLED touchscreens on smartphones with the 90Hz display on its OnePlus 7 Pro and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. The technology is fast-becoming the standard on Samsung smartphones, with the Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G all boasting these displays.

Countless others – Google Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, OPPO Find X2, Xiaomi Mi 10, Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G, OnePlus 8 Pro, and Asus ROG Phone 3 to name a few – are already available on store shelves right now with the feature.

Fortunately, one area where Apple is rumoured to catch-up with some of its biggest rivals is support for 5G. Given that Apple keeps its handsets updated with the latest software for four or five years, the latest iPhone models really needed to support this ultrafast mobile technology, which offers speeds faster than the average home broadband connection. 5G is still slowly rolling out to all corners of the UK, but support for the new standard is a must if you’re planning to hang onto your next phone for a good few years.

Square launches payroll feature that could boost its banking business through the Cash App

Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Square Inc., second right, tours the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

Yana Paskova | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Square is letting workers access some of their earned wages ahead of schedule, which could add fuel to the company’s recently booming banking business.

San Francisco-based Square on Tuesday launched “On-Demand Pay,” which lets those using Square for payroll give employees up to $200 of a paycheck ahead of the normal biweekly schedule. Those funds can be funneled directly into Square’s popular mobile account, the Cash App. 

Square, run by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, also announced an “instant payments” feature, which lets businesses fund payroll immediately using money in their Square balance, instead of waiting to pay through external bank accounts. 

Square’s general manager of Payroll, Caroline Hollis, pointed to the decline in cash tips at restaurants as one reason for the product launches. As cash becomes seen as a potential germ-spreader, “a lot of money movement is now happening digitally.” 

“We’re solving for cash flow,” Hollis told CNBC  in a phone interview. “If you work at a restaurant, cash tips used to be one of the biggest portion of your wages, and that has really dropped off.”

Both products incentivize users to sign up for direct deposit through Square’s Cash App. Those who opt to get paid via Square’s mobile accounts can get their funds within minutes, while linking an external bank account could take a matter of days and incurs a small fee.

“It’s much easier to use Cash App versus having to go and look up your account and routing number information,” Hollis said. “You get paid sooner if you pay out via Cash App — we’re able to do that because we own both sides of the transaction.” 

Square’s growing banking business

Square’s seller ecosystem has taken a hit during the pandemic as small businesses were forced to shut their doors. But its Cash App — which offers direct deposits — has taken off in the other direction. Analysts point to optimism around the Cash App as the key reason for Square’s 130% stock rally this year.

Square’s peer-to-peer app was originally seen as a competitor to PayPal’s Venmo. It also offers direct deposits, a debit card for spending, and unlike PayPal offers equity and cryptocurrency trading. Cash App saw “meaningful uplift” from users depositing government stimulus checks, CFO Amrita Ahuja said on a call with reporters after its last earnings release. Unemployment checks and tax refunds were also “tailwinds” that drove momentum in the app. 

“Until the Coronavirus crisis, Cash App really hadn’t been on the radar for many investors when they thought about Square,” said Max Friedrich, analyst at ARK invest. “That changed through the crisis — Square’s main business stopped and all eyes focused on the Cash App.”

The Cash App was the star of Square’s last quarter, with gross profit for the app rising 167% year-over-year to $281 million. Stored funds, or the amount of money customers keep on the app, jumped 86% from the prior quarter. The app had 30 million users as of June, up from 24 million at the end of last year, according to the company. 

Lisa Ellis, fintech analyst and partner at MoffettNathanson, said Square’s value as a two-sided network — owning both the seller side and the consumer side with Cash App — is a “game changer.”

“That is the Holy Grail of payments,” Ellis said. “If you can build a two-sided network then you get a very deep competitive moat. Investors are excited about Cash App for that reason.”

Long lost Google Chrome feature could return and fix browser's worst problem

Google Chrome fans could see an update rolled out which will address what is arguably the biggest flaw with the market-leading browser. Earlier this year the Chrome community was set abuzz with claims that the software’s notorious habit of gobbling up RAM could finally be getting addressed. It looked like the millions of Google Chrome users on Windows 10 would see a huge amount of memory space freed up thanks to a feature dubbed ‘Segment Heap’ which Microsoft and Google had been working on.

The feature is designed to slash the amount of RAM that apps use on Windows 10 machines, and testing had shown it reduced the memory usage of Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser by a staggering 27 percent.

That’s a huge reduction in RAM usage, and it looked like Google were set to deploy the feature in Chrome as well.

However, after testing Google later held fire on plans to utilise Segment Heap with Chrome – disabling it in the Canary version of Chrome 85 in July.

The reason behind that while the feature did help cutback on RAM usage, testing showed it had the knock-on effect of making a PC’s CPU work overtime.

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Bruce Dawson, a Google Chrome programmer, explained that tests showed using Segment Heap lead to a 13 per cent increase in CPU consumption.

At the time the Chromium member said: “M85 already has a number of other optimisations and landing this change (simultaneous (memory) improvement and (performance) regression) at the same time makes the comparison even more difficult.”

“Although I have heard encouraging things about memory savings from lab tests I don’t see any way for us to leave this enabled until we have clean telemetry data and lab tests on 20H1, neither of which will be happening in time for M85. So, the plan is to disable this for M85 (thus giving us another telemetry data point) and reconsider in the future.”

And now, months after the decision to put Segment Heap on the back burner, it looks like work on the feature could have resumed.

As revealed in a post by Windows Latest, a Google senior developer has requested Microsoft’s help on GitHub to clear two Segment Heap flags.

The developer explained: “These flags would be useful for all Chromium-based browsers”.

It remains to be seen how seriously Google is looking into enacting this feature in Chrome, and how far away they are from making it work.

But given the huge reduction in RAM usage it offers Google Chrome users will be hoping a general release is not too far away.

In other Google Chrome news, the handy new Tab Groups feature is now available to everyone.

As the name suggests, the feature helps Google Chrome users stay organised and group relevant tabs together.

The Tab Groups feature was added to the latest version of Chrome 85 (85.0.4183.102) and is really straight-forward to use.

To create a new tab group, simply right click on a tab and then select add to new group.

You can choose a colour coded icon for each group, give different groups names and then add other relevant tabs to these groups.

This hidden Windows 10 feature is exactly what we all need right now

Windows 10 users could soon be treated to a new feature which will allow them to make video calls straight from the hugely popular operating system itself. That means fans of this OS could soon be able to chat with friends or co-workers without the need for any additional software or downloads.

Video calling has always been useful but over the past six months, it’s become a vital part of modern life as more of us work from home and families distance themselves from older and vulnerable relatives due to the health crisis that has swept the world.

The hidden update, called Meet Now, was first spotted by Microsoft developer Rafael Rivera who posted a message on Twitter saying: “New in 20211: Microsoft experimenting with adding Skype “Meet Now” feature directly into the shell.”

Within the tweet was a screenshot of how the new upgrade works with a video icon clearly visible within the control panel.

Once this is clicked a window will then automatically appear asking you to ‘Create a meeting’ or ‘Join a meeting.’

READ MORE: Microsoft looking to bring one of the best Apple MacBook features to Windows 10

Tapping either will instantly start a call via Skype.

It’s worth noting that this is currently a test and there’s no word if, or when, Microsoft will ever release this update to the millions of Windows 10 users across the world.

In fact, an update from Rafael Rivera suggests it’s already been removed in an updated beta.

That said, this is a nice added extra from the Redmond firm and it would certainly be a welcome addition with so many of us making video calls and continue to use our homes as offices.

This new feature comes as Microsoft is rumoured to be prepping some big changes to how they rollout Windows 10 updates in the future.

It has been a bumpy ride for the Windows 10 May 2020 update, so much so that Microsoft ended up pausing the patch’s rollout for a large number of users.

From unintended knock-on effects with Google Chrome, to problems with USB printers to internet connectivity issues and compatibility troubles.

And in the aftermath of this fiasco it’s emerged that Microsoft could be switching from two big updates each year to just one.

By turning to an annual release schedule for their landmark Windows 10 updates, it would give Microsoft more time to work on the patches and iron out and issues.

Google Maps brings back feature we all thought was dead and about time too!

Google has announced a new Google Maps update that revives a feature we all thought was put to bed back in 2017. The latest version of the turn-by-turn navigation app, which is starting to roll out slowly worldwide at the moment, resurrects the ability to follow directions from your wrist using the Apple Watch.

Google Maps turned its back on the Apple-branded smartwatch back in 2017. The Californian search firm didn’t make a big deal of its decision at the moment – in fact, it didn’t even mention the removal of Apple Watch support in the release notes accompanying the update that dropped the feature. In a statement published after Apple Watch owners complained about the removal, Google stated: “We removed Apple Watch support from our latest iOS release but expect to support it again in the future.”

And now Google has finally made good on its promise.

Three years later, the latest version of the iOS app brings back the ability to follow routes from your Apple Watch. Unfortunately, there’s no option to search for new directions from your wrist – you’ll need to pick the route you want to take from the iPhone app first, then beam the turn-by-turn instructions to your Apple Watch. However, Google will provide an updated ETA on the Apple Watch screen, so you can find out how long it’ll take you to arrive at your destination with a glance.

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Google Maps on Apple Watch includes shortcuts to saved destinations, like work and home, which for most people at the moment are exactly the same address. Tapping these shortcuts will summon the most direct route to your Apple Watch with no need to pull-out your smartphone. That’s handy if you’re caught in a downpour and want to quickly find out which bus, train or street to take to get back home as fast as possible.

Multiple travel modes, including directions for car, public transport, bike, or walking are supported on the Apple Watch making this release a pretty solid competitor to the Apple Maps app that’s preinstalled on all Apple Watch models. Unlike Google Maps, this Watch app can display a map to put the directions in context. It also lets you search for a new destination using voice, scribbling letter by letter on the diddy touchscreen, or a location associated with a contact saved to your iPhone. As such, you’re able to use Apple Maps without ever needing to pull out your iPhone from your pocket.

House prices: How to add £12K to the value of your home – key feature

Property is an extremely expensive investment with the average house price in the UK being around £250,000. However there are many factors that influence house prices including number of bedrooms, bathrooms and the size of the home. One sought after feature that could add thousands onto the value of a home has been shared with by property experts. 

Having an outside space like a garden may be normal for some but in the UK, homebuyers will actually pay a premium for a home that has a garden. 

According to Yes Homebuyers, having a home with a garden sells for £12,000 more than those without.

This means homebuyers will pay a premium of five percent to get a home with a garden, even if it is small.

For a well kept or newly renovated garden an additional 1.4 percent would be added to the current average property price.

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For the UK this is another £3,300 paid for a landscaped garden no matter the size of it. 

Matthew Cooper, Founder & Managing Director of Yes Homebuyers said: “A garden has always been a sought after feature for second and third rung homebuyers, in particular, and as a result properties complete with private outdoor space will attract a healthy premium in contrast to those without. 

“After months spent in lockdown due to the current pandemic, buyers are now prioritising the quality of their home life over other traditional factors such as location in anticipation of a second wave and future restrictions, with a garden playing a big part in boosting this wellbeing. 

“Current low mortgage rates and the current stamp duty saving on offer are allowing many buyers to stretch that little bit further and for most, this means buying a bigger home with the additional benefits of garden space. 

Stamp duty holiday sparks moving frenzy UK [PROPERTY] 
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“As a result, demand for garden homes has soared and the price premiums paid are likely to follow the same trajectory over the coming months, which is great news for sellers with garden space.”

The average house price in Scotland is £154,648 but this could increase by around £10,000 with a tidy and landscaped garden taking the property price up to £180,559. 

In the East of England wanting a garden could cost an extra £15,000 whilst in the North East it could cost homebuyers an extra £6,000 for the luxury of an outside space. 

Searches by buyers for homes with gardens on property searching site Rightmove were up 42 percent in May compared with the same month last year. 

Those searches also increased by 84 percent for those renting homes in the UK. 

Resident property expert Miles Shipside at Rightmove suggests that gardens are now one of the most sought-after features in a home.

He explains: “People are now re-evaluating what their must-haves are after ten weeks of staying at home.

“Usually home-movers tell us the kitchen photographs are the most important when they’re looking at a property advert, but now agents should consider giving greater prominence to pictures of gardens and outdoor spaces to attract the attention of prospective renters and buyers.”

Rightmove surveyed 4,000 home-movers and many said that their new life interests included outdoor activities like exercising, gardening and reading outside.

This has stemmed from many spending more time outdoors in lockdown but doing up a garden doesn’t always have to involve landscaping which can come at a hefty cost. 

Miles adds: “To add to the photogenic garden appeal, a quick lick of paint on a fence, or a clear out of a shed to show how it could be a lovely summer house, can make all the difference when selling a lifestyle to a would-be buyer or tenant. 

“Communal gardens sometimes get left out of rental listings but they should definitely be including them now too.”

BREXIT BULLETIN: Sign up for our special edition newsletter with exclusive insight from this week’s crunch talks  

Your Sky Q TV box gets another brand-new feature and it's free, for now

It’s been a busy few months for Sky. The popular satellite TV service has added a number of new features to its Sky Q box in recent months including more shows in stunning HDR (High Dynamic Range) and a complete refresh to the homepage which is aimed at making it easier to find shows consumers want to watch.

Sky has redesigned this to allow customers to see more of the content they like. The homscreen now displays more television shows, films, online video, podcasts, music and games recommended based on what is popular with Sky customers, live events taking place, and customers’ viewing history on their box.

Voice search has also been improved with users now able to control more aspects of the device via speech commands. For example, saying “thrillers with Nicole Kidman” will bring up relevant suggestions of what to watch. You’ll soon be able to ask for entertainment themes too, such as ‘new shows’, ‘Halloween’ or ‘Christmas’.

Now there’s another addition to Sky Q with the launch of the ROXi music service on the platform.

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This app brings a mix of Unlimited Music, music games, radio and even Karaoke to the living rooms.

Via their set-top box, Sky customers can now listen to over 55 million songs, challenge their music knowledge with interactive music trivia games or enjoy hundreds of playlists curated by celebs such as Robbie Williams and Sheryl Crow.

If you fancy giving to a try then simply find it by saying ‘Open ROXi’ or ‘launch ROXi’ into your Sky Q voice remote or find it in Sky Q’s ‘Apps’ section. ROXi joins a range of other apps on the Sky Q box, including, Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, YouTube Kids and BBC iPlayer.

Until now, ROXi’s music entertainment experience has only been available on ROXi’s dedicated Music Entertainment Console. This is the first time ROXi’s unique mix of fun music entertainment has been available on another platform.

Fraser Stirling, Group Chief Product Officer, said: “Having access to all your favourite apps on the big TV screen is more important than ever, as we use our televisions for everything from entertainment to fitness. ROXi is the latest in a line of brilliant services to be added to Sky Q, so you can get music, games, online video, education and TV all in one place.

Sky says that Q customers can try “ROXi on Sky Q” for free for 30 days. If you like it then the normal subscription price of £6.99 per month then applies.

Facebook has copied WhatsApp feature that places limit on YOUR text messages

Of course, you can slowly make your way through your contact book in chunks of five people at a time, but this is infinitely more laborious than sending it to everyone you know with a single click – something that was easily achieved in previous versions of Facebook Messenger.

While forwarding is very useful when it comes to sharing memes about Tiger King or baby photos to a handful of loved ones – the feature has had the unintended consequence of allowing people to quickly spread false information and conspiracy theories to hundreds of people with a few quick taps inside the app. Whether intentionally malicious or not, the spread of false information to huge numbers of people can be incredibly damaging.

Facebook hopes that making the task of forwarding messages and images to people more arduous should limit the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus crisis as well as the forthcoming Presidential election in the United States this November. The Californian social media firm has good reason to believe this strategy will work supremely well.

After all, WhatsApp says that its forwarding limit cut the spread of viral messages by 70 percent since its implementation earlier this year.

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That’s an impressive result. Of course, since WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, which stops Facebook or anyone else who intercepts the messages as they travel between your smartphone and your recipient, there’s no way to know what these viral messages contained. While parent company Facebook seems to think there’s a good chance these highly-shared texts were misinformation – it’s possible they were hilarious memes or the results of a Buzzfeed quiz being shared with large numbers of friends and family.

Director of product management for Messenger privacy and safety, Jay Sullivan announced in a blog post: “As a part of our ongoing efforts to provide people with a safer, more private messaging experience, today we’re introducing a forwarding limit on Messenger, so messages can only be forwarded to five people or groups at a time.

“Limiting forwarding is an effective way to slow the spread of viral misinformation and harmful content that has the potential to cause real world harm. We believe controlling the spread of misinformation is critical as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues and we head toward major elections in the US, New Zealand and other countries.

“We want Messenger to be a safe and trustworthy platform to connect with friends and family. Earlier this year we introduced features like safety notifications, two-factor authentication, and easier ways to block and report unwanted messages. This new feature provides yet another layer of protection by limiting the spread of viral misinformation or harmful content, and we believe it will help keep people safer online.”

WhatsApp now restricts the text messages you can send. This is why

The latest changes comes as Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed plans to police the spread of misinformation on the platform. The company is still reeling following widespread criticism that it failed to stop conspiracy theories running rampant and stop political campaigns using privileged information to target advertisements at voters during the US election in 2016 and EU referendum in the same year in the UK.

Samsung and Sony 4K TVs can finally copy the brightest feature from Philips

There is one main reason to buy a Philips Smart TV over rivals from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Hisense, TCL and others – its nifty Ambilight technology. For those who don’t know, Ambilight is the name Philips gives to the strip of multicolour LEDs that surround the back of the screen and illuminate the wall behind the telly with colours picked from what is happening on screen.

So, if you’re watching BBC’s Blue Planet, the wall behind your TV will be bathed in stunning blue shades, but if you’re watching a horror film there will be nothing but a flicker of a yellow light beamed from the candle on-screen. The whole thing is pretty effective and incredibly immersive. Once you’re used to the effect, you’ll instantly miss it as soon as you switch to a bog-standard telly where your movie or show stops at the border of the screen.

Thankfully, those who decided to buy a rival gogglebox from the likes of Samsung, Hisense or others can now enjoy the same Ambilight experience. That’s thanks to the launch of a new Philips Hue lightstrip which can be mounted to the back of your television where it can flash, flicker and glow whatever colour is needed to match what is happening on-screen. It’s a nifty way to upgrade your viewing without the cost of buying an entirely new TV.

That said, there are still some extra costs to factor in. First of all, you’ll need to buy the lightstrip itself, which start from £129.99 for 55-inch to 65-inch TVs and rises to £149.99 for 75-inch or larger TVs. Then you’ll need a Hue Bridge (£49.99) to plug into your Wi-Fi router to connect the lights to your home internet connection.

Samsung and Sony 4K TVs have a new player to contend with

And finally, you’ll also need the Philips Hue Play HDMI sync box (£229.99) which draws information from what is taking place on-screen and translates that into the lights needed for an ambient glow around the borders of your TV.

If you have a 55-inch TV you can expect to spend a total of £409.97 to bring the Ambilight capabilities to your telly. Of course, if you already have Philips Hue smart bulbs in your home, it won’t cost you quite as much as that – as you’ll already have a Hue Bridge, so can deduct £49.99 from that total.

At the most expensive, you could find yourself forking out £429.97 to kit out a 75-inch Smart TV with the headline feature of Philips’ own TVs. For that much, you can pick-up an Ambilight TV from Philips in Black Friday sales. So, you’ll have to be really married to your current TV to cough up this much.

The new kit is all available to order in the UK Philips Hue store right now. If you’re overseas, you could face a wait. In the United States, you won’t be able to get your hands on these new gadgets to retrofit your telly with Ambilight until October 16, 2020.