Free App 'Reverb' Brings Amazon's Alexa to Mac Desktops, iPhones and iPads

Developers at U.S. digital consultancy Rain have created a little-known app called Reverb that allows users to access Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant from their Mac desktop or iOS device.

Launching the free Mac app prompts users to sign in to their Amazon account, after which a window opens showing the familiar blue Alexa ring on the desktop. Click and hold on the ring with the mouse cursor, and provided an internet connection is active, the virtual assistant listens and responds to the sort of spoken questions and commands usually directed at Amazon's Echo range of smart speakers.


The iOS app works similarly, and the latest version of Reverb uses Alexa v2, which adds support for news flashes, timers, alarms, long form audio, audiobooks, and more. It can also interact with smart devices that are compatible with Alexa, such as lights, switches, and thermostats compatible with Samsung SmartThings, WeMo, Philips Hue, and others. The only Alexa service Reverb does not support is playing music, due to restrictions Amazon has placed on using Amazon Music in apps.

In addition to the above, users can enable third-party skills through the app with a simple voice command – "Enable Bird Songs", for example. In testing, the Mac app also responded to new skills enabled through Amazon's Alexa iOS app, which officially supports and integrates with the Reverb app for iOS.

The apps provide a convenient solution for Echo owners wishing to make Alexa available in, say, their office room or study, without having to buy an additional supporting device. It also offers prospective Echo buyers an opportunity to test the service prior to making a purchase, and at the very least gives curious Mac users a chance to compare Alexa's and Siri's smarts side by side on their desktop.

Reverb for Amazon Alexa is a free download available for Mac from the Mac App Store [Direct Link] and for iPhone and iPad on the iOS App Store [Direct Link].

Tags: Amazon, Alexa

Children's Organic Storybook 'Green Riding Hood' is Apple's Free App of the Week

Apple is currently promoting interactive children's storybook Green Riding Hood as its Free App of the Week on the iOS App Store. Notable for its hand-drawn artwork, the app by Bobaka introduces kids of ages 5 and under to a healthy lifestyle in a cheery spin-off of the original folk tale.

The "organic fairytale" revolves around the bucolic daily life and escapades of a little girl, her grandma, a host of cute-looking animal friends, and a hungry wolf, but parents can rest assured, no-one gets eaten. Apple's App Store editors have this to say:


Recasting Grandma as an herbal tea-sipping yoga teacher is just one of the fun ways this gorgeous storybook encourages kids to develop healthy habits. (You'll love Bobaka's take on the big, not-so-bad Wolf, too.) We're having a ball exploring each interactive page, and the app's tasty vegetarian recipes make great projects for the whole family.
Alongside the friendly narrative elements and grandma's cookbook, Green Riding Hood features a series of mini games to keep kids engaged and a voiceover by Scottish actor Alistair Findlay, known for roles in such movies as Highlander and In the Name of the Father, as well as for narration in the acclaimed Nighty Night HD series of kids' apps.


Usually $2.99, Green Riding Hood supports multiple languages and is currently a free download for iPhone and iPad available on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Tag: App Store

MacRumors Giveaway: Win an Apple Pencil PencilCozy-S Combo Pack From Cozy Industries

For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with Cozy Industries to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a PencilCozy-S stylus cap for the Apple Pencil.

The PencilCozy-S, designed to attach to the end of an Apple Pencil, serves multiple purposes. It makes sure the Apple Pencil's end cap is never lost when charging, and it also serves as a dedicated stylus that can be used right alongside the tip of the Apple Pencil.


The band of the PencilCozy-S slides over the body of the Apple Pencil, while the cap portion fits onto the Apple Pencil cap, keeping the two pieces attached. It might seem counterintuitive to put a stylus cap on the Apple Pencil, but it can be used on any iOS device in any app, and is not limited to the iPad Pro. There's one other added bonus -- it prevents your Apple Pencil from rolling off of a flat surface.

According to Cozy Industries, the PencilCozy-S took 11 revisions to get the ideal texture for the best possible stylus experience. It's designed from a proprietary silicone blend that's meant to be supple enough for writing and drawing but durable enough to stand up to being tossed in a bag.

At $8.99, the PencilCozy-S is a solid deal, especially because it also ships with a rare earth magnet cap in case you lose your original cap, plus it has a LightningCozy that's designed to attach your Apple Pencil Lightning adapter to a Lightning cable so it's never lost.


We're giving away 25 PencilCozy-S accessories to MacRumors readers. To enter to win, use the Rafflecopter widget below and enter an email address. Email addresses will be used solely for contact purposes to reach the winner and send the prize. You can earn additional entries by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, subscribing to our YouTube channel, following us on Twitter, or visiting the MacRumors Facebook page.

Due to the complexities of international laws regarding giveaways, only U.S. residents who are 18 years of age or older are eligible to enter. To offer feedback or get more information on the giveaway restrictions, please refer to our Site Feedback section, as that is where discussion of the rules will be redirected.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
The contest will run from today (February 17) at 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time through 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time on February 24. The winners will be chosen randomly on February 24 and will be contacted by email. The winners will have 48 hours to respond and provide a shipping address before new winners are chosen.

YouTube Will Stop Placing Unskippable 30-Second Ads in Front of Videos in 2018

YouTube will stop supporting unskippable 30-second ads on the popular streaming video platform beginning sometime in 2018, according to an official statement from Google given to Campaign. The move is said to be a way to provide a better experience and format that works well for YouTube users, as well as the company's advertisers.

The advertising focus for YouTube will switch over to a 6-second unskippable "bumper ad" format in the coming year, which the company introduced in 2016 and is said to be a way to convince more impatient users to stick around when an ad pops up before a video.

It wasn't confirmed whether the removal of unskippable 30-second ads would hit both the web and mobile YouTube apps, but Google's wording appears to support the format's removal across all platforms.
"As part of that, we’ve decided to stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads as of 2018 and focus instead on formats that work well for both users and advertisers," said a Google spokesman.
A few industry analysts speaking with Campaign agreed that YouTube's decision makes sense, particularly within the context of a growing rivalry with Facebook and its ramping up of video content. YouTube Red, the company's premium subscription service, lets users avoid ads altogether for $9.99/month, which places it alongside other video streaming platforms like Netflix ($9.99/month) and Hulu ($11.99/month for commercial-free videos).
While this move will not please advertisers, Callum McCahon, strategy director for Born Social, said it is the price YouTube is willing to pay to keep people watching.

"I’m reading this as a signal that YouTube is very worried about Facebook," he added. "We know that video is right at the very core of Facebook’s roadmap. Their video offering is becoming ever more attractive to brands by the day, and YouTube is panicking."
For Netflix, the company has remained adamant that it will never introduce advertisements into its streaming video content. A recent report ran the numbers and discovered that Netflix forgoes about $2.3 billion in potential advertising revenue each year by keeping to its no-commercial strategy.

Tag: YouTube

Microsoft Brings Animated GIF Support and Account Switching to OneDrive App

Microsoft updated its OneDrive iOS app this week with a couple of features requested by premium users, with the added bonus that the improvements can be used by free 5GB account holders as well.

First up, Microsoft has added support for animated GIF files in OneDrive, which should come as good news for users working with marketing and promotional content. The GIFs can now be viewed from within the cloud file browser, instead of having to download and preview them outside the app.

Version 8.8.9 also brings fast account switching to the cloud client app. According to Microsoft, users now only need to tap and hold on the Me tab to instantly switch between accounts, whether free or premium.

Elsewhere, student users who own either work or school accounts are now able to receive notifications whenever someone shares a file with them, while Microsoft has also added Instant Preview support in the Sites tab.

Lastly, a number of other smaller bugs and crash issues have also been fixed. OneDrive is a free download for iPhone and iPad available on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Tag: OneDrive

Apple to Start Assembling iPhone SE Handsets in India in the Coming Months

Apple is to set to begin ramping up assembly of the iPhone SE at its Bangalore manufacturing plant in India in the coming months, sources said on Friday (via Reuters).

Last month, Apple agreed a deal with the Indian government to commence manufacturing operations in the Karnataka-based facility, with Taiwanese manufacturing partner Wistron reportedly winning the contract to set up the plant and focus on assembling Apple's phones.


That groundwork now appears to have paid off, with Wistron almost ready to begin assembling the lower-priced iPhone SE model and kick-start Apple's local production in India, home to the world's fastest growing major mobile market.

Recently, Apple has been in talks with the Indian federal government in relation to possible tax concessions if it agreed to manufacture its phones locally. However, industry sources with knowledge of the matter say the initial manufacturing of the iPhone SE is not contingent on any such concessions.

The Economic Times reported on Friday that Apple planned to initially assemble 300,000 to 400,000 iPhone SE handsets in India, but an industry source told Reuters the numbers would be substantially lower to begin with. The source also said it's too early to say what other iPhone models would be assembled at the Bengalore plant.

The move comes as Apple looks to offset slowing growth in China by boosting its share of the Indian mobile market, which is currently dominated by handsets far cheaper than iPhones. Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo, and other players command the market there, where most phones are sold priced below 15,000 rupees ($225). The iPhone SE goes for $424 on Amazon.com's India site, by comparison.

Related Roundup: iPhone SE
Tag: India

Verizon Has Fastest LTE Network in the West, While T-Mobile Tops the East in Latest Study

Verizon has the fastest LTE network in western regions of the United States, while its up-and-coming rival T-Mobile has the top speeds throughout the east coast, according to a recent study by OpenSignal, which crowdsourced signal data from nearly 170,000 smartphone users who downloaded the OpenSignal app.


OpenSignal divided the United States into five regions—the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and West—and found that Verizon had the fastest LTE speeds in the West and Midwest, while T-Mobile was tops in the Northeast and Southeast. Verizon and T-Mobile had a statistical tie in the Southwest.

Verizon had an average download speed of 20 Mbps in the Midwest, for example, compared to 18.4 Mbps for T-Mobile. Meanwhile, in the Northeast, T-Mobile's average download speed was 18.6 Mbps versus 17 Mbps for Verizon. OpenSignal's testing was completed in the fourth quarter of 2016.


LTE speeds among all "Big Four" carriers in the United States, namely AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, were fastest in the Midwest overall, while lowest in the Southwest, said OpenSignal.

The geographical breakdown is a follow-up to OpenSignal's latest State of Mobile Networks report published last week. The original report, which included a city-by-city breakdown, found Verizon had the faster network in a number of major cities, including Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Facebook Users Will Soon Be Able to Apply for a Job Within iOS App and on Web

Facebook has announced that businesses in the United States and Canada will soon be able to post job listings on their pages, and potential hires will be able to easily browse local openings through a new "Jobs" bookmark. The update is rolling out over the next few weeks for both the Facebook iOS and Android apps, and on the web.

The company said that the update is aimed at small business owners who may find it more difficult than expected to hire talent for specific positions. After a job is posted, employers can review applicants, contact them on Facebook Messenger, and set up an interview date for the best candidates. The update has already begun as a small test in parts of the U.S.


We’ve tested the new jobs experience in parts of the US, and while it’s still early, businesses are already filling roles. “It was great because it was easy,” says Wendy Grahn, co-owner of the Chicago-based Lakeview Kitchen and Market. “It took three minutes to fill out the information and put it out there. Then someone saw the post, we talked, and it was done.”
On the applicant side of things, job posts will be visible in their News Feed, in the Jobs bookmark tab, and included along with other posts on the business' regular Facebook page. Clicking "Apply Now" pre-fills information accumulated from the user's Facebook page, and applicants can review and edit it to their liking before hitting submit.

Facebook recently announced that it is building a video-focused app for the Apple TV that will allow users to watch the "same kinds of videos" as found on the Facebook app, but on a larger screen. The app will recommend videos for users to watch, but they will also be able to save videos to watch on mobile and then view them later on Apple TV. An official date for the app's launch hasn't been set, but the company said it's coming "soon."

Tag: Facebook

Apple May Crowdsource iPhone Damage Data to Make Future Screens More Resistant to Cracks

Cases of cracked iPhone screens are certainly nothing new, and occur often enough to have earned a separate service fee in Apple's AppleCare+ program. According to one study, half of mobile users globally have experienced at least one cracked smartphone screen in their lifetime, and at least 21 percent of smartphone owners currently have a cracked screen.

Presumably with this in mind, Apple is currently exploring technology that can detect when an iPhone screen has suffered damage and alert the user early, even if the break is a hairline crack, which may allow the company to come up with better design solutions in the future.


The system appears in a patent published on Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, called "Coverglass fracture detection", which describes an integrated network of sensors and software that can detect the formation of cracks in a protective display cover.

In one example, the invention detects breaches in the touch sensor substrate embedded in the device display. In another, piezoelectric actuators send out vibrations and detect defects by analyzing the response. In yet another instance, strategically positioned emitters shoot out pulses of light through a series of prisms, to eventually reach sensors located on the other end of the display. Measurements then detect anomalies in the travel of light in order to identify micro-fissures in the screen.

The invention is described as being capable of distinguishing between hairline cracks and spiderweb cracks, and even capable of measuring fracture depth, length, width, and expansion rate, with proximity and orientation sensors also recruited into the system to detect falls. User notifications can include pinpointing the area of damage to the screen, as well as alerts about ancillary damage to internal components caused by the impact.

In some embodiments, the user is asked to confirm the location of cracks onscreen by circling the area with their finger. The diagnostic information is then corralled to generate a timeline of events leading up to the crack, which may be useful during repair work. The ensuing data may also be used by Apple to understand how and when cracks most commonly occur, allowing designers to create displays more resistant to breaks.

(via AppleInsider.)

Tag: patent

Ticketmaster App Updated With Apple Music Integration to Track Concerts

Ticketmaster today updated its iOS app with Apple Music integration, allowing users to easily track upcoming concerts they might be interested in. The update makes Ticketmaster one of the few apps to take advantage of the Apple Music API.


Once the update is downloaded, users can allow the app to scan their Apple Music library for their favorite artists. Users will then receive ticket alerts when those artists announce new concerts. If users enable notifications and location services, the app can also notify a user when and where they can watch an artist perform.

Apple introduced the Apple Music API with iOS 9.3, and soon began promoting the API in April 2016. Two of the most well known apps to take advantage of the API are Nike and Shazam. Nike's Run Club app allows users to import Apple Music playlists while Shazam allows users to add identified songs to their library. Unlike Nike and Shazam's apps, which is focused on directly impacting someone's music library, the primary goal of Ticketmaster's utilization is to use Apple Music user data to improve its app experience.

Ticketmaster for iOS is available in the App Store for free [Direct Link]

Huawei Developing New Voice Assistant to Take On Siri

Huawei, currently the world's third largest smartphone manufacturer, is planning on developing its own voice assistant to compete with Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Alphabet's Google Assistant, reports Bloomberg.

The company is said to have more than a hundred engineers that are in the early stages of developing the AI assistant. Sources that spoke to Bloomberg say Huawei plans to implement Chinese language support and target domestic users while Huawei smartphones continue to work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa outside of China.


Huawei has been stepping up its efforts to compete with Apple, Samsung, and other major smartphone players in recent months. After dethroning Xiaomi to become the world's third largest smartphone maker, Huawei has now set its sights on Apple, and its own voice assistant could help set it apart.

According to Huawei consumer head Richard Yu, the company wants to become the number one smartphone manufacturer in the world by 2021. To do that, Huawei will need to break into the U.S. market, something that it hasn't yet managed to do.

Huawei does not currently have carrier agreements with the four major carriers in the United States, making it difficult for customers to acquire Huawei smartphones, but Huawei executives are aiming to change that in the future.


To better compete with Apple, Huawei recently launched an ad campaign that uses Justin Long, well known for his role in Apple's popular "Get a Mac" campaign. Long is currently promoting Huawei's most recent device, the Mate 9.

Tag: Huawei

TwIM is a New App for Communicating via Twitter Direct Message

TwIM, released today, is a new app that turns Twitter's Direct Messages function into a dedicated chat app, ignoring all other Twitter features for a clean, simple DM chat experience.

Because it is based on Twitter's Direct Messages feature, TwIM can be used to chat with any Twitter user through a search function that can locate people via name or username.


Messages are turned into in-line content previews with support for tweets, photos, GIFs, emoji, maps, and websites, plus the app has its own built-in face emojis called TwiMoji.

iPhone features like 3D Touch are supported, and the app includes built-in Siri functionality for sending messages through Apple's voice assistant. Push notifications for incoming messages are supported, as are rich notifications, and there's a useful share extension for quickly sharing text, photos, URLs, maps, and more from other apps.

For people who often use Twitter's DM feature to communicate with friends and family, TwIM is worth checking out.

TwIM can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Tag: Twitter