The Download: HomePod, now in stereo!

This is The Download, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Apple adds stereo pairing to HomePod, AirPlay 2 as part of iOS 11.4 update


iOS 11.4 has launched with two notable new features: AirPlay 2 and messages in iCloud. AirPlay 2 brings multiroom support so multiple AirPlay 2 compatible devices from a variety of manufacturers can all play the same music around your house. Separately, the update lets two HomePod speakers play as a stereo pair. Overall, the update brings AirPlay up to par with Google Cast and Amazon Alexa.

The two most specific changes here are a bigger buffer so network hiccups don’t interrupt your music and tighter clock sync between devices to enable multiroom support. It also lets users take phone calls, play videos, and play games without interrupting streaming music. Moving music around the house with Siri on the HomePod is also simple, letting you say “Siri, move the music to the living room” or whichever room you prefer, and it’ll stream to that room.

Third parties lined up to support AirPlay 2 include Bang & Olufsen, Bluesound, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Libratone, Marantz, Marshall, Naim, Pioneer, and Sonos. However, instead of sending a command to a speaker when you want to play a song like on Google Cast or Spotify Connect, your phone remains the middleman with AirPlay 2. It must pull the music from the internet and restream it to the speaker, leaving the music to pause if your phone has a momentarily data hiccup, dies, or the phone leaves the speaker’s Bluetooth range.

The HomePod is the only outlier here, being able to natively connect to Apple Music and stream to other AirPlay 2 speakers. According to Apple, AirPlay 2 was designed to only let the HomePod stream directly.

To set up stereo pairing, the HomePod will ask you if you want to pair the speakers if you select the same room name as another HomePod during setup. Each speaker will continue using its individual microphones to tune itself to the room, with the mic hidden inside the HomePod chassis for measuring bass response syncing to apply the same low-end filter across both speakers.

The HomePod is also getting Siri calendar support, so you can ask when and where your meetings are and add events to your calendar. It’ll work with any calendar on your iOS calendar app as part of the HomePod’s personal request feature, so it won’t be available if your phone isn’t on the same network as your HomePod.

AirPlay 2 requires iOS 11.4 on all your devices to work. iPhone owners can update now, with HomePod owners being able to start the update from the Home app or wait for it to automatically roll out over the next few days.

HomePod launching on June 18 in Canada, France, Germany

In addition, the HomePod will hit stores in Canada, France, and Germany on June 18. Today’s iOS 11.4 update enables language support for Canadian English, French, and German that can be enabled once your HomePod gets updated.

Canadian French will be added in a software update later this year. The aforementioned calendar support will also be coming later this year, according to Apple.

Messages in iCloud

iCloud Messages

Messages in iCloud is now available to all iOS users, a week before the one-year anniversary of WWDC 2017 where the feature was first shown off at the launch of iOS 11.

Here’s what it does:

  • It stores all your messages (iMessage or SMS) from all your devices in iCloud, which allows for better syncing between devices.
  • It syncs deleted messages and threads across all your iCloud devices, so when you delete a conversation or message, it will get deleted everywhere instead of requiring you to delete it repeatedly on each device.
  • It stores photos, attachments, and older messages from your devices in iCloud, saving local storage space on your phone.
  • It allows smaller backups of your local messages as part of your regular iCloud backup of your individual devices, since only your newest messages are stored locally.
  • It syncs all your old iMessages to new Apple devices, so if you buy a new Apple product, Messages will sync your entire message history to it rather than only showing newly received messages.

To enable Messages in iCloud, users will have to opt in by going to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud, and then toggle Messages. As a security measure, users must have two-factor authentication turned on – enabling Messages on iCloud will automatically bring up a walkthrough to help you set it up if you don’t. On Mac, head over to the Messages app, go to Preferences, and check the “Messages in iCloud” box to enable it. You’ll need to turn this on for every device you want to use the feature with.

This may take up a bit more iCloud storage, however, since the messages will take up iCloud space.

US judge sentences Toronto man to five years of prison time, $2.25M fine for using stolen data in Yahoo breach

File photo of a Yahoo logo in front of a building in Rolle

Karim Baratov, a hacker that worked for a Russian spy agency, was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2.25 million, according to the US Department of Justice.

Baratov pleaded guilty in November to aggravated identity theft and conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse.

In collaboration with agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, Baratov hacked into email accounts hosted by Google and Yandex. The same agents are also allegedly responsible for Yahoo’s 2014 hack that compromised 500 million user accounts.

Prosecutors called Baratov an “international hacker-for-hire” that hacked without discussion or hesitation for FSB officer Dmitry Dokuchaev.

“The sentence imposed reflects the seriousness of hacking for hire. Hackers such as Baratov ply their trade without regard for the criminal objectives of the people who hire and pay them.”

Alex Tse, acting US attorney

Baratov was accused of sending phishing emails to specific email accounts, tricking users into handing over their usernames and passwords, along with sending the login information to Russian agents.

A two-year investigation by the FBI’s San Francisco branch found evidence Russian spies helped to break into Yahoo to steal information from US government officials, Russian dissidents, and journalists.

Uber launches in-app emergency button that lets riders call 911 assistance across US


Uber has launched its in-app emergency button that lets riders directly contact 911 within its app across the US.

The emergency button is in a new “safety center” menu that’s accessible from the app’s home screen, giving riders a quick way to contact first responders if something goes wrong during their trip. The safety center also includes information on the driver screening process, insurance protections, and community guidelines.

To dial 911, riders need to swipe up on the safety center icon and tap “911 assistance.” They will then be asked to confirm that they meant to dial 911 before the call is made. According to Uber director of product management Sachin Kansal, this is meant to minimize accidental dials.

Uber is also announcing a 911 integration pilot in a few markets that lets a rider’s location and trip details automatically be sent to the 911 dispatcher when used in-app. This is meant to account for the low rates of location accuracy by US 911 dispatchers. Location sharing is being tested in Denver; Charleston, SC; Nashville; Chattanooga, TN; and Naples, FL.

According to Kansal, a similar panic button is coming for drivers with the belief that the presence of panic buttons would hopefully deter both riders and drivers from behaving badly.

“We realize that a lot of situations and a lot of criminal activity arises when people think they’re not being watched. And we just want to say that we’re turning the lights on. Part of turning the lights on is providing these features to both sides and also make sure we’re making the entire community aware of the presence of these features.”

Sachin Kansal; Uber director of product management, to The Verge

Papua New Guinea could ban Facebook for a month to crack down on fake users; study how fake news, pornography spreads


Papua New Guinea could ban Facebook access for a month that officials say would provide an opportunity to study its effects on the population.

“The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed. This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”

Sam Basil; Papua New Guinea communications minister, to the Post-Courier

According to Basil, the government was looking to comply with legislation passed last year with the prospect of “a new social network site” built for Papua New Guinea citizens also under consideration.

According to a Facebook spokesperson, the company has “reached out to the government to understand their concerns.”

Imgur launches video support, COO expects company to be profitable this year


GIF and image sharing site Imgur is adding video support.

According to Imgur COO Roy Sehgal, the company is cash flow positive and expects to be profitable this year.

Everyone can now watch videos on Imgur, while iOS users can post video. Sound is off by default, and they’re limited to 30 seconds with the uploader having the ability to trim the video.

“We’ve been making the transformation from an image community to a community-powered entertainment platform.

“We realized there was a vector of content we were not supporting that we thought our users would want.”

Roy Sehgal, Imgur COO

Russia asks Apple to remove Telegram from App Store, block notifications; gives one month for response


Secure messaging app Telegram is still available on the Russian App Store despite being banned in the country in April.

The country is now asking Apple to remove the app from the App Store and block it from sending push notifications to local users. Authorities are giving Apple one month to comply before enforcing punishment for violations.

Yandex announces Prime-like Yandex.Plus, smart speaker, Alice assistant skills platform

Yandex smart speaker

Russian search giant Yandex has launched Yandex.Plus, an Amazon Prime-like service that gives users several perks for 169 rubles/month (roughly $2.75), at the Yet Another Conference in Moscow.

On top of that, the company is launching its first hardware products with the Yandex.Station $160 smart speaker and Yandex.Dialogues skills platform for its Alice Russian intelligent assistant

The Station and Plus will be available only in Russia, with the Station going on sale later this summer.

Plus, which is available now, features access to the Yandex.Music streaming service, Yandex.Disc storage service, discounts to Uber-like Yandex.Taxi, free deliveries and early access to e-commerce market Yandex.Market, film and TV streaming through video service KinoPoisk, and expedited services and discounts for car-sharing service Yandex.Drive.

According to Yandex, Station is “the first smart speaker to incorporate a full video streaming experience” by way of a HDMI output that users can link to a screen and then ask Alice to search for and playback videos, movies, and TV shows from KinoPoisk, ivi, Amediateka, and others.

It also works with other music streaming devices through Bluetooth, and lets users set alarms; listen to music, news, and weather; and entertain children with storytelling and other features.

As for Dialogues, the service was in beta testing for three months, with the idea being very similar to the skills that can be created for Amazon Alexa. Developers can integrate their third-party apps into Alice so people can use those apps with a voice interface and calling up information or ordering things.

It will also make results discoverable through Yandex’s text-based search results.

Salesforce Q1 earnings: Revenue of $3.01B, $965M in Sales Cloud revenue, $344M in net income

Salesforce Tower

Salesforce has reported its Q1 2019 earnings with strong profit and revenue numbers, a week after opening its new San Francisco office.

Revenue for the period ending April 30 was $3.01 billion, up 25 percent compared to last year’s first quarter. The majority of that comes from subscriptions to Salesforce’s sales and marketing software services and support contracts.

Net income was $344 million ($0.46/share) up from being breaking even last year during the period. Excluding special items, non-GAAP earnings per share was $0.74/share.

Revenue from the flagship Sales Cloud product rose 16.2 percent to $965 million, while Support Cloud revenue grew 29 percent. Salesforce’s investment in marketing tech services has also paid off, with Marketing and Commerce Cloud revenue jumping 41 percent to $422 million.

The company is now expecting to record between $13.075 and $13.125 billion for fiscal 2019, which would represent either 24 or 25 percent growth compared to fiscal 2018. Salesforce now employs over 30,000 people, a jump of nearly 4,000 people since the first fiscal quarter a year ago.

Acorns reports 3.5M users investing $50-$60 per month, 100K signups for retirement product a month after launch


Investment service Acorns has signed on 100,000 accounts for its new retirement account service in its first month.

The app takes spare change from transactions and rewards agreements with certain retailers to invest in a managed portfolio. The company’s initial “spare change” service costs $1/month, with the retirement-focused account setting you back $2/month.

According to Acorns CEO Noah Kerner, most of the app’s over 3.5 million customers are investing roughly $50-$60/month into their core accounts. The average customer is 32 years old with a median income somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 with accounts spread across the US.

In other news…


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